For our artists, a lot of the work of the tour happens offstage. We work as a team to learn more about the communities we are performing for, the social and cultural context of the program, and our own expectations.
Julie sat down with CWB – USA Executive Director Naomi Shafer to discuss her first tour. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Naomi: What did you know about the Rarámuri people before the tour? Did you have any preconceptions?
Julie: The sole thing I could find about them about online is that they are fast runners. And of course, that came up in a real life conversation maybe once.
Naomi: Our project partners made us aware that Rarámuri audiences might not react with the level of overt enthusiasm that we’re used to. Did you experience reservedness, or shyness?
Julie: People in the mountains were a little more reserved and took time to warm up to us. But overall, folks weren’t that reserved. The kids were in a mad scramble when we played musical chairs. More shows than not, they came in hot. There were very outward signs of laughing and appreciating.
Naomi: How did the expectation versus reality measure up?
Julie: Everything happened so fast that there was no time for me to form expectations. My mindset was very open.
I was surprised by the sense of time that Indigenous audiences seem to have. For me, and maybe Javier who came from a theater background, we expected a beginning and end to the show. But as it turned out, the beginning and end would mush together. I would accompany with music, and there was a lot of BUMMMMMM…and no bum BUM! I would just stand there strumming and wondering when I was going to resolve the chord.
I definitely think that because we weren’t on a stage with this polite and understood divide, we just kind of walked into the next game. We were invited to play basketball and I’ve decided that me playing sports as a clown is my calling. One little girl grabbed my hand and took me to her house to introduce me to her toys.
There was one show at the Divisadero, a tourist area, where I felt the most unsure about whether we should stay for the whole time. The kids, then, were in work mode. I felt a little unsure about how I should be. Should I buy something? Can I clown with you?
Naomi: Did your clown help you handle those situations of uncertainty?
Julie: The way I knew best to communicate with people was to be in clown mode. I felt a little self-conscious when I was with other adults. My clown became an exaggerated version of how I was feeling. My clown is usually very gregarious and outgoing, so I would bow or curtsey to everyone, the dogs, the toys.
My clown was fully committed to not knowing what was happening. It gave me a lot of room to enthusiastically mess up and get things wrong. Sometimes Darina would name an animal, but I wouldn’t always understand in Spanish or it wouldn’t be translated. So I would just guess the animal and fully commit to it. It gave me a lot of room to not know, and I didn’t have to worry about anything.
Naomi: I’m curious about gender and whether that played a roll. How did it feel and how was it received when you and Darina were perceived as an all-female team?
Julie: Darina, out of the gate, was like “I’m a feminist, this is what I put up with, this is what I don’t put up with.” Darina and I had a lot of mutual support. As far as queerness goes, it didn’t feel like it came up for me. I look the way I look, and I present the way I present. If anyone said anything about it, I didn’t hear them. It didn’t feel like an issue.