#CripWisdom: Interview with the Artists of Sins Invalid
From October 14-16, Sins Invalid returns to the stage this year in San Francisco with “Birthing, Dying, Becoming Crip Wisdom.” From Sins Invalid’s website, the show is:
A journey through genesis, transformative power and earth, this performance features cast from 9 years ago as well as emerging artists, prompted by dialogue and questions including: What were your first understandings that your body was disabled? How did your emerging understanding of yourself affect your gender identity? How does disabled embodiment open us to the possibility of a deeper engagement with the universal phenomena of transitions in embodiment? The resulting work is a kaleidoscopic plunge into visions of life and death, the disabled body/mind and liberation.
Sins Invalid is a disability justice based performance project celebrating the power of embodiment & sexuality, stripping taboos off disability to offer a vision of beauty that includes all bodies and communities. For more about the show go to their Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/929449547182929/
The header image in this post is by Micah Bazant, micahbazant.com.
Below is my interview with two artists involved in the latest Sins Invalid production, Neve Be(ast) (aka Lyric Seal) and India Harville.
Tell me about about yourself, your work as an artist/performer/activist and your involvement with Sins Invalid.
Neve: I’m a black punk femme with arthrogryposis Sagittarius sun/Scorpio rising! Witty, weird, wild, driven, opinionated yet sensitive, with my fingers in many pies! I’ve been black and proud and disabled and wondrous since I was born, a writer since I could write, a dancer since I was eight, an anarchist and activist since I better understood systemic oppression at Unitarian Universalist anti-oppression training camp, and an adult actor, entertainer, and sexual health advocate since I was twenty two. For the five years that I was living in the Bay (up until three months ago when I moved to Seattle), I interned and volunteered for Sins Invalid as a promoter, facilitator, and educator. This is my first main stage show as writer, emcee, and dancer, and I am so deeply excited.
India: I am a mixed abilities dancer, choreographer, and dance instructor. I believe that dance is everyone’s birthright and my mission is to bring dance as a healing practice, dance as radical self acceptance practice, dance as a way to dismantle ableism, dance as a community building practice, and dance as fun, to as many people as possible.
My work as a dancer/performer is about telling the stories that are untold, creating projects with people who have internalized that they cannot dance, creating dances that are about how they make us feel liberated versus their aesthetic value, although the dances are often quite beautiful. The activism in my work is foregrounded, I seek to make works that centralize those who are most marginalized, I encourage my dancers to let go of ableist ideas about their bodies and about dancing. In addition, the content of my work deals with social justice issues like police violence, survivorhood, internalized oppression, and inaccessibility.
I first attended the 2009 Sins Invalid show and it was a life changing experience, one of the 1st time I saw amazing artistry, beauty, and truth telling from a whole collective of disabled artists with politics that challenged me to change how I perceived them and myself. I was hooked. After that I took several Sins Invalid workshops that were equally powerful.
In 2015 I had the honor of being in the Disability Liberated performance along side Nomy Lamm which explored imprisonment and policing of the disabled body. That year I was also a Teaching Artist in Residence for Sins Invalid and taught a three part movement and sounding series with Nomy for the public.
Describe what it’s like being in this production so far–your role as a performer and your activities up until the actual date of the first show on October 14th.
Neve: I am emceeing (which involves co-writing some show structure), dancing, and appearing in other performer’s pieces. Up until June, from the beginning of the year, Patty and I were meeting weekly planning meetings. Starting in August, Nomy, Leah, and I got together twice a week to rehearse.
This is the last week of local rehearsals and then next week we’ll all be together for tech rehearsals, 1 to 10 every day until the show. This is my favorite part of the process. Down to the wire! It’s so scary and fun!
India: Preparing for a Sins show is an amazing process. At first Nomy and Patty approached me with some ideas and we started visioning what my offerings might look like in the show. Since several members of the cast are no longer in the Bay Area, there are lots of emails, phone calls, videos, and virtual rehearsals! As that process continues we start to revise, get new inspiration, and the show starts to tell us what needs to happen. My role is to stay flexible and responsive and to get into the essence of the pieces.
Last Monday the whole cast was in town and we did a first showing of the works in progress and started making decisions on the technical aspects like lights and set design. It was really moving to get to see everyone’s work.
Now we keep rehearsing until the week of the show where we work all day on finalizing everything!
What attracted you to participate in this show? What is the collaborative process like with the entire cast and crew?
Neve: I have wanted to be in a Sins show since I found out about them at the Allied Media Conference in 2010! This is only the second show since that time, so I feel pretty accomplished.
Even though all of the shows have been tightly knit, this is an extremely collaborative production, especially considering from how many different states some of us are traveling from. I was very blessed to be in the same area as so many performers up until June. Since my move to Seattle, I am also so excited to be near Leah, Nomy, and Ellery. We have all met with one another, workshopped things through, rehearsed together, and contributed tangibly or psychicly to one another’s works. Every single part of the show I am in is something I created with another person, including the incredibly talented Patty Berne.
India: I love these people. I love Sins Invalid and the way we embody disability justice. Collaborating with this cast is amazing, I admire and respect these performers so much and to work with them is an honor. I have performer’s crushes on all of them. It’s also so easy on my mind and my body to work with a cast that centers meeting everyone’s access needs. We make a lot of space for each other and it works. It’s kinda awe inspiring.
How are you feeling right now with the premiere just a few weeks away? What do you hope the audience takes away from the main themes of the show?
Neve: I am feeling really excited and nervous and earnest. Like this feels like a big break for me. I hope the audience will feel the power and profound truth of crip wisdom, past and present.
