Q&A: The Fled Collective talks PRIDE MONTH, and how SERIALS fosters a joyful space for Queer Artists
The Fled Collective’s beloved late-night play competition, SERIALS, returned this past weekend to much fanfair. We sat down with Fled Collective members Jon Jon Johnson (they/he), Stevie Jae Davis (they/he), Nat Stornelli (they/them), and Serials playwright alum, Sam Hamashima (they/them) to talk about their experience with Serials and their latest thoughts on Pride this year.
First off, How's everyone's Pride Month going?
Jon Jon: You know they set the world on fire briefly for us.
Stevie: Pride's been good. I am very busy and very tired, but I feel like I'm doing a bunch of cool things that are pretty gay. First, well I finished Sway [at the Flea Theater] that closed like a little bit before June so I had a time to like rest, go home for a second, see my family and now I am Professor Strap-on in a reading of Missionary Woman by Meg Rosensweet.
Sam: I just feel a bit more like confident this month where I'm like, they can't hate crime me, it's pride month. It's like an added heart in Zelda, in my opinion. It's like, ooh, I have a little bit extra life. I am working on my solo show, Banana, which is happening in two weeks in Provincetown. I'm going out almost every night, which I love.
Nat: I'm like super stoked. So like, I, coming out of a little bit of a heavy and emotional May, I popped directly into Pride Month and like my energy levels went up, my happiness levels went up, I got to suddenly start seeing the people I care about so much more. I'm thrilled. This is my first Pride in the city. I'm just like so excited to properly do Pride. And I get to be doing serials in the mix of this. I feel like kind of the way that you would, like in a Hallmark movie, this is the true meaning of pride. Which I would rather watch a Hallmark movie about Pride than Christmas, but I am also a Jew.
How does your identity as a queer person influence the art that you make?
Sam: I've been thinking about this a lot. My identity as a queer person has, I don't want to say like, it's another voice in my head that I'm like, is this going to be accepted in public school systems? Is this something that I'm going to be able to use my last name with? Like I've been considering dropping my last name on most of my works because of like everything happening
in the world. In theater, they're always like, oh, be so authentic and just be as vulnerable as possible. But like, it feels like that's not true. And I don't want to... I'm not trying to rain on anyone's parade, but that was just my really visceral reaction to that question of, they want us to be bandied about in June and be real and be authentic, but then when it comes down to it, will they accept us in November? I'm not really sure.
Stevie: I agree with that 100%. I have given up on the concept of “the hustle” because what's the point when I look the way I look? No one's going to cast me in any role other than the “trans one” that they might throw into the show. Why go to open calls unless they're doing a pride-related show or a queer-related show? I feel like I've gotten very lucky with roles I've gotten to play. Like, with SMJ and Sway, they rewrote the entire character to reflect my identity, but is any other playwright going to do that? Most likely not. But I am very thankful that I do get to play roles that are fun and, like, challenging. And it just feels silly to be like, I'm just going to wake up at 6am and go to this EPA and see what happens. They're going to be like, do you want to be Juliet? Or do you want to be like the tree in the back? I feel very disillusioned by the concept of transness in theater at the moment.
Jon Jon: When my career started, I would hear things like “I don't see why an Asian person would be in Denmark” etc, and then there would be only one Asian person in Japan in the next show. Every time I go to work on a show now I'm like, fuck it, I'm going to be unabashed. I know you don't want me, so if you find yourself liking me, I win. Right? I've just like stopped caring about being anything other than my most authentic self because what it does do is it signals to people who have come up behind me to be like, hey, that person's being weird and a gay little gremlin, so like, I can be one too.
Jon Jon: Because for the people who would only cast me as the tree in the background, or like only roll me out for Asian month or Pride month, and I'm like, I don't want to work with y'all. For me, a lot of pride is about finding where my tribes are, finding where the people who want to work with me are and vice versa. How do I then also as a “resident old” make sure I'm opening doors for people? It influences how I go about administrating art and leading rooms around art. I don't know, I've seen a bunch of shows recently and every time I'm like “could be gay” or “could be gayer” because like everything could be gayer. You could put the gayest kinkiest thing in front of me, and I would be like: “Could be gayer.”
I want to challenge people. I want to challenge ideas. So like, how do I challenge the notion that queerness is, in itself, liberation? It's not just about challenging the norm. It's about asking how do you remind yourself that queerness is a deviance that should be accepted rather than just normalizing that deviance?
