pics by Michele Memola
Connor Schumacher is a young american choreographer based in Holland who performed last night of Bmotion Festival of contemporary dance in Bassano del Grappa. His pièce is called “Boy oh Boy” and talks about his experienced as a gay person. The first part of the piece is a lecture of a priest that talks about homosexuality. The second part is about a personal event of his life occurred when he was a teen ager: he’s watching a gay porn and his mother comes back home without any notice. Since he’s scared of his mother to find out he’s gay, he tries to push back his erection, he feels a bump and he faints hitting his head. His mother understand what’s happening, he tries to get up and minimize but he feels bad and asks her to help him. She takes him to the hospital where he has to undergo surgery operation since 2 blood vessels got broken. He can choose to let them recover by themselves but he risks to remain impotent so he prefers the surgery, hoping that it will work. After that his parents took him to a seminary hoping that he can change but he perfectly recovers from the surgery thanks to a friend that we wouldn’t imagine. Schumacher tells this story in a dance performance wich is soundtracked with some recorded speeches. In the following interview he also explains that Europe is a better place than US to work with culture.
You wrote this piece after this experience you had: what you tell in the piece is all true?
Connor Schumacher: “Yes the first section, the man speaking, is a text from a seminar like a “don’t be gay” seminar that my parents took me to. They were very passive-aggressive, they were “don’t want you to be gay” but they didn’t hate you. It’s something like my parents took me to when I was 16 and I found a recording .”
The first part of the piece is about a preach that explains that being gay is something bad but they don’t hate gays and so on, the second part of the play it’s about your personal episode that happened to you . So you pass from something very serious and then it happens your accident that should be something concerning but you tell it in a funny way. Why did you choose these different registers?
“One because how I experienced I wasn’t kicked out of the house or beaten or anything like this. I was in a situation where I knew they still loved me and care for me but they thought I become something different then who I was: they thought that because I was gay I was going to do drugs, get HIV and that’s just what they thought homosexuality was. That part wasn’t actually very violent but it portrayed me in a violent way or something like that. Also in this text of the seminary it tries to create some kind of new ones some kind of showing that it is very complex and people are very different, there’s all kind of homosexual people, but they are like they shouldn’t and all you have to do is to choose to not act on their feelings. As a 16 years old going into this seminar it was very strange to hear somebody talk of your feeling the same as they talk about to be an alcoholic or somebody used violent or somebody used drugs, like it’s they love you but they think you’re a monster and it’s not that it is just as violent but something to way you think about yourself.
They don’t accept you.
“They don’t accept all of you, they only accept a part of you and then they think that one part of you is going to become a demon.”
Also because, maybe, they feel your way of being as a kind of a guilt, like they made something wrong.
“Exactly, and it’s just something they don’t understand. I just fear what they don’t understand and the second part I think it’s a bit funny because I had this accident because I was scared they were going to find out, I had the surgery and the only way that I knew that I was better and that I could have sex was because of a pastor’s son, this boys that I was in love with who was very religious. I went his father’s church and he came and he got in bed with me. Only because of a very Christian boy who really believed in God …”
It’s an incredible story, it’s like a cartoon: you had your accident, they sent you to the seminary because they wanted you to change, and then you recover thanks to a very christian person. It’s a paradox!
“I do find that a cartoon, very funny, I don’t have any hard feelings about it because it’s just people, like people that don’t understand, people that do understand, like people that do help me but they didn’t know they were helping me.”
Didn’t you think that this was more suitable for drama instead of dance? Since it’s really suitable to be told and played as an actor.
“Yes it definitely could be. Before studying dancing I actually went to school for movie-writing and play-writing and of course, growing up, when I was in that programs I looked back in my life and these are great stories, really great things that happened to me. I was a gymnast, then I became a dancer, that’s how I know how to tell stories. This is only the 3rd performance I’ve made and slowly also the screen-playwriting and more theatrical things are coming. But right now I know how to make things with my body and I know how to communicate; for me the only thing it’s important right now is that the message is clear and maybe when I think it’s necessary, that it will be more clear by doing it in a play or in a movie or a painting or a photograph or a dancer. It doesn’t matter what the form is but right now this is how I was able to. I’m opened to whatever form it’s necessary to be clear, not opened to whatever medium or form just for it to be beautiful but I’m opened to help me say more clearly what I want to say.”
