Supporting creative work by women
You’ve only got a few more chances to see Desiree Burch‘s electrifying mostly solo show, Tar Baby, at DR2 in New York City. The show, co-written with Daniel Ajl Kitrosser, has wowed audiences in New Orleans and New York. The New Yorker hailed it “smart, original, refreshing”. Tar Baby is part carnival, part rousing rant, part brilliant investigation of racism and its pernicious legacy. And, it’s laugh out loud funny. In other words, this show is not to be missed.
Desiree spoke to Works by Women about her first visions of creating a work inspired by the ‘tar baby’ folktale, the New York Neo-Futurists (of which she is a member), and the intersectionality of capitalism and race.
WORKS BY WOMEN: Tar Baby traces, unearths and brings to life America’s 200+ year (as you describe it) “black & white affair, from shotgun wedding to ‘post racial’ open relationship.” What was your first impulse/inspiration to create this show?
DESIREE BURCH: As with most artistic endeavors, it was an accident. (Co-writer) Dan Kitrosser and I thought we were going to e a clean little piece of educational theater by weaving folktale and personal narrative. Somewhere along the line we went horribly wrong and wound up with this wonderful little ‘tar baby’.
WBW: And how did you narrow it down and keep it under two hours? What was the process of selecting which highlights/stories/angles to present to dramatize?
DESIREE: This show has had a nice, long evolution and I trust it’s only just beginning. But I basically started by throwing out a lot of personal stories that I thought had some adherence to folk tale, legend, and, in particular, the tar baby story. Dan was interested in story and memory and how it alters experience, and we cycled through a lot of my personal and familial history–which hadn’t really been covered in any of my other solo work. In the last iteration, the show had a lot to do with that lineage and legacy from slavery to present. In this evolution, the editing process came more from an examination of story itself. We had worked toward this little epiphany about what we were really talking about–the story of race and the ways in which it’s sold–only to realize that it was, fittingly, where we had started. Ha!
WBW: In creating and performing this show, what have you discovered or further explored about the nexus of capitalism and race?
DESIREE: To me, this show has been about personal and cultural healing, and it’s been a relief to be pulling back the curtains on this particular subject. The discovery that the man behind them is just Mr. Moneybags has been an interesting process of understanding. I thought it was something else. I was under the spell of believing that there was actual value to the prejudices we ascribe to people, even though I might repudiate them… especially because I might repudiate them. Giving them such value and power in my life. To simply see it all as a result and reflection of human greed is oddly comforting–taking it out of the realm of things I need to identify with exclusively, and seeing it as a little more inclusive and perennial. I mean, we are always talking about money.
WBW: You are fearless (I’m thinking about The Soup Show) and funny (Everything you’ve done). Who inspired you to be both of these?
DESIREE: We got America to thank for that. And maybe being a middle child in my family. There are multiple sources to thank for my always having felt invisible in the world, feeling like I needed to scream to be heard, and spending the first half of my life too self-conscious to scream. Now the vigor and relentlessness of this kind of communication is part of what I do. I hope that desire lasts for a little while. It’s kind of my thing. As far as the humor, I have being an overweight brainy black kid who needed to survive and the constant companion of television to thank for that.
WBW: You are also a member of the New York Neo-Futurists. What have you cherished most about your experience with the New York Neos?
DESIREE: God, I love those kids. I love the family that it has been to me in developing parts of my life. It was that little artist Petri dish in which I grew and learned my own artistic ethics and values and tricks of the trade. I learned a lot about theater and performance making there and finding my place among some of the most fiercely dedicated and passionate artists this city has to offer. I learned a lot more fight as an artist in the struggle we went through in establishing ourselves here, as well as the internal struggles that came with producing theater with all of these fiercely individual artistic minds finding their own voices. It was a little bit of performance art grad school for me, with far more companionship than that experience, and far less talk of dissertations and other boring things.
WBW: What are the challenges facing women in American theatre?
DESIREE: I am guessing they are among the same challenges facing women everywhere else in America. More voices and more versions of women being represented and expected in theater. Being vigilant about this kind of thing without being exclusive.
WBW: What gives you hope for women in American theatre?
DESIREE: All those women writers.
Tar Baby continues through January 19th. For tickets and info, visit http://desireeburch.com/solo-shows/tar-baby/.