Because when we normalize it, we get plays where there's a homosexual relationship, but it still follows all the trappings of heteronormativity, it's still the same rom-com formula. There’s a difference between a gay play and a queer play. When I see yearning and longing in subtext, I'm like, oh, how queer! How do we find the queerness in everything? How do we make everything a little queer? How do we pull away from what the societal norms are and normalize what is considered queer?
You all have worked with the Fled Collective on SERIALS. Can you talk a little bit about how serials might foster an inclusive and welcoming environment for queer individuals?
Nat: I don’t think I've ever felt that I can do anything more than I do when I’m in Serials. [The playwright] will give me anything, and I am empowered to pull it off. [Playing a character close to my identity] in Catching Fire (Serials Cycle 5) changed my life. I've never gotten to do anything like that. I didn't really get to have a queer youth, I definitely didn't have a trans youth, and just like, getting to briefly inhabit a world where like, it is, it doesn't, like, it matters because that's who they are, and their experience is inseparable from their transness, but like that's, that's not what is driving the story.
You know, fitting into boxes and being trans within somebody else's framework is not what it's about. And that's so freeing because that's not what our lives should be about. And it sucks that getting closest to that feeling is kind of within the bounds of a play, but it's also like, God, I could microdose on that forever. It feels like a haven.
Sam: Yeah, I mean, when you said Haven, that really resonated with me because I feel like when I first started sort of my relationship with the Fled Collective, it was very “come as you are,” and that stays with me. You can tell when an organization has expectations for you and what you're bringing. I didn't really feel that with The Fled. It really feels like it's the community is for the community. It never really felt like I was being pigeonholed or labeled as something. It was just labeled as me. I am just Sam, whatever that means. That’s what I really love about it.
FC: Sounds really freeing.
Sam: Oh my God, it's so liberating. It’s really the place where I feel like I can just sit and have a drink and like watch theater and remember what I love about theater. We could be transported to these worlds for 10 minutes and they all have their own rules. But in all of them, there is queer acceptance, or there is, like, it's a conflict of reaching queer acceptance, you know?
Nat: There's nothing that's not at least a little queer. It was deeply funny to feel this about a character that Stevie played whose name was literally Scrimbopolis, but I was like, the cool love interest in a thing is non-binary. Last week's cycle features a beautiful monologue where Connie talks about being asexual. I’m crying in the club about a character whose name is literally Connie Lingus! But it feels good to finally get to see my friends playing roles as themselves. I was sitting in the audience thinking, dang, I need to come to this all the time if it's like this.
Stevie: And it is! Serials just really runs the gambit. Within minutes, you could be laughing about something very silly, like a character stubbing their toe or Taylor Swift tickets, or a dick joke, and then we can also have characters coming out as non-binary not being accepted, or topics like transphobia like in Jon Jon’s play. My mom came that week and sobbed. It really
meant a lot to her. It really like opened a big conversation.
Jon Jon: Thank you, I feel seen.
FC: Thank you, Stevie.
In the last couple minutes together, can you all speak a bit about the importance of having these queer celebrating environments all year round, rather than just the month of pride?
Jon Jon: I've always thought about a lot about how America in particular is very like segmented culturally in that way: “You get a month for this, you get a week for this, you get a day for this.” I grew up in Malaysia, where everything kind of blends together seamlessly, you don't segment it as much. I don't care if it's AAPI month, I'm Asian all year round. I don't care if it's Pride month, I'm gay. That doesn't change in July. I am myself all year round. And my art's always gonna be queer, and my art's always gonna have my specific lens to it.
Nat: I feel like it's especially true being non-binary. Being like, we can't, we just inherently don't participate in a system that so much of the rest of the world is peachy keen on. Whether or not it's Pride Month, we've got to foster space for that. We've got to use this time to foster care for each other. I'm never going to play the reindeer game, so better find people to play a different
SERIALS is a raucous night of serialized plays featuring The Fled’s resident company of actors,
directors, and playwrights. Teams perform original short episodic plays, while the audience
votes for its favorites to return with a new installment.
Learn more and stay up-to-date on The Fled Collective and how you can join the movement at
www.TheFled.com. Join their mailing list and follow them on social media, @thefledcollective on
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About The Fled Collective:
The Fled is an artist collective providing a radically equitable, anti-racist, anti-oppressive
platform for theater artists — to build community, expand their artistry, and make theatre that is
actively engaged in our collective liberation and the dismantling of colonialist practices and
Macy Lanceta (she/her)