For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed New York based writer-director-choreographer-activist Donna Kaz. For the past 20 years she has led Guerrilla Girls on Tour with performances that address social issues and prove feminists are funny. Her new eBook, PUSH/PUSHBACK 9 Steps to make a Difference with Activism and Art (because the world’s gone bananas) can be found at ggontour.com and donnakaz.com,
Q: What are you currently working on? Tell us about it.
I am a multi-genre writer and I work in nonfiction, poetry, stage and screen. Currently, I’m working on a play set in New York City in 1981 at the beginning of the AIDS crisis. It is based on my experiences of living through that era and losing so many friends to AIDS, specifically a very close collaborator who directed my first plays. The play is called The Docent, and had a first read with American Renaissance Theatre Company in NYC in February.
I am also still very involved in my work as a member of the activist theater group Guerrilla Girls On Tour. Usually, at this time, we would be touring to colleges around the country with lectures, workshops and performances but since COVID-19 we have had to pivot to virtual workshops and artist talks. Our third Art of Activism Poster Making Workshop will be offered via Zoom on June 26.
Q: Who are your artistic heroes who have had an impact on you and your work?
My mom was very creative and had an amazing sense of humor. My dad made beautiful things out of wood and I spent a lot of time in his workshop. I have also been inspired by the work of Yoko Ono, Gloria Steinem, and others who have made it possible for women in theater to have a voice on stage, like Deborah Randall of Venus Theatre and Lisa McNulty of the Women’s Project Theatre.
Q: What keeps you motivated and inspired as an artist?
Realizing that creating art takes many steps, some of them slower than others, and you often have to be patient to allow inspiration to enter. I have found that making art is a process and that putting time into thinking about an idea is often just as important as executing that idea.
Q: What other projects would you like to tell us about?
I would like to share some links to some organizations doing important work within the theater community right now like The Broadway Advocacy Coalition, using the arts for social change; Honor Roll, an advocacy group for women playwrights over 40; and Guerrilla Girls On Tour’s Blog featuring womxn artists called On Being a Womxn Artist.
Q: What is one instance of knowing you are living in your vision?
Remember to celebrate your successes, even if they seem small. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Believe in yourself and your ability.
Q: If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?
This is such a great question, especially during this self-quarantine year. If I could, I would be in a crowded theater, either involved in a production or sitting in the audience watching some great new play or musical.
Q: What has been big your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?
Living in a world which oppresses and marginalizes women is the biggest obstacle I can think of. Patriarchy has to go.
Q: What do you do to stay connected to your creative self?
I read, write, listen to music, cook, and try to connect with nature whenever I can.
Q: If you could let go of something that has held you back, what would it be?
I think of my past as something I have worked hard to accept so rather than letting it go I would like to answer this question in a different way. I could never really “let go” of the violence and abuse that is in my past – the trauma of surviving domestic violence and sexual assault. For me it is more a question of how to accept what happened to me. In order to make peace with my past and move forward I first realized that it was impossible to change what happened. I came to accept the fact that I am who I am because of my past. The way forward for me was to acknowledge what I have gone through and that has made me stronger.
Q: What is your favorite piece of art?
I am drawn to activist art and work that inspires change such as the artistic responses to the murder of George Floyd like LA artist Nikkolas Smith’s portrait of Floyd; and Houston street artists Donkeeboy and Donkeymom who painted a powerful mural in Houston’s Third Ward.
Q: What person do you most admire, living or dead?
Michelle Obama. I’ve never met her but whenever I see her speak I feel like she’s talking to me.
Q: If you could be known and celebrated for one thing, what would it be?
Helping to change the face of theater to include the work of more women and artists of color.
Q: If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?
Q: Where would you most like to live?
Hawaii. It is a beautiful and magical place.
Q: What is your idea of success?
I wrote a lot about this in my memoir UN/MASKED, Memoirs of a Guerrilla Girl On Tour. This is from the book: “Getting cast in a theater production or a movie or having my play produced does not make me an artist. Art is in me, lives in my soul, the vibration inside fights a way out to make stuff up. Nobody has to buy this stuff, this art, or look at it, or produce it. It is art because I am an artist and I made it up. If it is the truest stuff I can make, it is a success. Not to say that getting money for your art is not okay. It is. But it is no longer the criteria by which I identify myself as an artist. I am success. I am a success. My story is at the end of a pencil poised over an empty page. I picked the pencil up. And wrote.”
Q: Final Thoughts?
Thank you for this opportunity to connect with other creative people.