The Art of Creating Community: Bedtime Goose and Uproar Performing Arts

Minneapolis, MN – Premiering in August 2017 in a cafe courtyard, Mother Goose’s Bedtime Stories is a celebration of “the black, brown, indigenous, LGBTQI+ folk and Womxn in the arts scene of Minneapolis.” Dozen of dancers, poets, comedians and musicians have performed at the cabaret since its inception.

Founder Xochi de la Luna’s vision is to provide a novel platform where marginalized artists can be be seen and heard, and for the audience to be immersed in the vulnerable experience. The cabaret celebrated its two-year anniversary in August 2019 at the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis.

Left: featured artist Deja Stowers & dance company BLAQ.  Center: avant-garde band The Ritual provided ambiance between artist sets.  Right: featured artist Pedro Doña Pepa mid-performance. (August 2019)

Unicorn Riot interviewed Xochi about uplifting artists who experience marginalization and their goal of invigorating the contemporary arts community within the Twin Cities. One of CityPages’ 12 Artists of 2019, Xochi spoke also about how the local Uproar Performing Arts collective evolved from another project of theirs.

In every Bedtime Goose production, Xochi strives for an immersive, euphoric atmosphere. All are welcome to attend, but a strict no-tolerance policy is maintained against misogyny, gender policing, racism, queerphobia, and ableism.

Xochi also strives to make shows as accessible and anti-capitalist as possible, ensuring that people without wealth can enjoy art shows while also taking measures to compensate artists for their labor and artistry.

The Year of the Goose

Mother Goose’s Bedtime Stories, I’ve always envisioned it to be a queer and trans-led show.” — Xochi de la Luna, Twin Cities producer & performance artist

New and established local artists alike were showcased in 2017 in the first intimate evening hosted by Mother Goose. Mother Goose is a “time-traveling inter-dimensional witch” played by Xochi, who is trans-femme and a Salvadoran immigrant.

Xochi as Mother Goose alongside event co-host Ondine the Siren Queen at Bedtime Goose’s 2-year anniversary celebration (August 2019)

Xochi acknowledged in the inaugural event’s description how shelter for the arts world seemed to be shrinking, adding, “we need to come up with innovative ways to keep our artistic community thriving and working together.” Twin Cities’ Bedlam Theater had shuttered the previous year and two more would close in 2018: Intermedia Arts and Patrick’s Cabaret.

Second and third installments took place in September and October of 2017. Xochi expected Mother Goose’s Bedtime Stories (MGBS) to focus on “very dramatic things. And music, because honestly I want music to be part of everything in my life.” Initially they envisioned the characters and stories from each MGBS cabaret chronicled in a comic book which would accompany all future shows.

Featured artist Pedro Doña Pepa titillated the crowd with two drag sets (August 2019)

Though Xochi sought to maintain the MGBS space as a “safer creative space for those who face oppression,” they wanted a place where cisgender straight white male artists could share the stage. The ‘Vector 9 Variety Show‘ (V9) was put together, billed as a journey to the dimension from which Mother Goose originates.

The story behind the Vector 9 dimension, Xochi told Unicorn Riot, is that it’s supposed to be “in a golden era, this euphoric place where everybody is so at peace that all they really care about is art. And in the Mother Goose universe, there the art has power, and they also focus on the art because the art is what keeps that dimension in its golden age.

Featured artist TimIsARocker performed a drag set to Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” (August 2019)

The variety show has featured short films, local bands, and sex education advice Q&A sessions. While anyone may perform, V9 has always maintained the MGBS safer-spaces policy. “CONSENT MATTERS. Don’t be a turd,” read a sentence in the inaugural V9 event description.

Consent isn’t only just practiced with others, it’s practiced with oneself.” — Xochi, quoting local artist Marcela Michelle in August 2019

Featured artist Stephanie Jo Murck sang and played guitar with Sass (August 2019)

An Alternate Dimension Where Art Has Power

After solo musicians wielding acoustic guitars filled the open mic roster at the first Vector 9, Xochi realized the entire show had been overwhelmed by musicians. Their intention behind V9 had been to de-segregate “all the different bubbles of things going on in the Twin Cities,” so they decided to drop the open mic segment to better focus on cultivating variety.

The third V9, produced in November 2017, was the first time local comedian Devohn Bland had ever been asked to join a line-up. He had contemplated quitting comedy before finding the community at V9, where for the first time he felt 100% in control of his own set.

Featured comedian and local producer Devohn Bland performed at the two-year anniversary of Mother Goose’s Bedtime Stories (August 2019)

Over the following months Devohn performed at two more V9s, and in May 2018 Xochi asked Devohn to join as co-producer of the variety show. For the eighth installment, Devohn and Xochi brought back the open mic segment solely for performers who were “people of color, queer, transgender, and non-binary folk.”

Any type of performance art except non-comedic music was welcome to sign up for V9’s “comedy-plus” open mic. Each V9 comes with an explanation of their mission with words inspired by the work of the Twin Cities Not So Macho Music Collective.

Xochi reached out to me to help co-host Vector 9 because Xochi wanted to find someone that they could create comedic synergy with, and someone who they trusted.” — Devohn Bland, Co-Producer of Vector 9 Variety Show

Unicorn Riot interviewed Devohn in November 2019 alongside two other local comedians for the history behind their involvement and collaboration with Xochi.

Comedians and local producers Devohn Bland, Comrade Tripp, and Madi RT (November 2019)

In June 2018 the ‘Robert’s Shoes’ building on Chicago and Lake St, another community arts institution in Minneapolis, became the casualty of a devastating fire. For the ninth installment of V9 Devohn and Xochi organized a benefit show for the now-displaced artists and tenants. Madi RT, a local comedian who is non-binary, was on the lineup at that show.