India: I am excited that the show is coming soon! And a little bit nervous too. And I want the audience to take away exactly what they need and so many things!!! I hope crips in the audience feel pride and a deeper sense of their brilliance and lovability. There are lots of gems of wisdom in this show that I wish I had known as a younger crip, so I hope the baby crips embody this wisdom earlier in their lives than I did. I also hope that our crip elders and ancestors feel our deep respect, love, and admiration – it is because of them that we can pass this wisdom on.
I hope anyone new to the ideas in Sins Invalid’s work open their hearts and minds to a radical shift in how they relate to disability, to us, to themselves, to ableism. I think the show is an opportunity for everyone to reflect on aging, age related disability, and death. So many people fear disability and death, and I hope the show is a opportunity to ease into these topics with humor and grace. This and so much more!
As an artist/performer/activist, how important is a group like Sins Invalid to you? What is unique about this collective of crips?
Neve: Sins Invalid, namely co-founders Patricia Berne and Leroy Moore, helped feed and sculpt my politics into what they are today. I wouldn’t be who I am without Sins, and I like myself so much! Our collective/family is unique because ties us together is a drive towards creative interventions for liberation and justice for all. Racial and gender justice is tied up in disability justice, every second is queer and weird and cute as hell.
India: This group is life giving to me and is extraordinarily important. It is so rare to find a POC, queer and genderqueer, disability justice centering crip arts organization where everything about the organization really strives to practice and embody the values it centers versus just talk about them. That’s unique about Sins. But also having an artistic director like Patty who pushes each artist and cultivates us is incredible too. Having an organization that values our work and values art as professional work and compensates us accordingly is amazing. Lastly, Sins is family, deeply centered in love. I don’t find this combination most places!
What does ‘Crip Wisdom’ mean to you? Where does it come from? How do we create and share it?
India: ‘Crip Wisdom’ is magic and to me, it comes from crips figuring out how to survive in a world that doesn’t always encourage that. It frequently comes from necessity, adversity, challenge. It also comes from loving each other, taking care of one another, from being together. We listen to our ancestors, to our elders, to our own wisdom. We share ‘Crip Wisdom’ in so many ways – just being with someone who needs company, sharing herbal remedies with each other, taking turns care taking each other, posting words of support on Facebook for someone who is isolated.
Neve: Crip Wisdom is the brilliance and experience of disabled people. It is grounded in bodies and it transcends time and grows with it. We create crip wisdom by innovating ways to survive and take care. We share it by making art, forging relationships, nourishing movements.
For me, a lot of wisdom comes from my crip body–the pleasure, pain, strength, and difficulties that comes from it. What have you learned from your crip body that you’d like to share with others?
Neve: When warm enough and calm enough, a body will write you songs.
India: Be gentle and loving with yourself. Each moment is new and what your body needs will shift, be willing to listen. Don’t do too much, and ask for help when you need – interdependence is dope no matter what other people think. You will forget all of these things and fuck it up, be gentle then too.
Neve Be(ast) (aka Lyric Seal) is a bud, an outburst, a growth on the mossy embankment of a river. Descended from many rivers and people, including the Nile, The Mississippi, the South Branch of the Raritan, and the great great grandchild of the author of The Velveteen Rabbit, Neve has never stopped swimming, or becoming real. The Beast called Neve, in their current form, is a black, gross femme, queer punk writer, dancer/actor/model with arthrogryposis, and sacred/creative accessible space maker for all occasions. They are an adult and alt art film performer and director, sex and love coach, wedding officiant, accessible event consultant and planner, columnist for Maximumrocknroll, contributing writer for Everyday Feminism, and proud queer family builder and crew starter for those who like to roll deep. Neve co-founded Oakland’s Blueberry Jam with Ali M-O, an integrated improvisational dance lab for women and nonbinary people. Ali M-O also co-starred with Neve in them and Nikki Silver’s upcoming film, Diathesis: A Tale of Three Dancers, their third screen collaboration to date. Beast has been working with Sins Invalid since 2011, first as a summer intern traveling from New Jersey, and then as a local writer, educator, and performer beginning in 2013. Neve’s video work will be on exhibit in We’re Still Working, a sex worker multimedia art show at Somarts in San Francisco in January 26th-February 27th 2017 and they will perform with Cum Glitter Live Sex Show at the closing night party. Neve’s writing also has appeared in Plenitude, Harlot, Curve, Jiz Lee’s Coming Out Like a Porn Star, and on Crashpadseries.com’s blog, in the form of the advice column “Slumber Party with Lyric Seal!” You can learn more at littlebeasthood.tumblr.com or on Twitter or instagram @littlebeasthood.
India Harville is an African American, queer, disabled, femme of center integrated dancer/dance instructor, choreographer, performance artist, somatic bodyworker, social justice activist, and educator. India has danced professionally with Liz Lerman’s Dance Exchange, based in Washington DC, DanceAbility, based in Eugene Oregon, and is a company member in the Dance Sing Drum Company and Inclusive Interdisciplinary Ensembles at Cal State Hayward and Sins Invalid based in Berkeley California. India has had the privilege to travel and perform across the United States. India’s performance work addresses racial justice, queer identity, survivorhood, disability and chronic illness. In addition to choreographing and performing, India is dedicated to supporting people with personal and collective healing and transformation from a place of embodiment. India believes “If you can breathe, you can dance.” India offers classes in many styles of integrated dance including DanceAbility, American DanceWheels Wheelchair Ballroom, Adaptive Stretching, NIA, Dancing Freedom, and KiVo.To find out more about India please visit her website at lovingtheskinyouarein.com.
I love Disability Visibilty Project it introduces this white older non disabled male living in Australia to so many exciting new things such as Sins Invalid. Thanks for expanding my tiny universe.And ofcourse you challenge me OFTEN!!!!
Thank you very much, Mark!! Glad you enjoy it. Feel free to join our Facebook group for more links and conversations! https://www.facebook.com/groups/356870067786565/