Unleash Your Fire: Interview with Vixen Noir
- Published: 18 April 2010
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Vixen Noir is an award-winning theatre director and producer, multidisciplinary performance and burlesque artist, dance teacher, choreographer and filmmaker. Her work embodies a commitment to claim erotic power, build bridges across racial, social and economic divides and celebrate the diversity of gender expression. Vixen was the founder and artistic director of liquidFIRE Productions, a San Francisco-based non-profit organisation dedicated to the authentic representation of lesbian and queer women of colour on stage. In 2008, to further her goals of empowering women in their sexuality all over the world, Vixen created the Unleash Your Fire Performance Project for Women in San Francisco and Sydney. She spoke with Amy McMurtie.
Vixen, you have an extensive career in performance, theatre direction and production, choreography and teaching over the past 20 years. What has kept you inspired for such a long period of time?
Probably I would say just rolling with the punches. Just going with the flow rather than trying to keep myself stuck in one mode of creation. Meaning like I’ve done everything from dancing with dance companies, to running my own all black lesbian dance theatre company that performed at clubs and at festivals and queer gay events around the country – this was back in the early 90s.
Then moving to San Francisco becoming involved in running a non profit theatre company called ‘Luna Sea Women’s Performance Project. Then while I was there LIQUIDfire was born, which I ran for eight years. It’s not staying stuck and doing the same thing for 20 years.
I think I’ve just always left myself open to what comes. The inspiration comes through life experiences, break-ups, getting together with people, having a desire to know more about my ancestry or my history.
I’ve always been interested in sexuality and sensuality. All my life since I was a toddler sexuality has played a large part in my work and most of the things that I do always have some level of sexual expression, whether it’s an under current or an external expression that’s really out in your face.
You founded LiquidFIRE Productions, a San Francisco- based non-profit organization dedicated to the authentic representation of lesbian and queer women of color on stage. You were the Artistic Director for almost 10 years. Can you tell us about what that project entailed? Why was the focus on lesbian and queer women of colour important to you?
I would say that my interest in lesbian and queer women of colour is just by virtue of the fact that I am one: a queer, lesbian woman of colour.
I think that’s always been an interest of mine, of uplifting and empowering. In the beginning it was black gay women, when we were known as gay women. It was about us expressing our sensuality on stage, and through that educating and empowering other black women to own their sexuality and learn to respect each other.
When I got to San Francisco in 1995, I fell into doing the work of LiquidFIRE after seeing Deeper Love, a show produced by this black artist, Imani Uzuri. I was like (eyes wide open), because it was all about eroticism – all these black, brown, yellow amazing women on stage claiming their shit through poetry, song, and dance.
It was steamy up in there girl, we were like “woooooohh” (hands lifted in air) my god!! It sold out constantly. And she set up nights which were for women of colour only. A space where you’d have all of us be so empowered through reflections of each other.
We then went to the after party on the closing night, and let me tell you, it was hot up in there. Sexual energy like mad! It was amazing!
After Imani moved to New York, I was inspired to start Liquid Fire, which was about women of colour coming to the stage, expressing themselves in their erotic power, and they could do whatever they wanted.
I saw what happened to the women in the audience, and I saw what happened to the women in the project. It gave me the desire to make the work deeper, to take it to another level where women could really go inside, really tap into that power source.
I thought, “I wanna empower women to access and reclaim their erotic power.” If I have it, everyone has it. We just need to know how to access it. That became the driving force behind my work. LiquidFIRE was an amazing amazing project.
What are your thoughts on the whiteness of the queer community in Sydney? How do you feel coming from the US where you had all these spaces for people of colour, and now they aren’t here.
I think it’s just relative to the country and the way things are here. It’s like going to Iceland or Greenland or Austria where the dominant culture is white. What do you do? People have to create the spaces.
When I came here in 2007 I started a group called ‘The Tangerine Circle’. ‘The Tangerine Circle’ was just for women of colour: a place where you could come and just hang and be a person of colour, and talk about whatever you wanted to talk about – things that frustrate you and drive you mad, racist experiences you’ve had, the ceilings that you hit because of the colour of your skin - you can’t go here or there, being objectified and exoticised, being in a relationship with someone who’s white in this country, in this culture, and what that experience is like for you, for your partner.
Tere are so many different things. People were really scared at first, but then people started to come and over time they were expressing things that were happening for them.
Sometimes it’s really difficult to carry on a conversation about racism as someone coming from where I’ve come from, parents who were part of the black, civil rights movement, a country that has had a mega amount of black leaders who have advocated against racism.
It’s hard to have conversations with people ‘cause they’re very defensive about their position. I feel like it’s an uneducated position. But I’ve tried to accept that it’s their experience, and their truth now, and it’s going to be their truth until they open themselves to other knowledge and being educated about racism on a global level.
I’m sure you’re quite aware of the discussions which have been occurring in the queer community recently regarding black face and other racist representations on stage. What are your thoughts on these kind of performances? And how as a performer and a woman of colour have you felt about the progression of these discussions?
I missed the discussion that happened at the Red Rattler because I was in Melbourne. I got different feedback, mostly that it was good. But it’s just a discussion, then what happens? But how do we make a difference? I don’t know.
One of the things I’ve learnt if you wanna create multiculturalism, diversity, have people of colour involved in things, you need to have people of colour in positions of leadership.