Xochi and Devohn remember performing together in St. Cloud along with Madi and Comrade Tripp, another Minnesota comedian who’d appeared on a past Vector 9 lineup. Devohn reflected, “There’s an energy and a connection that the four of us have that just works out.

It became apparent that Vector 9 was more, the one that would be ‘high-energy’ for the most part, and the one that really focused on comedy.” — Xochi de la Luna

Featured comedian and local producer Comrade Tripp impressed the crowd with his despondent stand-up at the two-year anniversary party (August 2019)

Creating Community

From Devohn’s experience in the Twin Cities open mic scene, not only do heterosexual cisgender white men “make up the majority of the people performing,” but they also own the venues where the shows take place and often will host the event or hold other roles of management in the space.

Neither of the two co-producers Devon and Xochi is white, and they began talking about creating a space specifically by and for BIPOC comedians (black, indigenous, and people of color) within the V9 variety show. Devohn elaborated to Unicorn Riot on every comedian’s need for access to a supportive environment in which they can tell jokes that land, where they can feel funny.

They [cis-het white men] have a hand in every facet of a show being put together for the most part.  So we wanted to create a space where that is lesser, so that more people have opportunities to check it out and feel validated, feel seen, and feel like they have a place where they can perform and do well and not have to hear someone make a terrible racist joke.” — Devohn Bland

Poet Ifrah Mansour shared the story behind the making of Somali tea (August 2019)

Devohn and Xochi both remember a message Vector 9 received in 2018, just two days after the show went public with the new BIPOC-comedian-only format. A man who sardonically signed his message “That asshole white dude” contacted V9 “calling them out” for what seemed to him a goal of excluding “straight white dudes.

Xochi responded, “While I do not have to make justifications on why I run this mic, I will say that I’m just making a space for these intersecting identities to work on their comedy because the other open mics are dominated by straight white men.” They clarified that it was a nurturing space for members of groups that are “treated as minority” and get silenced more often than amplified, rather than a “space of hate.

Devohn told Unicorn Riot that the sender later expressed gratitude for the detailed reply, applauding V9’s quick response time. The man also added that he had never performed stand-up comedy before himself.

Message exchange with Vector 9 about v9’s new format for the comedy-plus open mic (2018)

In November 2018, Xochi and Devohn announced the creation of a new BIPOC-led comedy project: the Uproar Performing Arts Initiative, which would organize all V9 events and comedy open mics from then on.

Madi and Comrade joined Uproar in the summer of 2019. All four co-producers were portrayed as great cats in a logo designed by artist Talthau Lo.

Three of the four Uproar co-producers at the Uproar Comedy Open Mic one-year anniversary: Madi RT, Devohn Bland, and Comrade Tripp (November 2019)

Also in 2019 Mother Goose’s Bedtime Stories found a new home at the Pangea World Theatre. For the first MGBS of 2019, “Transitional Transmissions,” Xochi facilitated a free public conversation about gender with other local trans and non-binary community members.

Xochi told Unicorn Riot their ultimate goal is “to create community.” Devohn said that Vector 9 “reminds me of home,” and his co-producer Comrade said that even before he was ever an official part of Uproar, Xochi made him feel like family through encouraging his comedy and introducing him to other friends who shared their mindset.

Traveling Forward In Time

Uproar Performing Arts aims to continue fostering a space where BIPOC performers feel invigorated and validated rather than all-but-disappeared, and where audience members can permit themselves to enjoy a small sample of the variety of artistry on offer in Minneapolis.

Uproar Performing Arts members setting up the space for Uproar Comedy Open Mic’s one-year anniversary show.  Right: sign-up sheets for the open mic. (November 2019)

The co-producers describe Uproar’s open mic as a place where comedians know that a bigoted joke will not go over well.

Madi told Unicorn Riot although they agree one should be able to write jokes about anything in one’s personal life, “if it’s offensive, then probably you should write better.

A regular Uproar Open Mic takes place at Du Nord Craft Spirits, a locally-sourced distillery in Minneapolis. Comedian Akeem Woods headlined the one-year anniversary show in November 2019. The Uproar producers wanted a theme for the 1-year open mics, crowd-sourcing the suggestions of ‘Dry Rub’, ‘Poop Emoji’, and ‘Exes’.

Left: Uproar Comedy Open Mic participant reading a piece on the mic’s theme “Exes.”  Right: Uproar headliner Akeem Woods displays one of his t-shirt designs. (November 2019)

As for the queer and trans-led Mother Goose’s Bedtime Stories, eight productions took place in 2019 at the Pangea World Theater. Xochi posted in August that they hope for increased involvement from the crowd and from their fellow co-producers. They also seek to begin showcasing one-act plays and to begin working with other artists to develop other characters and hosts that should exist in the Bedtime Goose universe.

Members of dance company BLAQ perform a piece choreographed by artistic director Deja Stowers (Cedar Cultural Center, August 2019)

At the end of their interview Xochi relayed to Unicorn Riot how their years of producing collaborative shows had instilled a belief about the indomitability of human artistic spirit. They said what’s usually missing in conversations about “1984-esque” scenarios is people creating art about things that the fascist government doesn’t want them to do.

I don’t think anybody’s gonna have the power to completely wipe out art and self-expression. I feel like, that just seems unrealistic to me. At least, that’s how i feel after two years of creating this kind of work, these kinds of spaces, is that they can’t stop us.” — Xochi de la Luna, producer of Mother Goose’s Bedtime Stories

Mother Goose’s Bedtime Stories (Instagram) is currently presented through a partnership at the Pangea World Theater.

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