Last Thursday Gay City Arts premiered a play entitled Rising Up, a work that openly condemns gentrification and displacement in the Central District by sharing the QTPOC experience and the importance of chosen family. The debut work from playwrights Sarah Rosenblatt and Ebo Barton, directed by Barton along with Neve Andromeda Mazique-Bianco, depicted an honest and personal representation of the QTPOC experience in Seattle.
Gay City makes waves in accessibility in ways that other performance spaces cannot compare. Walking into Gay City, patrons of the show were met with house rules, including a fragrance free policy. Although valiant, Gay City’s attempt to be inclusive may also leave the intended audience excluded from the play. Their policy is meant to allow patrons with chemical allergies to safely enjoy the play without fear of reactions, however as a new endeavor, it lacks proper communication and enforcement. A play performed by QTPOC, written by QTPOC, and intended to be consumed by QTPOC was turning away its own people, such as my guest, a queer black woman, who didn’t have perfume on but was told coconut oil in her hair was a problem. They could use a better procedure than just the sporadic enforcement by a Gay City employee smelling people at the door.
The directors then paid tribute to the land upon which the play was being performed. “We are on stolen land…” are words most commonly invoked to pay respect to the indigenous people, words most commonly spoken as an act of protest. This is unique. This is groundbreaking. This is what intersectionality looks like, and the play has yet to begin.
Rising Up is an act of protest. It protests mainstream theater through its content and casting. It protests gentrification and the way the city is changing beneath brown queer feet. It acknowledges the importance of a united front in our resistance.
The show opens with the main character, yet to be named, talking on the phone with her best friend Heathcliff. The two immediately establish the accessibility of the characters and their experiences. It’s us, it’s your best friend, it’s your cousin your partner – they immediately make you feel like you’re home. The main character, played by Scarlett D’Giacomo, and Heathcliff, played by Garfield Hillson, were a delight to watch on stage. D’Giacomo was charming, sweet. It was almost impossible to tear your eyes from the heart portrayed onstage. The main character was especially interesting because of the way she communicated with the other characters; she always spoke as if reciting a poem, adding mystic layer. Some of the most poignant quotes from D’Giacomo’s character came as she built and ended relationships. “It’s amazing who we become to survive” she stated with a calm forcefulness as she broke up with her boyfriend.
D’Giacomo wasn’t the only star Thursday night. Director and cast mate Mazique-Bianco, who beautifully played Syre the voracious and caring roommate, joined her. Mazique-Bianco was accompanied by stellar performances from Modessa Jacobs as the Virgo roommate Nadia and Ashley Nieves as the Aquarius roommate Jordan.
Honest and charming the characters held a mirror to the queer community and allowed us to laugh at ourselves. Rosenblatt and Barton weaved together a friend group that many of us can relate to. Chosen family is inherent to our identity and Rising Up is the sweetest tribute to that very idea. Very modern and young, this show was obviously their ode to their own chosen families.
The play utilized multimedia to amplify its protest of gentrification. A slide show, played before the curtain call, showed photos of the city demonstrating the extreme contrast of new development of the city compared with what Seattle used to look like. There were images of small homes next to towering apartments, with signs in the window that say “Not for Sale”. One of the less somber photos was of a group of white people with dreads, which was as comical as it was disturbing.
The production did hinder the impact of the play with frequent, long transitions. The pain of the transitions was eased by the incorporation of music, utilizing work from artists such as Beyoncé, Solange, and Erykah Badu, and also introducing the audience to local artists such as Donormaal and Dante Da Qween Johnson.
Rising Up is an impressive debut for the performers, directors, and playwrights. The play reminds us all that our mere existence is an act resistance in a society that does not want you there. A play that showcases the realities of the QTPOC experience deserves to be performed on a stage as big as the characters used to tell the story. Rising Up is what some would call a FUBU play, for us by us, and we can only hope to see more performance art that protests the issues facing our community while simultaneously celebrating our experience.
Rising Up runs through Sunday, May 21 at the Calamus Auditorium at Gay City.