This dramatic reading is based on the oral histories collected in Johnson’s book, Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South–An Oral History, published by the University of North Carolina Press. The oral histories are from black gay men who were born, raised, and continue to live in the South and range in age from 19 to 93. This performance covers the following topics: coming of age in the South, religion, sex, transgenderism, love stories, and coming out. Johnson embodies these and others’ stories in the show. The show is ideal for college campuses and special events.
“Johnson … manages to vividly evoke the presence of seven individuals. The enactment of their stories of growing up black and gay in the South, as ‘co-performatively interpreted’ (Johnson’s phrase) by an openly black gay man born in the South, constitutes a profound critique of racism, sexism, and homophobia in our culture. Their stories are painful, poignant, funny, and triumphant. Storytellers recall physical and sexual abuse, poverty, the fear of being unwanted; fear of damnation and hell, thoughts of suicide. Humor, however, pervades even the most painful of memories. Bursts of laughter accompanied Michael’s memories of reactions to his sexuality from his homophobic family, particularly his recollection of his father’s attempt to cut his newly permed bangs with a pair of hedge clippers. The audience responded similarly when the soft-spoken Freddie recalls ‘carrying a single edge razor blade … to sharpen pencils,’ and cutting a bully in order to gain a measure of respect as a ‘mean little sissy.’”
— Cheryl Black, Associate Professor, Department of Theatre, University of Missouri, in “Thrice-Told Tales: Pouring Tea as Performance Ethnography,” Storytelling, Self, Society: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Storytelling Studies, Volume 8, Issue 1, 2012
“In what were often both uproariously funny and tragically emotional performances, Johnson gave his audience a unique taste of what it means and what it might feel like to experience the particular hardships facing southern gay black men. His readings exemplified the affective power of performance on rights-bearing discourse – a medium that simultaneously enriches and informs public knowledge of minority experiences.
Beating his tambourine in the dimly lit dance studio of Rice’s Gibbs Recreation Center, Johnson entered the performance space singing a spiritually flavored tune while four hundred hands clapped with him. Once seated on stage, he went through visible bodily changes as he altered his vocal styling, posture, and expressions from his own role as interviewer to those of the respondents. The audience chuckled, belly-laughed, and reacted emotionally to Johnson’s stories – it was as if we were in the room with him as he interviewed these men – as if he were not simply himself, but a doubled, tripled, even quadrupled soul with as many elations, phobias, and tragedies as his real characters. Johnson’s performance reminded everyone in attendance that the stories of one southern gay black man are the stories of all southern gay black men, of all men, and that they are indeed the stories of us all.”
–Rice University Center for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, 2011
“[T]he audience …gave Johnson a standing ovation at the end of his performance. Adrian Evans ’15 commented, ‘I liked how good of an actor he was. I thought his accents were on point.’ She added, ‘It was cool that he was doing it about the South where I (personally) know a lot of people who are repressed. That stuff definitely goes on.’ Leah Miller ’14 said, ‘It was really impressive that he took the time to learn their stories and their accents. It went from really touching to really horrifying at times. I thought it was really well done.’
Though many of the segments were funny, all of them dealt with some component of internal or external distress—each person had to reconcile with being gay in a community that would not accept them. As one interviewee said, ‘We don’t hate gay people. We hate people we think are gay.’ Repression and denial were common themes, detailing how people changed—or ‘tailored’, as Stephen said—themselves to become more socially acceptable.
AIDS was another prevalent issue: Dinaux talked about how ‘lying was death in the African American community’, because no one wanted to admit they were gay and had AIDS, and Duncan T. claimed that ‘they have not recognized it as a problem.’ Other interviews dealt with the issue of homosexuality and the church; for one segment, Johnson wore a choir robe and sang a gospel song. In another, Chaz Chastity accused people of hiding behind the church rather than ‘seeking a personal relationship with God.’
Despite the struggles, each monologue ended with a hopeful message; as Duncan finished, ‘I have no regrets, for you see, I am black. I am gay. I am the South.'”
— Meri St. Jean, “Writer Gives Voice to Gay Black Men” The Dickinsonian, February 29, 2012
Click here for images of POURING TEA.
Download the rider here.
For bookings, contact Rhaisa Williams at RhaisaWilliams2015@u.northwestern.edu