ARTIST PROFILE: The afteROCK Plays: In Conversation with Sébastien Heins and Catherine Hernandez of Brotherhood and Femme Playlist.
Interview by Bailey Green
I interviewed Sébastien Heins and Catherine Hernandez about their solo shows, Brotherhood and Femme Playlist, playing at Buddies in Bad Times presented by b current as part of their afteROCK Plays series. They were both such a joy to interview. Their passion, gratitude and openness radiated as they spoke about their work. Catherine’s interjections with the children she cares for in her home daycare peppered our chat, “I’m feel like I’m the queer filipino version of Louis CK, children are very funny creatures and I approach my care of them with honour and humour.” And Sébastien had me laughing with his enthusiasm and bashfulness when discussing the title, and the creation, of his piece’s opening song, “Threesome with my bro.” #BroHood and #FemmePlaylist captivated me with each performance’s tremendous energy and detail. I had the pleasure of witnessing their creations and hope that many of you will too.
On the origins of the piece:
SÉBASTIEN: Brotherhood the hip hopera started as a fifteen minute solo show when I was a student at NTS. We were tasked with creating a show that was spurred on by a burning question. My burning question was “what if I had had a brother?” As an only child, this question held a lot of ammunition for me. So the piece is about these two brothers, Cash Money and Money Pussy. They have this crazy night where they rap at and with each other, sing r&b songs, and the night culminates into an epic climax where one of the brothers is killed in a car accident.
CATHERINE: The idea began when I did an interview for Ron Jones’ radio show in Harlem. He asked for was a playlist of your life. So I did that interview and it was a three hour long conversation. I was laughing and crying along to the soundtrack of my life. My friend Kim Katrin Milan began to host a retreat, often at my house, called Brave New Girls Retreats, for queer femmes of colour. We talk, meditate, do yoga and practice self-care. It was around then that I realized that my narrative was experienced by so many, but heard by none. Originally it [Femme Playlist] was a fifteen minute excerpt at Amplify Femme at VideoFag and then it snowballed from there to became a 45 minute piece that I did at a decolonizing conference and it went on from there.
On the path to the afteROCK Plays series:
CATHERINE: In 2013 I called b current just before the rock.paper.sistahz festival. It was past the submission date, but I called anyway. I needed a night to perform the show in it’s entirety to test out the flow. I wanted to get a sense of the narrative and transitions. And b current said yes. It was a hit [with the audience] and there was a standing O. That was my first draft so [it was good to know] it connected. It moved on to Rhubarb, which is usually only shorter pieces, but Brendan Healy wanted it to stay intact and be full length. I was so, so honoured and I knew it [the piece] had legs (which is actually my burlesque name.) Then when I was selected for afteROCK, Gein Wong came on board as my director which was great. I feel very blessed.
SÉBASTIEN: [At National Theatre School] People liked it [Brotherhood], the dance and physicality, theatre and storytelling, they dug it. So I challenged myself to create a 60 minute version. I took Brotherhood to the largest solo festival in the world in NYC, United Solo, and I won Best Emerging Artist, but I knew I wasn’t done. Then b current gave me this opportunity to be in their afteROCK play series. They give me [and Catherine] everything a professional production would get. We built a light wall, like Kanye or Jay-z would have. My director Karin Randoja—one of the founders of Primus Theatre—she directed and dramaturged it into a new show. It’s more mature and braver than it was before, and I’m very proud of it.
On the experience for the audience:
SÉBASTIEN: We have local up and coming hip hop acts opening the show, a couple nights we have ten year old breakdancers outside. It should feel like the fiction has already started, so it’s like you’re at a Cash Money/Money Pussy show when it starts. The piece deals with fame, facades, masculinity, the way men have to front and show themselves off which doesn’t always coincide with how they feel. There’s the bond of brothers and how it’s broken by the stress and the game. It is a hip hop opera, so you’ll recognize the medium as you watch it. There’s large emotions and big, arcing, epic story-line.
CATHERINE: Femme Playlist is a one woman show that tells the realities of being a queer woman of colour, a single mom and a femme. Queer theatre a lot of the time is grown in very subversive spaces, the tradition of the queer salon is in someone’s basement or small theatre hovel. So being in a much larger space with lighting and sound, it’s magic.
