Sue Kerr, ‘Burgh Vivant
Welcome to the inaugural edition of Seven with Sue, a Q&A series with local creators and artists. Each edition will ask seven questions (plus demographics) exploring the creator’s experience and views on all things arts and culture in Pittsburgh. The questions are crafted by our in-house Q&A contributor, Sue Kerr. Responses may be lightly edited, but we strive to allow the questioner’s authentic voice shine through.
Up first is Nicole Gallagher, a resident artist with folkLAB and creator of the one woman show Mija: one bitch’s tale.
folkLAB is dedicated to creating more equity and representation in the Pittsburgh performing arts. All shows are created in intensive 3-4 week processes. Debuting on July 21 is their current project: “Mija: one bitch’s tale” an interdisciplinary, autobiographical one woman show by miniMythologies resident artist Nicole Gallagher (co-founder of Fair Moans). Nicole is a queer, bi-racial Latina with a diverse skill set and history.
The show is directed by Ayne Terceira (Uncumber Theatrics) with videography by Julie Mallis (BOOM! Concepts).
The show runs for five short days next week: Wednesday, July 31st – Sunday, August 4th and takes place at Beauty Shoppe’s Terminal Building in South Side. The project is also sponsored by Beauty Shoppe.
Name: Nicole Aurora Gallagher
Your Affiliation(s): member of Fair Moans Collective, member of Sex Workers Outreach Project
How do you describe your identity? Queer, anarchist, Latinx/multiethnic person, Native Chicagoan, Leo
Tell us about an under-appreciated or underutilized cultural resource in this region.
Pittsburgh has a strong and rich labor union history. Sadly, I think it is something that is fading out with older generations. When I moved to Pittsburgh nine years ago, I was told by a friend, who worked as a union organizer, that the union density in the city was over fifty percent, including service workers. Our city is quickly becoming more globalized and gentrified and with that, we’re getting an influx of new businesses and transplants, like myself, who don’t hold that history dear to their hearts, who aren’t inspired to keep it alive and revitalize it with all of the new industry. I am generalizing though. There are still pockets of workers coming together to take charge of their workplaces still. I tip my hat to all of the librarians organizing, the UPMC workers and adjunct professors and faculty in this city.
With whom in the Pittsburgh region would you like to collaborate?
I would love to collaborate with Moriah Ella Mason (goes by Ella). She is one of the cofounders of the SWOP Pittsburgh chapter I organize with. I think she’s such a badass, super organized, creative and just a great person. She created a one woman show a few years ago, Sex Werque, about her time as a dancer in Pittsburgh and it was fantastic! So inspiring! I’ve often thought about how I’d love to strip, but I don’t want to shave my body hair or wear heels! In conversations with Ella, we’ve bonded over the idea of creating a space for all bodies and all identities to make money being sexy in their individual ways on stage, the way strippers do.
Pittsburgh is a City where many identities literally intersect, but we are very attached to notions of unity and shared identity, ‘one Pittsburgh’, ‘The Steeler Nation’ ‘Most Liveable’ and so forth. How can intersectionality help all of us reconcile our individual and collective identities in this place called Pittsburgh?
To be quite honest, I have struggled with my identity in this city. It has taken me years to feel like I connect to any larger cultural identities. I felt very alone as an ethnically mixed, Lantinx person here nine years ago. I wasn’t a student and that’s where the majority of non-white, non-black Americans where– the school campuses. I worked in corporate service industry, which thanks to the unions and job security, was full of a lot of older, mostly hetero folks (again, generalizing, not trying to box everyone in). I have found a home in different activist communities over time. It is the place where I have seen old school Pittsburgh come together with newer voices- queer, brown, artistic, beautiful freaks. It is where I see people breaking down class and cultural divisions to create something new in Pittsburgh. So I am all for people coming together in their communities, workplaces, in our city at large, to have a voice, to effect change. Through getting out and involved, people build together and move beyond superficial barriers.
How do the arts contribute to a livable city in Pittsburgh?
The arts are a vehicle for many diverse voices to be heard. We are able to connect and understand each other more through hearing and empathizing with one another. Sharing those stories and perspectives is building a stronger foundation for our city to rest on.
Your production Mija; one bitch’s tale is part of your miniMythologies residency with folkLAB. Why did you pursue this opportunity to create and produce your one-woman show?
I work with Abi, the founder of folkLAB, at the Ace Hotel, and she’s been encouraging me to take this project on for over a year now. I would come into work and tell Abi about things I was working on in my sketch troupe or about my stand-up comedy class, my personal life stories, my perspectives on politics and life. She would keep saying, “I’m serious, you need to consider putting this altogether in a show, Nicole.” I have been trying to find my voice as a story-teller for years. I’ve explored different arenas for years, learned a lot, but nothing has quite stuck, so I finally agreed that this could be the opportunity I’ve needed to test all the skills I’ve acquired out. I’m very interested in writing and collaborating with other artists to create shows in the future.
Most people are familiar with sex worker characters or roles on stage and on-screen (Vivian Ward, Fantine, Holly Golightly, Iris, Joe Buck, Satine, Gypsy Rose Lee, Sin-Dee, Alexandra) and familiar with media created about sex in general. It is rare to experience performance art about sex work where those workers actually control the narrative and the production of their own stories. Are there any stories from Pittsburgh with sex work themes that should reach wider audiences, either as existing works of art or potential future projects?
There are a ton of sex working artists in Pittsburgh, they may not label themselves as sex workers, because that work is stigmatized, but you would be surprised how many shows you’ve seen in Pittsburgh by sex workers. My work with SWOP Pittsburgh has been to lift and unify the voices and needs of our sex working community. We had a beautiful event on December 17, 2018 to commemorate International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers where we had sex workers submit and read short stories and poems. And I just need to say: wow! It was so powerful! There are so many perspectives and identities in our community.
I’ve mentioned the show “Sex Werque” by Moriah Ella Mason. Ella has a show coming up in a few weeks “Queer, Jewish” that I think folks should check out. I also have a friend from SWOP, Jessie Sage, who is a writer, sex worker, teacher and activist. You can find her work in the City Paper, Peepshow, and her podcast by the same name.
Please list two or three local creators to whom we should be paying attention and tell us why?
You should be paying attention to Ayne Terceira of Uncumber Theatrics. She is the director of my show and recently had the show “The Stray” an interactive show where the audience took on the roles of cats in the house of a recluse. Ayne has a unique imagination and sense of movement that really engages the audience. She’s been working in Pittsburgh for years and has trained and inspired many other production companies to use her style. She’s the sweetest, funniest weirdo I know. I feel so lucky to be working with her.
Julie Mallis- a multimedia artist and educator working with digital media, paint, installation, performance, sound and audience interaction. Their work focuses on building community, audio-visual experiences, speaking truth to power, and imagining new landscapes. They are working on a video for my show so I’ve gotten first hand experience of how awesome their work and imagination are. They are affiliated with Boom Concepts, GFX, Bike Pgh and they’re now program director at Repair the World Pittsburgh.
Thank you, Nicole.