Junauda Petrus: "I wanted to do a show where I worked with other black women."
ShaVunda Horsely, Nisreen Dawan, and Junauda Petrus, photo by Sally Nixon
This week, aerial artist Junauda Petrus will debut a new work, There are Other Worlds, at the Open Eye Figure Theatre. It's a performance piece, produced by Free Black Dirt, that uses aerial arts, poetry, and theater to tell the story of an incarcerated woman and her two teenaged daughters.
"I wanted to do a show where I worked with other black women," Petrus says. Not only is the cast made up of women of color, but much of the artistic team is as well, including director Alejandra Tobar-Alatriz , soundscape designer Sarah White, and soundscape artist Alicia Steele.
Imagining a work in the same vein as For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, Petrus began writing a few vignettes. Upon finding inspiration from reading women's prison memoirs, she decided to use her theater piece as a way to question, examine, and potentially dismantle the prison-industrial complex.
"I really see it as a system that is in many ways racist and classist and punitive in a way that doesn't transform individuals or society," she says.
In her reading of prison memoirs, Petrus discovered that she could relate to the authors. She found herself wondering how these women had ended up in prison while she, who may have had a similar background, had not. "I couldn't necessarily separate myself," she says.
Through her research, Petrus developed the character of Amri Akenyemi, a mother and black activist serving 15 years in a maximum-security prison, who explores her relationship with her daughters.
Petrus has been doing aerial art since 2009. She started while living in New York City, when on the train to Brooklyn a woman gave her a business card. "I realized later she was probably hitting on me," Petrus recalls. She ended up training with her, and it took over her life. She did aerial arts the whole time she lived in New York, and eventually went to a circus school in Vermont.
Aerial arts often lives in the land of spectacle, she says, with performers who've trained for years in gymnastics and acrobatics. Yet in There are Other Worlds, Petrus is the only cast member who has had extensive training. The piece explores a vertical landscape, with black women who are all new to aerial, she says.
IF YOU GO:
There are Other Worlds
7 p.m. April 25-28
Open Eye Figure Theatre
506 E. 24th St., Minneapolis
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