I learnt this from one of my closest friends, Miriam, who is white. She was involved in ‘Act Up’ (a diverse, non-partisan group of individuals united in anger and committed to direct action to end the AIDS crisis.)
My whole thing was like “Why can’t we all get along? What’s the problem? Why does there have to be so much ugliness?” and then I met her and started volunteering at Luna Sea and she brought me on as co-Artistic Director.
I asked “Why do you need a women of colour only project?” and she was like “Are you kidding me?” I learned a lot about racial politics from her – about why it’s important to have, for example, women of colour only projects, events, spaces and how it really validates women and empowers us in who we are as people of colour, because we have so many reflections of ourselves around us.
There’s a certain level of solidarity and connection and rhythm, language that only we can understand and relate between us. This coming together allows us to be filled up then go back out into the world, and live life to the fullest, less fearful.
One of the things my friend Miriam did as co-Artistic Director was eventually step out so I could become sole Artistic Director.
“I need to step down and let you run this organisation, as a woman of colour,” she said. All of a sudden because I was there as a leader more women of color became involved with Luna Sea as board members, volunteers, producers, performers and audience members.
So I’m a firm believer if you are going to really look to create programming or opportunities or things like that for people of colour, have women of colour in leadership roles. And it’s not to tokenise them but because they actually really belong there. They have the skills, they have the wisdom, and they have the ability. It’s not just because she’s black so we can get more people of colour in.
I think with the whole black face thing, you just need to keep going there. You need to keep continuing to create spaces where white people get educated about racism, and their own racism and the fact they do have privileges. I don’t even think people have white guilt here. Everything is a joke, no big deal. Everything’s to not be taken so seriously.
Tell us about your newest venture that you’re looking to launch with 48 Little Oxford St: the Unleash Your Fire (UYF) Performance Project for Women.
I think each phase of this project of this work is the next culmination of the previous culminations of the previous culminations of the work. All interlinked and connected, it’s all different parts being brought together that may not have been brought together before.
UYF was born from the work of LiquidFIRE Productions, and my desire because of burnout to condense the bigger project into something that was transportable and required less energy. This allowed me to take the work of the larger organisation to other women in other parts of the USA and the world.
I’ve been here in Australia doing the workshops and getting participant feedback surveys. The surveys really helped me to re-shape and refine the process. Eventually no more constructive feedback was coming back. I was like, “I have something here that really works, and I can now move from this place to train other people to do it”. Because I’m really ready to go in different directions as well.
One of the things I’ve brought back to the project is the performance showcase at the end. Because I think the performance, the ultimate climax is the women getting up on the stage and showing what they have learned and how far they have traveled during the process. It’s when you just see everything kind of explode. You see these women being one way when they came in, to being on the stage, beaming and being powerful, no holds barred.
I’ve taken a lot of the deeper more serious content out of the process, and really kind of worked to focus on the positive stuff. But I want to focus on the deeper work enough so that women are able to access the erotic power within them. So that by the time they’re on stage performing, they are exuding power and presence from the inside out.
I’ve also moved more towards having the performance based in burlesque and strip tease. It’s about encouraging women to creative themselves, and not me choreographing. It’s not about me imposing my creativity on them, it’s about me helping women to pull out their own creativity, and know that they have it inside them. That for me is the power.
And you’re making a film, I believe. Tell us about what your plans are for that.
This film I’ve been working on since 1999, it’s called ‘Unlikely Soul’ and it’s a pet project of mine. It’s a character-driven, erotic, vampire, really humane story. I’ve had people read the 20 minutes that I’ve written and people are like “Fuckin hell, you’ve gotta finish this, when are you gonna finish this?”
I was separated from the script for a long time when I went back to America in 2007. I left it here in Australia and couldn’t find it. And then I found it again, and all my characters. It’s something I feel very excited about.
I think that part of my challenge is I have this thing where it’s hard for me to be one dimensional and just do one thing.
You know I’d love to make music, I’m discovering my voice as a singer. I’ve always wanted to be a star. I don’t care if I just make one video, I’ve always wanted to make a video, and get onto stage, and sing and dance and perform.
I’m 45 years old now, but I still feel like I’m 30 and I just want to explore all the parts of myself, and not leave anything hanging, but at the same time it’s like “Girl, just focus on one thing, and really hit it”, then maybe everything else will open up.
Vixen Noir and 48 Little Oxford Street Creative Arts & Lifestyle Centre are running Unleash Your Fire Performance Project for Women in Sydney until 20 May. Unleash Your Fire is a performance-based project where the ultimate goal is to empower women in their sexuality and their personal power, from the inside out, using erotic performance art as a vehicle for transformation. Classes include everything from writing, theater and spoken word to instruction in the art of burlesque and striptease.
Workshops are held Thursdays, 6 – 9pm; Saturdays, 10am – 1pm at 48 Little Oxford Street, Darlinghurst, Sydney, NSW 2010.
Amy McMurtrie is a writer, multimedia visual artist, and performer. Amy's art work explores the intersections between body, gender and sexuality. She often uses her performances as an expression of body positivity and to make political commentary. Amy recently initiated the Fat Femme Front group in Sydney, a group of fat femmes dedicated to fighting fat phobia. She can't wait for the obesity moral panic to end and has been an activist for many years.