Casting Out Violence:
Queer Youth Responding to the Orlando Massacre 

This photo essay is written in collaboration with Matthew Champagne. The article can be found in the November, 2016 edition of Anthropology News. The images below are a response to the 2016 Pulse Nightclub Massacre in Orlando, Florida. The essay focuses on queer youth in New York City who are responding to violence against their community through art. 

Special thanks to the artists featured here: Dinae Anderson, David Armanino, Maggie Borlando, Essence Brown, Cristin Gordon, Jesse James Keitel, Jesse Krebs, Vinny Eden Ortega, Ian Fields Stewart and Jackie Torres. Through their art they are finding community, hope and revolution.

 “Theatre is a form of knowledge; it should be and can be a means to transform society. Theatre can help us build our future rather than just waiting for it.” - Augusto Boal

Stewart rehearses choreography for the upcoming performance of In Theory. “I think that it gets very complicated when we talk about activism and theatre because to place queer and gendered folks into a theatrical space, claim them as authentically themselves, and give them space and time to exist is activism in and of itself, but is that enough? There is activism in placing brown and black bodies on stage and allowing those brown and black bodies to speak, act and exist within their own autonomy but I think that to cause revolution, which is what I wrap a lot of my activism up in, there has to be some second steps and I don’t think we, in the current incarnation of this piece, have quite unpacked what that second step and call to action will be” (Stewart). 

Stewart rehearses choreography for the upcoming performance of In Theory. “I think that it gets very complicated when we talk about activism and theatre because to place queer and gendered folks into a theatrical space, claim them as authentically themselves, and give them space and time to exist is activism in and of itself, but is that enough? There is activism in placing brown and black bodies on stage and allowing those brown and black bodies to speak, act and exist within their own autonomy but I think that to cause revolution, which is what I wrap a lot of my activism up in, there has to be some second steps and I don’t think we, in the current incarnation of this piece, have quite unpacked what that second step and call to action will be” (Stewart). 

Jackie Torres and Ian Fields Stewart are developing a poetry/dance piece called In Theory, a show written by Torres that uses social theory to better understand the way structural violence contributes to personal trauma. Stewart choreographs to Torres’ poetry during rehearsal for In Theory at Simple Studios in Manhattan. What exactly do we mean when we speak of using theatre as a tool for social activism? Are we talking about the transformation and healing elements that art can provide an individual or change on a societal scale, or both? “When I think about activism in theater, I think about the Theater of the Oppressed and the ways in which a spectator becomes a ‘spect-actor’ and there are resources sent out and there are opportunities provided that say, ‘go here,’ ‘do this,’ ‘stand with these people,’ I feel like the way I interpret activism in theater, in its revolutionary sense, is that you are literally leading the horses to water, so to speak….You are leading the audience to the next moment or the next movement, rather than just presenting them with options and thoughts that they can sit with” (Stewart).

Jackie Torres and Ian Fields Stewart are developing a poetry/dance piece called In Theory, a show written by Torres that uses social theory to better understand the way structural violence contributes to personal trauma. Stewart choreographs to Torres’ poetry during rehearsal for In Theory at Simple Studios in Manhattan. What exactly do we mean when we speak of using theatre as a tool for social activism? Are we talking about the transformation and healing elements that art can provide an individual or change on a societal scale, or both? “When I think about activism in theater, I think about the Theater of the Oppressed and the ways in which a spectator becomes a ‘spect-actor’ and there are resources sent out and there are opportunities provided that say, ‘go here,’ ‘do this,’ ‘stand with these people,’ I feel like the way I interpret activism in theater, in its revolutionary sense, is that you are literally leading the horses to water, so to speak….You are leading the audience to the next moment or the next movement, rather than just presenting them with options and thoughts that they can sit with” (Stewart).

Jesse Keitel rehearses a scene from David Armanino’s new short film Like Glass, which follows Zion, a gender-fluid person whose true self-identity awakens in New York’s avant-garde drag scene. Like Glass is a psycho-fantastical exploration of how gender constructs affect our everyday lives and relationships, and a celebration of the LGBTQ community’s history of overcoming adversity and violence. “I think it’s hard for us to talk about violence within our own community. When you are part of a community that’s already [on the margins of our society], to also acknowledge that there is violence and discrimination between the people in this subset is almost too much to handle” (Armanino).

Jesse Keitel rehearses a scene from David Armanino’s new short film Like Glass, which follows Zion, a gender-fluid person whose true self-identity awakens in New York’s avant-garde drag scene. Like Glass is a psycho-fantastical exploration of how gender constructs affect our everyday lives and relationships, and a celebration of the LGBTQ community’s history of overcoming adversity and violence. “I think it’s hard for us to talk about violence within our own community. When you are part of a community that’s already [on the margins of our society], to also acknowledge that there is violence and discrimination between the people in this subset is almost too much to handle” (Armanino).

Keitel and Maggie Borlando rehearse a scene from their self produced film Like Glass in Keitel’s bedroom. “Theatre, art and media can expose the fact that there is so much internalized hatred and internalized fear towards the LGBT community and within the LGBT community. It helps in the healing process” (Keitel).

