Last year, theatre artist Tatiana Pavela of Seattle received a Grants for Artist Projects award to develop and support performances of her show Brandi Alexander. “The 2017 GAP was the first grant that I’ve received for my solo work. I look forward to where this pushes me to go, and how it helps me step forward,” she shared upon hearing the news that she received an award.
Written and performed by Tatiana and directed by Maggie Rogers, Brandi Alexander will have a four-show run from Thursday, May 24 to Sunday, May 27 at Love City Love in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. We reached out to Tatiana to learn more about her upcoming show and her career in theatre.
Could you tell us more about Brandi Alexander?
Of course! The year is 1987 and Brandi Alexander is prepping for her comeback stand-up comedy tour, and for her first return gig - she’ll be the opening act for the man who assaulted her.
I call the solo show “stand up gone radically wrong,” because even though it has the frame of a 60-minute stand up set, it derails pretty quickly. It is intended to be an examination and assault on misogyny, rape, and self-loathing and we go to some pretty ugly places in order to do that. And somehow, it’s also funny.
What inspired you to write this show?
In 2016, a friend of mine told me that a mutual acquaintance of ours had raped her. During this same time, I kept reading about Brock Turner, Bill Cosby, and Trump in the news and all this, combined with the many, many women who have told me that they were raped, made me so overwhelmingly angry, I felt like I was going crazy. I remember thinking that this act, this word “rape” used to be horrible, unthinkable, and now has become so incredibly normal that you can hear it and not blink. You can hear it and not think twice.
At that time, it felt like there were no repercussions. I wanted to take the word and put it in a drastically different context so that it means something again - so that when people hear it, they don’t continue to normalize it.
During one part of the show, Brandi “sings” a song that she has been working on and it is pretty bad to watch. The only word in the song is “rape.” I’ve had audience members tell me that they were embarrassed for me and wanted me to stop. I’ve also had people become so frustrated and angry hearing it - good. Thank god. Because all of a sudden, you hear the word and you want it to stop. You hear it and cannot take it anymore - good.
Sexual assault should not be an everyday part of society.
Other thoughts that played a key part: Woman in a man’s world. How women and men occupy space differently. I noticed with most of the men in my life, they assume a space is theirs. Women ask for permission. Men will assume their opinion is the most important one, dying to be heard. I got sick of raising my hand and waiting. And when I spoke as freely and with as much confidence as a man, it was too much. I was a bitch, I was too aggressive, I was too angry, I wasn’t accepting of those around me. This show is a testament to the validity of a woman’s anger.
What were some of the challenges, milestones, etc. that you have encountered as an artist?
Ha! Challenges - all day, every day. As an actor auditioning for other parts, frequently I get the sense that when directors first meet me, they don’t know what to do with me. Too fat, not old enough for certain parts, I like what you are doing but it doesn’t fit my vision of this world blah blah blah. So it becomes even more necessary to make my own work. Otherwise I would have been benched for years. The best rejections make for the best pull quotes.
Milestones - I gotta say, this GAP Award is up there. It’s my first time receiving a grant for my work. The week I found out I got it, I had just gotten three rejections for other projects. Brian called me and (I remember this very clearly probably due to that familiar East Coast accent) told me that my show was so important and so necessary. Damn, I needed to hear that.
Another formative milestone has been traveling with Drama of Works, a multidisciplinary theatre company based out of New York, to do a show in Jakarta. Four female artists packed a show up in two suitcases. When we got there, major problems came up during tech. We stayed up throughout the night, moved all of our furniture out of our tiny hotel room, and created our rehearsal studio. That moment stuck in my mind as a barometer for finding future collaborators. What are you like at zero hour? Do you have the passion, humor, and grace to get it done? Is it an act of love?
How has your 2017 GAP Award impacted your career as an artist?
As this is my first grant, it has been a huge step up for my career. It shows that Artist Trust believes in my work, and others should as well. In addition to the recognition and legitimacy that the grant provides, it also lit a fire under me - made sure I got the show done. Developing a solo show is a major exercise in self-discipline and I’m not sure I would have done this without Artist Trust looming over me. I mean that in the best way possible.
Do you have any advice for artists applying for funding and grants?
Document all your work. Get great images that can capture the moments you create. Make sure you have a website to show your body of work. Apply to all of it, even if it scares you. Talking to honest and intelligent people who don’t like or understand your work will make your reason for doing it crystal clear, and that will turn into a great project statement. Spend time developing the language for what gets you excited.
What’s next? Any upcoming projects?
Yes, things in the works—but nothing I can officially talk about yet. I’m excited to find other spaces for Brandi after the four-show run in Seattle.
For more information about Brandi Alexander including tickets visit bit.ly/branditickets. This year’s GAP application opens on May 21, 2018. For a full list of artist support programs being offered to help artists prepare their application, view our blog post titled “2018 Grants for Artist Projects Support Programs.”