Volume 18 • Issue 7 | July 8-14, 2005

An evolving life from Jamaica to New York

By Tequila Minsky

Staceyann Chin, original cast member from Tony winning Def Poetry Jam, has her own one woman show, Border/Clash: A Litany of Desires at The Culture Project, 45 Bleecker St. in Manhattan which opened June 16, 2005.

The show is performance. Poetry. A little song. It’s the autobiographical telling of Staceyann Chin’s life story in prose. It starts with her as a young girl in Jamaica.

The juxtaposing of her language showcases her talent. Her lithe form, constantly in motion, adds physicality to the 85-minute non-stop performance, a portrait of a woman evolving.

Staceyann Chin’s Chinese father denied her paternity and when she was very young her Jamaican mother left for Canada. She’s then left to a Grandma and Auntie, tough love within the confines of a strict Christian household. These beginnings are a constant thread of issues for her—abandonment and outsiderness.

She struggles through adolescence and forges a new sexual identity—she likes girls. She is public about her preferences. The pace is quick.

The breezy manner of the performance doesn’t prepare us for what is to follow, a tension filled sequence, vividly real. Invoking impending horrors, a mob of local homophobic men physically isolate her—feeling she’s a religious abomination and it is their duty to set her “straight,” to cure her. They become more and more physical. She barely escapes. The specter of this life traumatizing violence propels her to New York.

New York opens the door to freedoms she never had in the rigid structure paradise of home. She loves Jamaica yet remembers its repressiveness is coated with violence. In New York, along with her sexual freedom a political voice takes root.

This performance reveals how her persona emerges in New York. Her voice seeks a public audience in slam activism—her beginnings are at the Nuyorican Café in the East Village. Her words are lyrical and fierce.

The audience is captivated in The Culture Project’s intimate U-shaped theatre that provides a wonderful venue for connecting performer and audience. Frequently members of the audience audibly respond as the poetry glides and her story unfolds. Some women in the audience were happy to hear a voice rarely heard, a sexual niche rarely revealed. Others understood the piece to be both expressing specifics of being black and lesbian and the universals of outsiderness and the risks of taking political stands.

Staceyann Chin has won many American Poetry slams, regularly speaks or performs at colleges, is included in numerous anthologies and CD compilations and is also co-writer to Def Poetry Jam on Broadway and participated in its 51 city international tour last year. This is the third one-woman show she’s performed at The Culture Project.

Having arrived in New York in 1997, Jamaica is far and sometimes not that far. When she misses eating ackee and saltfish she takes a train to Fulton St., goes to Golden Crust. She listens to second-generation Jamaicans playing Bob Marley on Nostrand Avenue. Crown Heights is where she feels and calls home.

The Culture Project is a non-profit arts organization that focuses on the creation of theater relevant to our times. With an emphasis that illuminates social issues, artists aiming to enlighten and provoke are given special encouragement. The confluence of politics and culture of our time finds a venue here.

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