Dynasty: On Being Black and Queer in Austin
The Mahogany Project's newest show dives into QPOC lived experience
By Iman Shah,
9:00AM, Tue. Aug. 1, 2017
Austin has a thriving LGBTQ+ community, but that doesn't mean it's always easy to call Austin home. The challenges queer people of color face while navigating predominantly white spaces often go overlooked and unheard, while few public spaces exist for queers of color.
Volume V: Dynasty, The Mahogany Project’s latest theatrical performance merging past, present, and future, seeks to create this space and thought-provoking dialogue about the queer black experience in Central Texas.
Racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and a litany of intersecting issues continue to marginalize communities in Austin, and mainstream awareness of how queer people of color navigate these obstacles is sorely lacking.
Enter The Mahogany Project, a collective of queer black folks who grew out of a discussion group five years ago. Annually they put on a performance with the goal of facilitating conversation about the local QPOC experience through Q&A sessions between the cast and audience after each performance. The artists prepare by engaging in their own conversations during the development of the creative pieces that eventually make up the show. By making space for these sometimes difficult discussions, The Mahogany Project offers viewers a chance to explore and vocalize the reality of their lives as well as the lives of others.
“It’s important, especially in the times we’re in, to look back and see where we’ve come from. Look at our heritage, who we were, who we are as a people now, and where we’re going,” co-director and actor Joe Anderson Jr. told “Gay Place.” “To look at our lifeline, lineage, and legacy – we come from extremely strong people, and I want to acknowledge that.”
One of the main goals of this year’s production, Dynasty, is to make the audience reflect on their own lives and the lives of queer people of color they may know in cities across Texas. “Learn as much as you can about the culture of being queer and black in that city,” said Anderson. “Be a resource to them, be an open ear.” Through their work, the cast of The Mahogany Project offers audiences a glimpse into their lived experiences. After that, it’s on the audience to figure out how they can contribute to a solution.
Previous shows encouraged discussion around living in Austin as a queer black man through prose, poetry, and performance. Last year’s Chronicles closed with a piece about police brutality and depictions of bodies on the ground. Dynasty, the fifth installment in the series, moves forward from where last year’s show left off: with a tone of hopeful uncertainty.
“It’s going to start with very heavy emotional material,” said Anderson. “But I think it’s important because, without the pain, there is no progress. When we look back, while our legacy and lineage is full of so many accomplishments, they came at a price – of safety, of life. We go through this to get to the other side.”
This year’s cast consists of five people who hope to grow The Mahogany Project into a full-time job with the goal of hosting workshops throughout the city for queer youth of color. Currently though, The Mahogany Project remains largely underground, using theatre as a medium for advocacy. Anderson explained, “[Theatre offers] the thrill of seeing something in real time and immersing yourself in the story someone is telling you. Something about seeing someone live, in person, in your face, you have to be present in that moment.”
Aside from his work on The Mahogany Project, Anderson is a public health program specialist for HIV prevention and counseling with the city. He says the other cast members are similarly busy with their own careers, and that’s caused people to “come and go” each year. “Everyone volunteers their time. We don't always get paid, [we do it] because of the love of the project.”
Dynasty runs Fri., Aug. 4, through Sun., Aug. 6, 7pm each night at the Dougherty Arts Center. Tickets are $10 presale, $20 at the door. Anderson said the project always needs volunteers. Interested parties can email him at email@example.com or visit their website for more details.