Next Thursday, January 27, at Rice University's Gibbs Recreation Center, E. Patrick Johnson performs "Pouring Tea: Black Gay Men of the South Tell Their Tales," based upon his book of the same name. "Pouring Tea" is a dramatic reading of a selection from the dozens of oral histories that Johnson collected through interviews with black gay men of every generation, revealing not only their struggles but their ability to thrive in a world we might otherwise expect them to flee. These portraits remind us not to accept too quickly the images we're regularly given of gay men, black men, church men, southerners, or indeed of friends and lovers.
Johnson says, "I strive in every performance to find the truth of their experience in the rendering of their story--and when I do that in an ethical way, I feel I doing these stories justice."
Johnson's new work, focusing on the lives of others, is a departure from Johnson's first performance piece "Strange Fruit," in which the artist was his own subject. The key issues were largely the same, however. Says Johnson, "I was engaging the question of what it means to be a black person whose racial identity is called into question because of his sexuality, class, gender, and region." Johnson has made a career out of investigating claims of racial authenticity, and he has been grappling for years with the sorts of questions that emerged for many of us only after the vote on Proposition 8 in California highlighted the acrimony amongst the black and queer communities about their supposed alliance and perceived divergence.
However heady the issues may be, Johnson is first a performer. The audience for his new work can expect to be both challenged and entertained.
(Thursday, January 27, 7 p.m., Rice University's Gibbs Recreation Center Dance Theater--followed by a Q&A, book-signing, and reception.)