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Highways Performance Space celebrates 30 years, LGBTQ community

SANTA MONICA — Highways Performance Space — the queer venue where artists experiment with content — will not only mark the site’s 30th anniversary with its annual arts festival, but also use the event to honor the LGBTQ community for helping launch the space.

Behold!, will run from May 3 to June 30. The event will spotlight two-months of queer work from Highways’ extended group of artists, writers, and performers. Renowned theater actor Michael Kearns, venerable artist Tim Miller (a Highways’ founder and original co-artistic director), Sean Dorsey (the nation’s first transgender modern dance choreographer), and Black Lives Matter cofounder Patrisse Cullors are on the schedule.

Celebrate LGBTQ community

“Our vision is to celebrate the LGBTQIA community that launched Highways in 1989,” Highways Performance Space Artistic Director Patrick Kennelly said in a statement. “Inspired by Highways’ original queer fest, Ecce Lesbo-Ecce Homo Festival, Behold! is a series of  LGBTQ performance, dance, spoken word, theatre, multi-media, and ritual.”

Leo Garcia, Highways’ executive director, said that the “LGBTQIA community and its liberation movements of the ‘80s and early ‘90s is inextricably entwined with Highway’s founding and mission.

“Highways’ intention,” he said, “is to develop and present a diverse yet clear program that reflects the complexity of the community and its history while expressing a range of aesthetic techniques.”

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Behold! performances

Here are four works that will be part of Behold! For a complete list, click here.

“A Body in the O” by Tim Miller

May 4 at 8:30 p.m.

Set in 1984 when Miller climbed inside one of the letter Os of the Hollywood sign and imagined the performance space tree house of his dreams, “A Body in the O” journeys through the hoops of the Department of Homeland Security, a queer boy choking in L.A, the human heart’s mysterious Os, and a wedding day.

“Boys in Trouble” by Sean Dorsey Dance

May 17, 18 at 8:30 p.m.

Pioneering transgender choreographer Sean Dorsey and his award-winning namesake company, Sean Dorsey Dance return to the Highways stage with the Los Angeles premiere of “Boys in Trouble.” The show is a timely commentary on toxic masculinity that puts a trans and queer lens onto intersectional questions of embodiment, violence, black queer love, whiteness, shame and posturing.

Dorsey created “Boys in Trouble” over a two-year period, after visiting communities across the country where he hosted forums, recorded interviews, and taught free movement workshops for transgender, gender non-conforming, cisgender, gay, bi, and queer people on the masculine spectrum.

Patrisse Cullors Highways Performance Space

Black Lives Matter cofounder Patrisse Cullors, pictured in 2012, will be at Highways Performance Space in June. Photo: Leo Garcia.

“Respite, Reprieve and Healing: An Evening of Cleansing” by Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors

June 21, 22 at 8:30 p.m.

Under the Trump Administration, the lives of people at the margins are most impacted. “It’s our job to continue to recognize the danger so we can be closely connected to the resilience,” according to the event description. “This series is looking at the ways we are all deeply impacted by harm and how we show up despite it.”

“Wet Hankies” by Michael Kearns

June 30 at 5 p.m.

This autobiographical piece celebrates Kearn’s 30-year engagement at Highways. It will include stories from Kearns’ canon and work he has directed at Highways as well as new monologues.

During Highways’ opening season in 1989, Kearns debuted “Intimacies,” his landmark theatrical outpouring of HIV/AIDS’ secrets told by a cast of six actors.

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Highways history

Highways had its first event May 4, 1989, and some of the works addressed the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which was killing many people in the gay community. Having HIV was considered a death sentence because treatment and medications didn’t yet exist that would manage the virus.

The queer community decided to do something, Garcia said.

‘Fighting for our lives’

“It was a time to act up for justice. It was our duty. We were fighting for our lives,” Garcia said. “Our form of acting out was acting up, literally and through performance, sometimes as didactic, sometimes as metaphor, but always as an action.

“We were telling our truth — the truth — in order to make change. People were dying. AIDS was devastating our brothers and sisters,” Garcia said. “The pain, rage and loss were great and powerful. We transformed our rage into action, into performance, into words.”

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Conservatives panic

Of course, sometimes social and religious conservatives have been agitated by the artistic subject matter. For example, in 1995, some of the uptight individuals foamed at the mouth.

They were offended by the image promoting Highways’ Ecce Lesbo/Ecco Homo festival that showed a naked African-American man holding a Bible and wearing a cross. As a result, the National Endowment for the Arts revoked all of Highways’ federal funding.

In addition to the main performance space, Highways also features two galleries and a workshop program, the Highways Performance Lab.

Many performances, performers

Approximately 250 performances per year are presented in the three spaces, and 12 contemporary visual art exhibits are curated and exhibited.

Highways also commissions and premieres new work, organizes special events, curates festivals, and offers residency and educational programs.

Highways has presented work from thousands of emerging and renowned artists and collectives: Luis Alfaro, Elia Arce, Ron Athey, Cornerstone Theater, Quentin Crisp, Diavolo Dance Theater, Karen Finley, John Fleck, Simone Forti, Rosanna Gamson Worldwide, Stephanie Gilliland, Guillermo Gomez-Pena, The Hittite Empire, Dan Kwong, Los Angeles Poverty Dept., Victoria Marks, Sir Ian McKellan, Rudy Perez, Phranc, Denise Uyehara.

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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