Olivia Klevron is a qpoc poet and performer from Chicago, IL. Trained as an actor, dancer, and writer, Olivia always attempts to create performance work from a space of overlap between all three practices in an effort to constantly push the boundaries of live performance. Olivia has written a blog on her experience of being part of Pow! in 2018, a development scheme for LGBTQ+ creatives and joining the scheme as an associate artist in 2019…
When I applied to Pow! last year I hadn’t written a long, long while. I was overwhelmed with school, moving to a new city, relationships. AND the world was falling apart. AND I had no money. Staring all of those things in the face, it was hard to justify sitting down at a computer to write. And when I finally found some time to begin, it was even more challenging to consider what I would write about. And what for? I had no idea how to begin the process of submitting my material to be published, and I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be that kind of writer anyway. I had always loved performing, but it was hard for me to find opportunities in a city that seemed so competitive, spread out, and closed off to me. And I needed to find somewhere queer. I was tired of explaining my politics, my performance, and my desires to rooms full of people who looked at me ‘with interest.’
As I struggled to write and find my place, I spent many of my nights and much of my money at queer nights around London. More than parties, events like Transmissions, Hungama, and Gender Fvcker were spaces where queers could be the most vibrant, freaky, and brazen versions of themselves. For the first time in a long time, I was surrounded by people who created with and performed for queer people. And many of them had no more formal training or age than I did. They were just insistent that LGBTQ+ artists fight for space and expression in the face of the rainbow flags and corporate parades that would silence them. These nights inspired me to begin seeing new possibilities in my own work and brought forth a vision of community I’d begun to lose sight of.
I saw Pow! advertised on the IG story of one of the boldest performers I’d seen on stage. Though the application was slightly daunting in that it required me to pull together work samples (a challenge, I hear, even for the most seasoned artists/writers), create a concrete artist’s statement, and plan the development of a new work, it felt good to be making plans for my own artistic practice. Plus, the applications’ emphasis on my own personal journey and motivations left room for me to fill in gaps I may have had in experience or training. The application took me a few hours to complete, and I sent if off, not really sure what I was getting myself into.
Applying to Pow! ended up being one of the best decisions of the past year. Pow! was the first experience of queer art making I’d had where community was as important as craft. Everyone came into the group with different levels of experience, interests, and mediums. Every weekend was spent steeped in creative exchange and exciting, respectful collaboration. I loved having my ideas challenged and getting the opportunity to be inspired by a range of working artists every week. On less productive days, it was sometimes nice to just chill in everyone’s wide range of queerness and meditate on the beauty of community.
By the end of the workshops, I was writing on a consistent schedule, I felt more confident pursuing performance and publishing opportunities, and I formed sustaining connections with other queer artists who I am still close friends and collaborators with today. Performing at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, one of London’s most historic queer venues, gave me the confidence I needed to begin becoming the queer artist I wanted to be. This year, as a teaching artist, I hope to facilitate an experience equally as transforming and fulfilling for a new round of participants. Prioritising diversity, I hope for Pow! to continue to build a legacy of respect and inclusion that strengthens and centres voices of the emerging LGBTQ+ artists.
POW! FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS AND MORE!
What impact did you feel that Pow! had on last year’s cohort and their creative development?
Everyone comes into workshop settings with different goals and perspectives, and everyone should! The strength of Pow!’s programming is that it is tailored to the needs of its participants and does not dictate progress based on set metrics, agendas, or hierarchies. If everyone leaves a workshop feeling inspired, empowered and able to continue work, then the day is a success.
Most importantly, each participant left Pow! last year with something they were excited about pursuing. Several of us expanded the work we began over the summer. One person produced a play, others submitted to Fringe and some began their own performance nights. Spread the Word ensured that all participants were given follow-up support regarding funding, performance opportunities, and professional development, and I think every participant pursued at least one new performance opportunity in the following year.
What are you looking forward to the most about this year’s scheme?
Pow! workshop leaders are some of the most exciting writers and performers currently working in London. They are all high-level professionals who have decided to prioritise one-on-one engagement with emerging queer artists. These workshops will not be offered anywhere else, and they are designed specifically with the interests of emerging queer writers/artists in mind. It is really a privilege to get sustained feedback and attention from artists such as those on the Pow! roster, and I am SO EXCITED to get to do it again.
The scheme covers 10 workshops over 5 days – what are the benefits to running an intensive creative development scheme?
It is incredibly hard to stay focused on creative work considering the capitalist reality we live in (bleh), and the fact that writing/making are hard in general. As a young artist, the best way to discipline creative practice is to have co-creators you are accountable to and to engage with your work on a set schedule. Though Pow!’s structure may seem intense, it creates ideal conditions for generating a new work. It is crucial that all participants act on their ideas and receive immediate feedback so that they can develop a full piece of work with the support of a workshop schedule and audience. I think the intensive scheme also helps participants work through anxiety and self-doubt because, while both are accounted for, neither is allowed to delay the creative process due to the rapid timeline and huge amount of group support.
At the end of the scheme, writers will present a short performance at the iconic Royal Vauxhall Tavern. Can you tell me a bit more about the importance of creating a platform for young LGBTQ+ talent and how Pow! facilitates this?
Representation in the queer community is a HUGE topic of conversation right now, but I think Pow! is a space that moves the conversation beyond that. The RVT is a space that is presumed queer, so it facilitates performances that experiment inside of queerness rather than addressing expectations outside of it. Getting on stage at the RVT means becoming a part of a long history of queer performance and activism that is more complicated, vibrant, and free than popular and often tokenising discussions of queer representation. In the current context, it is important the young LGBTQ+ talent understand that they need not use their queer identities to restrict their voices to a single narrative, mode of expression, or identity category. Pow! uses queerness as a formal praxis, encouraging LGBTQ+ artists to experiment as wildly as they can and return to the spirit of weirdo freedom where queerness began.
Do you have any top tips for aspiring applicants applying for this year?
– Pow! is a political space. Issues of race/class/gender are discussed openly. Do not be afraid to dive into these issues in your applications. We acknowledge that many LGBTQ artists are still ‘emerging’ because there are few spaces available to them. This space strives to be one, so please, don’t be afraid to say the difficult things.
–Prioritise clarity in writing about yourself and your work. While intellectual explanations are important, our main goal is to understand you and your work. The theory can come later.
– Review your writing samples. Even if you’re 100% sure that what you’re submitting is a pristine final product, it’s always good to double check. Who knows, maybe you’ll even get inspired and add something new.
–Be open and honest. We care a lot about creating a workshop group that is diverse, supportive, and excited about the creative process. Please don’t hesitate to be yourself and share any and all parts of your personality that you think may be important.
–Don’t stress. Pow! prioritises joy. Though the development process can be stressful and the program itself is demanding, we want participants to prioritise finding the joy in their work. Include your joy in your application. It’s likely it will spark our own!
–Spread the word. While we do have a limited number of spots, we prioritise inclusivity and recognise that our reach may be limited. If you know someone who would be great for Pow! or are part of a community we haven’t reached, please spread our info and the Pow! application far and wide.
Applications for Pow! are open now until 5pm, 1 July.
Published 19 June 2019