Keitel and Maggie Borlando rehearse a scene from their self produced film Like Glass in Keitel’s bedroom. “Theatre, art and media can expose the fact that there is so much internalized hatred and internalized fear towards the LGBT community and within the LGBT community. It helps in the healing process” (Keitel).

Armanino focuses on how to approach a critical scene. “When you are talking about violence, the responsibility for storytellers is to present it in a way that is as shocking and awful as it should be, but again within the safe context where someone can still get a lesson out of it, instead of being so traumatized where they can’t deal with it, which is what I feel like when I see the news—it’s almost too much and you can’t take away as much from it as if you could by watching a film or seeing theatre” (Armanino).

Armanino focuses on how to approach a critical scene. “When you are talking about violence, the responsibility for storytellers is to present it in a way that is as shocking and awful as it should be, but again within the safe context where someone can still get a lesson out of it, instead of being so traumatized where they can’t deal with it, which is what I feel like when I see the news—it’s almost too much and you can’t take away as much from it as if you could by watching a film or seeing theatre” (Armanino).

Keitel and Armanino rehearse one of the film’s most intimate scenes in the bathroom of Keitel’s apartment. “When did you become such a heteronormative asshole anyway? No matter what you pretend to be out there for your boss and your office buds when we are home, when we fuck, you are still just a faggot” (dialogue from Like Glass).

Keitel and Armanino rehearse one of the film’s most intimate scenes in the bathroom of Keitel’s apartment. “When did you become such a heteronormative asshole anyway? No matter what you pretend to be out there for your boss and your office buds when we are home, when we fuck, you are still just a faggot” (dialogue from Like Glass).

Theatre artists Dinae Anderson and Jesse Krebs meet in Krebs’ Harlem apartment to plan the launch of their new theatre company Theatre Who. Theatre Who’s mission is to rebel against issues of censorship and type casting in New York City theatre. Anderson says, “The first step in talking about any form of oppression, including violence, is making it clear that it is a systematic entity causing all of this. You want to control guns but yet, that is not necessarily the whole issue… This summer in New York City, there have been regular raids in the NYCHA [NYC Housing Authority] projects. Nobody is talking about that. Nobody is talking about how disabled people and black and brown people are literally having their homes and families invaded by SWAT teams. That’s a violent act in and of itself. And that’s state sanctioned. That’s not violence from gangs or ISIS… it’s from people who are supposed to be protecting us.” Krebs adds, “A lot of times when making ‘political theatre’ you hear the phrase ‘we don’t want to alienate the audience.’ While I understand the concept of not wanting to alienate the audience I certainly want to implicate the audience. I certainly want to make sure we make the statement that this is not some ‘far off problem’, this is you, this is us” (Krebs)/

Theatre artists Dinae Anderson and Jesse Krebs meet in Krebs’ Harlem apartment to plan the launch of their new theatre company Theatre Who. Theatre Who’s mission is to rebel against issues of censorship and type casting in New York City theatre. Anderson says, “The first step in talking about any form of oppression, including violence, is making it clear that it is a systematic entity causing all of this. You want to control guns but yet, that is not necessarily the whole issue… This summer in New York City, there have been regular raids in the NYCHA [NYC Housing Authority] projects. Nobody is talking about that. Nobody is talking about how disabled people and black and brown people are literally having their homes and families invaded by SWAT teams. That’s a violent act in and of itself. And that’s state sanctioned. That’s not violence from gangs or ISIS… it’s from people who are supposed to be protecting us.” Krebs adds, “A lot of times when making ‘political theatre’ you hear the phrase ‘we don’t want to alienate the audience.’ While I understand the concept of not wanting to alienate the audience I certainly want to implicate the audience. I certainly want to make sure we make the statement that this is not some ‘far off problem’, this is you, this is us” (Krebs)/

Essence Brown rehearses a scene from Hopeless at Pace University. In this scene, Brown’s character says, “I want to live to see the day that little brown boys and girls can walk freely. When Black mothers will not have to kiss their babies goodbye every morning like it is the last time, because they know very well that it might be. I want live to be a mother. If I go out there how many times will I have to say that “I can’t breathe”? Eric said it eleven times. How many times will I have ask what I’m being charged for before I’m Sandra, dead in a jail cell? There are so many things I want to see. I’ve heard there are beautiful things out there, I haven’t seen them yet, but I want to.” 

Essence Brown rehearses a scene from Hopeless at Pace University. In this scene, Brown’s character says, “I want to live to see the day that little brown boys and girls can walk freely. When Black mothers will not have to kiss their babies goodbye every morning like it is the last time, because they know very well that it might be. I want live to be a mother. If I go out there how many times will I have to say that “I can’t breathe”? Eric said it eleven times. How many times will I have ask what I’m being charged for before I’m Sandra, dead in a jail cell? There are so many things I want to see. I’ve heard there are beautiful things out there, I haven’t seen them yet, but I want to.”