Posted by Billyjam, September 5, 2008 09:00am | Post a Comment
Sins Invalid @ Brava Theater SF this weekend
Tonight and tomorrow night at 8PM  (Friday/Saturday, Sept. 5/6th) at the Brava Theater at 2789 24th Street in San Francisco will be the third year of one of the most envelope pushing performance projects tackling the topic of sexuality and disability:
Sins Invalid: An Unshamed Claim to Beauty in the Face of Invisibility.

Amoeblog caught up with Patricia Berne, the director of Sins Invalid, to ask her about this most unique performance project and this weekend's two performances that include singer/songwriter Nomy Lamm.

AMOEBLOG: For those who know nothing about Sins Invalid, can you describe what it is?

PATRICIA BERNE: Sins Invalid is a performance project which incubates and celebrates artists with disabilities, centralizing on artists of color and queer and gender-variant artists as communities who have been historically marginalized. Our performance work explores the themes of sexuality,  embodiment and the disabled body. Conceived and led by disabled people of color, we develop and present cutting-edge work where normative paradigms of "normal" and "sexy" are challenged, offering instead a vision of beauty and sexuality inclusive of all individuals and communities. We define disability broadly to include people with physical impairments, who are a sensory minority, people with emotional disabilities, people with cognitive challenges, those with chronic/severe illness, individuals who identify as disabled due to intersex conditions or gender variance, and others who may identify as disabled because their bodies do not conform to society's notions  of "normal" or able-bodied.

AMOEBLOG: What are the most common misconceptions on the topic of   sexuality and disability?

PATRICIA BERNE: People with disabilities are often "neutered" -- we are seen as "untouchable," off-limits, that we cannot be sexual, that we are  simply asexual. Or, the converse -- we have been portrayed in the media (i.e. David Lynch's film Blue Velvet) as lascivious, deviant,  perverse....We don't battle the dichotomy of the virgin/whore, but another -- are we saints or monsters?

What exactly do you mean by -- the term used in your program -- "an unshamed claim to beauty in the face of invisibility?"

PATRICIA BERNE: Dominant narratives and representations of the body tell us that there is a "perfect" body, which deserves pride, and that all other bodies are "less than," to be hidden, shamed, disregarded.  This perfect body is typically a gender normative body, it may be a light or white skinned body, it is certainly a thin body for female identified folks -- and it is NEVER a disabled body. We deeply know -- and demonstrate -- that all bodies are beautiful and valuable.

Further, disabled bodies are often hidden, we are told that displaying our differences from a narrow physical normative is at best inappropriate and at worst could jeopardize our safety, stories get told about our bodies, our bodies get used as cultural icons of perversity or deviance -- and the truth of our lives, the truth of our bodies, gets made invisible. We are part of the human family and our bodies are divine  expressions, as are all peoples. We are claiming and displaying the beauty of embodiment.

AMOEBLOG: What inspired undertaking this project initially and is this year the third year?

PATRICIA BERNE: It did start three years ago -- and I'm going to offer you a few  paragraphs I wrote on behalf of Sins Invalid written for the just-released Routledge publication Telling Stories to Change the World:  Global Voices on the Power of Narrative to Build Community and Make  Social Justice Claims, edited by Rickie Solinger, Kayhan Irani, and Maddy Fox:

"Like many good stories, the early threads of this one were woven 
over dinner, a large bowl of saffron laced paella, steaming on the 
table between two good friends. Leroy Moore and I were excited over 
his recent collaboration with Todd Herman – a film entitled Forbidden 
that intertwines Leroy’s randy poetry with tasteful yet explicit 
cock and body shots – and sharing dismay that most people can’t seem 
to conceive that people with disabilities are sexual, let alone sexy.

We’ve both been disabled since birth, and bluntly, we’re both pretty 
hot, and we both humbly know it. Still, every day throughout the day 
we each struggle with the disconnect between what we know to be true 
about our beauty and the passion of our lives, and what the world 
seems to believe, that we are less than, undesirable, pitiable… it’s 
hard, to know that you have been blessed while others seem convinced 
you’ve been cursed.

So, being an activist and an organizer, we did what we know how to do 
– organize. And a performance event on sexuality and disability was 
in the process of being born – Sins Invalid: An Unshamed Claim to 
Beauty In the Face of Invisibility.

Well, truth be told, at first it was going to be a small video 
screening for a few friends in a local café…and our early working 
title still conjures up images of bloody puddles in my mind. But the 
universe often offers unexpected gifts, in this case manifesting as 
our friends and veteran artists Todd Herman and Amanda Coslor. We 
told them about our idea and they offered to collaborate, 
contributing massively toward the aesthetics, contacts, available 
resources and experience. Sins Invalid then had a dedicated core 
group, moreover, a family."

What kind of reactions have you gotten from people (both disabled and not) who have attended previous Sins Invalid performances?

PATRICIA BERNE: I want to let audience members speak for themselves: Here are a few excerpts from audience member surveys: "Sitting there at the Brava theater; captivated, engaged, inspired, empowered, energized, stimulated, stirred and blown over...I will never forget  that experience…breaking the barriers that I had built around my embodiment, sexuality and identity. That catalyst is still in motion;" "Amazing, brilliant, beautiful, transformative;" "I feel  enriched! That was gorgeous, a perfect mix of artistry and social commentary and personal testimony.;" "…a unique and cutting-edge contribution to the envisioning of disability, sexuality and the body, pushing artists and audience members alike to question basic  assumptions…To say it is provocative is an understatement. It was probing, fearless and sensitive."

And from a participating artist: "I have to tell you that being part of the show was perhaps the most amazing experience I have ever had… There is nothing like Sins and this is only the beginning. For those  of us who are performers and artists and directly involved with it, the experience is life changing. It helps us expand our wings and rise above any obstacles. Our work and our words and our presence bring positive change to the people who witness our work. We  educate.  We empower.  We create social justice. We give other people with disabilities the opportunity to see their sexuality properly represented.  It gives people courage to be themselves. Sins moves mountains of discrimination and misunderstanding. It breaks barriers. It touches lives." — Maria Palacios, Sins Invalid performer

AMOEBLOG: What is the one thing that you hope to accomplish with this project?

PATRICIA BERNE: Beauty cannot be denied; it will always, always recognize itself.

Sins Invalid plays tonight (Friday) and tomorrow (Sat, Sept 6th) at 8PM at the Brava Theater in San Francisco. Tickets/info. Sins Invalid's MySpace. Sins Invalid YouTube channel.

Relevant Tags

Sins Invalid (4), Brava Theater (1), Patricia Berne (1)