Venus DeMars is transforming the Soap Factory into a landscape of metaphors this weekend for The Queer's Book of Journey: A User's Guide for the Lost and the Found, a performance featuring spectacle, storytelling, imagery, and music. The work is the culmination of a Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative grant, and draws from workshops DeMars has conducted among the LGBTQ community. It also mines from DeMars's own story and those of the other performers.
"There's a series of surprises that happen," DeMars says, referring to several large-scale visual spectacles that occur over the course of the piece. These elements help theatricalize the experience of living as an LGBTQ person in a metaphorical way. "It's about my journey, but I try to speak to the community as a whole," DeMars adds.
Born in Duluth, DeMars identifies as trans, but doesn't identify as male or female. "I don't feel female, and I never felt male," DeMars says.
In the piece, DeMars focuses on exploring the experience of the community across generations. "We lost so much because of being in the closet," DeMars says. "Now I'm out, and have been out a long time, but I'm still carrying a lot of fear. The older generation is just now getting a sense of freedom. With the younger kids, their teachers are more open, but with their peers it's another story. They are still dealing with a lot of peer pressure."
In the piece, DeMars incorporates elements of ritual -- through the use of candles, circles, and so forth -- while layering video streaming across several platforms. The piece is at times very large in scale, but also contains a space for the performers to share their individual stories.
Accompanying all of this is a soundscape, created by DeMars in collaboration with J Even LeFreak, from DeMars's band All the Pretty Horses, as well as Tanya Tobalyas Moore on percussion. DeMars describes bouncing ideas off the musicians until "just the right sound came to the surface. Then I'd grab it, have them re-do, refine it, and finally combine it into the full-scene soundscape." Since LeFreak is used to being DeMars's musical director from years working together, the two already have a short-hand way of collaborating.
Photo courtesy the Soap Factory
As for the drums, it's the first time DeMars has worked with Moore. The drums have become "the core of the sound," DeMars says.
Other performers during the evening include Kate Kunkel Bailey, Paul Canada,
Evan Boyce, Taylor Dobson, Nikolas Martell, Joe Ippolito, and Robert Lee.