On being part of a team:
SÉBASTIEN: I have to shout out my sound designer Micky Rodriguez. He’s a beat maker and rapper, and he has been amazing. The music in the show before served a purpose but now the tracks are all bumped up, which is a game changer. We have this opening, I laugh every time I have to say it outside the show, but it’s called “Threesome with my Bro” which is like Cash Money and Money Pussy’s greatest single. I originally did the instrumental and I knew it was so not up to par, but Micky really put his energy into it and gave it a trap beat. We have another song where it’s raining and the droplets become a beat for the song, with like an usher “U got it Bad” feel, so the sound helps create the next moment in the story musically
CATHERINE: Gein Wong is so special with her vision when it comes to lighting and sound. I love having a team. The team is a chosen family. Our production manager Suzie Balogh was one of my students when I taught at Factory Theatre. She was a kid in highschool studying my play Singkil and now I look over and she’s at the board. It means a lot to see a story like this in the mainspace, that this story is being heard and that their [femme] lives are important.
On the challenges faced with this piece:
SÉBASTIEN: Not being the producer actually. This piece is my baby, so when you hire outside people you just have to trust them to do their job and not think about it. I took that freefall in letting go and it’s a huge step to go in and just be a performer. It can also be hard to re-vamp and re-envision a work, before it was more crowd pleasing. The second act starts in the 70s and 80s, and it’s still funny but it does get dark and scary. I never would have had such an intimate look at these characters had we not done that. They’re men who inspire and challenge me as characters in a way they have never done before. All I can do is bare myself and show my work and hope people get something out of it.
CATHERINE: I’m a brown woman which means that the traditions that I heed to are multidisciplinary, but to me that’s storytelling. It can be hard for people to understand that sometimes. People are getting there, but this piece will help people understand my jive. Written down it doesn’t always translate, you need to see it visually. I hope it helps bring about a greater understanding of multidisciplinary.
On the greatest joy experienced with this piece:
SÉBASTIEN: [Through this process] there was many times in rehearsal where I felt I’m part of a team. And as a solo performer I think that’s rare. It can be really lonely, and it’s all on you. The audience is just staring at you. I feel so supposed by my team, they’re like my rock. Like 300 Spartans behind me.
CATHERINE: The day of opening night I found out on Twitter that Jennifer Laude, a trans Filipina, was found dead in a motel room. She was murdered by a U.S. marine. This news is tragic because it’s so widespread. I knew I needed to dedicate my performance to her for opening night, if there’s any femme I could give this to…and I felt her all day. Every queer that hugged me yesterday [opening night], we have a narrative of loss and judgement and danger and to know that I have the privilege to be the person on stage to speak on behalf of all of us. [When I’m onstage I have] queer in my ears, between my fingers, in my hair and all around me. What I love about being queer is we can laugh and cry about our triumphs and tragedies.
Brotherhood: The Hip Hopera
Created/Performed by Sébastien Heins
Directed by Karin Randoja
a co-production with Sébastien Heins
This live virtuosic hip hop show tells the story of superstar sibling duo CashMoney & MoneyPussy, chronicling their climb to success, breaking apart, and epic reunion.
Tag photobooth selfies with @CashMoneyRaps on twitter & instagram
The Femme Playlist
Created/Performed by Catherine Hernandez
Directed by Gein Wong
a co-production with Sulong Theatre Company and Eventual Ashes
From masturbation to motherhood, body shame to burlesque, Catherine Hernandez uncovers the realities of living as a queer woman of colour set to the music of her life.
Mature sexual content and coarse language in both shows – recommended for ages 16 and older.
Both shows play every day (except Monday, October 20) until Ocotber 25. Schedule below.
Additional performance of Brotherhood: The Hip Hopera on Wednesday, October 22nd at 1pm, $10 (purchase by phone or in person, available online soon).
Regular updates via social media
@bcurrentLIVE on twitter
Tickets & Venue:
Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander Street | Toronto | M4Y 1B4
Box Office: 416-975-8555
Student/Senior/Arts Worker/Underemployed discounts available
Rush tickets ($15) available the day of, in person only at noon.
Pay-what-you-can to this Sunday’s performances
2-for-1 tickets for femmes to The Femme Playlist on Friday, October 17, and Tuesday-Thursday October 21-23.
Get 50% off second ticket to Brotherhood: The Hip Hopera when you bring your sibling.
What afteRock is:
A play series that takes select plays from past b current rock.paper.sistahz theatre+ Festivals to the next level as workshop and full productions co-produced by b current and the show’s artists.
This edition of the series is presented by b current as part of the Buddies in Bad Times Theatre’s 2014-2015 – both shows were hand-picked by Artistic Director Jajube Mandiela from the 12th rock.paper.sistahz Festival.