When did you move from United States to Europe?
“When I was 22 right after I graduated from university, Purchase College and conservatory of dance, right outside of New York City.”
America of course has a huge tradition of tv-shows: do you think that tv shows can influences nowadays dance or performances, tv shows also like cartoons as “American dad!” or “Family Guy” or “The Simpsons” and so on?
“I like more shows like “Girls” on HBO, is very accurate and very clear to what reality is like right now for people of my age. Yes I think tv-shows also do influence the generations.”
This is your 3rd show, have you already talked about homosexuality in your previous shows?
“Yes, the first 2 performances were about my experience in this boy’s church, the church that his father ran, where he used to be a preacher and it was a very strange experience where strange things happened. I found a connection between my experience and dance and my experience in that church: it turned out that I was asking the question if the presence of God is a psychological thing because I saw very bizarre things happening in this church, they were shaking and falling down on the ground, speaking in tongues and things like that and I connected it to my experience of dance and my ability to let go yourself in the present moment, that in a moment when you forget the past and the future and you’re engaged and released from the society and all those things and the present moment: maybe that’s what we call God all the time.”
It’s God anyway, you think?
“I mean, that’s the word what we called it but I think it’s just as feeling, it’s not something about outside of yourself but to me God is the present moment then you can connect to through spirituality.”
In Italy, when we study history of theatre we begin from many centuries ago and we study that the mise en scène is the ritual, the mass, expecially the catholic one, is really performing and featuring, it’s like a show.
Does it also happens in United States that the ritual is considered a kind of ancestor of theatre? I talk about catholic but of course our culture is pretty much older than Catholicism.
“In the US I don’t think people are necessarily involved in Christianity as it as the modern christian, the ritual they do I don’t think that they connect so much to ancestory, they connect it to the fact that they’re doing what the Bible says and what is written but I think I agree with you: there is ritual, mise en scène and performance, there are symbols that engage people in the present moment. I think that in United States people that step back and see what catholic ritual has in common and christian and African religion have in common -they are all the same- they are all things that help you engage in the present moment so you can release yourself from the precious and the shame of your past and the precious and the fears of your future and help you to be a person and to be related to another person.”
United States are a place where many protest took place, culture revolution, Woodstock, freedom and soon and now you live in Holland wich is considered one of the most open minded place in Europe. Why a young guy like you needs to move from US? Sorry for the prejudice but I think that americans are educated that …
“…That is the best place in the world”
Exactly: emigration outside the US is not considered
“I agree with your perspective on what you think”
You were in new York, wich is the most open minded town and you feel the need to come to Europe with the deep crisis and all the problems we have?
“You can just look at me: I’m 27 years old and just started making performances 2 years ago, I graduated when I was 22 and I had a professional dance career just as dancer and for choreographer for only 2 years and now I’m sitting in Italy, after I’m getting payed to be here and perform a solo, to see a lot of other works and have a conversation with you. In New York it wouldn’t happen until I was 45. In Europe they give more opportunity to culture to influence the society and find out the role it plays in the society; in NY I’d be waiting tables and trying to learn how to create performances. In Europe I’m paid to explore, to grow, mentored.”
You mean that in New York there are less possibilities than in Europe?!?
“Yes, absolutely, especially in New York where everybody goes because of this idea that everybody thinks that New York is that and everybody’s there. There is nothing to do but pay your bills and live your dream but your dream only happen 4 hours out of the entire week and I decided, when I graduated, that was the right time to move to Europe. I’ve studied abroad in Rotterdam and I liked it and I made some connections, I got one job for one summer and I decided that if I want ever to live abroad it was the time. I came and it has worked out.”
You told me your parents are military. Did you come to Europe before moving definitely to Holland when you were kid for example?
“I was born in Japan and I lived in the States until I was 22. I came to Ireland one time and that was my only experience outside my studying abroad, but being home- schooled I was taught at home and I learned on text books so my parents could influence my education.”
In the piece we see that during the accident the attitude of your mother and the people you have around, it’s really open minded, because they take you to the hospital, they don’t condemn you, it’s not like the movie “American beauty” let’s say.
“No,no: I was in a military family but it doesn’t mean that is “American dad!”,they are very open minded but they have their believes and they still support me in everything but we have points where we disagree.”