Melissa Birch's War Queer Peace Solo debuts at the Boulder International Fringe Festival
For the better part of the past decade, Minneapolis-based performer Melissa Birch has focused on collaborations, but the veteran artist, singer and innovative cabaret entertainer is hardly a neophyte when it comes to solo performance. That's how she started her career, and at this year's Boulder International Fringe Festival, Birch will take her singular performance style out of the closet with War Queer Peace Solo, which addresses gender equality, queer identity, politics and public policy.
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Written, directed and starring Birch, the one-woman experience marks Birch's first appearance on the Fringe circuit. In advance of several runs of War Queer Peace Solo at the festival, she spoke with Westword about the evolving notion of queer identity, and how much she enjoys sharing her unique style of personal narrative with new audiences.
Westword: What's the story behind this piece, War Queer Peace Solo?
Melissa Birch: I wrote it a couple of years ago when I started to think about what we were going to run into in 2012 -- what kind of progress we had made in terms of civil rights for gay and lesbians, the peace movement and non-violence. I was sort of examining where we were at this point (versus) where we were twenty years ago, and the stretch between then.
It's my first solo show since 1999. I took about ten years off of doing solo work, so that was another strong motivation. The solos that I had made previously were theater, but sort of more cabaret; I was dealing more in drag and I was always using live music behind the narratives. They were one-woman shows, but they had a different tone that, at this point, feels fairly dated.
In the last decade, I've studied physical improvisation seriously, and brought in a movement base to the work, which is really exciting to me. So the narrative quality of the work remains, but in making and performing it, there is a whole movement vocabulary now that I didn't have ten years ago.
So no props or music.
Yes. It's very clean, there's nothing extra. There's still some music involved, but it's an exploration of a whole new genre, really. It feels more authentic to me for 2012 and the 2012 audiences; "authentic" is a bit of a scary word. What has been interesting for me in developing the piece is reconnecting with a voice, and finding a whole new voice, a new way to say what, in essence, what I've been saying from the beginning.
What is so different to you about the 2012 audience, in comparison to, say, ten years ago?
The audiences I'm performing for are smarter and quicker, and there's a whole new vocabulary that we didn't have ten years ago to talk about gender. There are also political nuances in the work, though I wouldn't call this show political. There's definitely a crossover in talking about the personal as political -- the personal being political.
When I was doing a lot of solo work ten or more years ago, I was preaching to the choir on some level. The community was a lot less diffuse; gender was a really exciting concept. We're kind of in a post-gender place these days -- but back then, it was really exciting. I was doing femme drag. I'm not a classically overly feminine person on the street. (Laughs.) I'm androgynous, but femme drag was a new concept, both for the mainstream and for what was then, you know, the gay and lesbian community. What was exciting then is pretty passé these days.