Get ready for some incredible theater and storytelling: neighbor, director, performer, and teaching artist Nicolette Dixon is presenting her “Love and Circus: A One Woman Queer Fairytale” this Friday, August 7 at the Dixon Place’s 24th annual Hot Festival — a celebration of queer culture that was named the best LGBTQ theater festival in New York by The Village Voice.The show centers around a queer poly aunt who is confronted by questions about gender, sexuality and love from her little nieces — which she answers by turning the traditional fairy tale narrative on its head. The story’s shero runs away to the circus, where she encounters a cast of characters, from a melancholy clown to an enchanted gardener and a poetic string-walker. Through her adventures, “she stumbles and falls into love again and again, discovering that the unexpected is better than you never imagined,” the press release about the show says.
Before Friday’s performance arrives, we wanted to catch up with Nicolette and find out about the upcoming show and her own life as a director and performer — which has included such past projects as directing “Depth Perception” at Dixon Place and “In My Skin” at Joe’s Pub, as well as creating and acting in public performance pieces dealing with issues from gun violence to feminism, and a whole lot more.
First of all, we want to hear about Love & Circus! What inspired you to turn the traditional fairy tale narrative on its head?
I love the way that fairy tales connect us to our deepest fears and our deepest desires. I love how you can find so many different versions of similar stories from around the globe — because fairy tales were originally an oral tradition, they were made with lots of creative gaps meant to be filled in by each particular storyteller. And I love how in a fairy tale, magic intermingles with the mundane to create a world that is both extremely relatable and untouchably fantastic. However, I don’t love how fairy tales often contain messages that encourage sexism, heteronormativity, and a restrictive view of what love can be. So I wanted to tell a fairy tale that I would be proud to share with the children in my life, and one that also felt true to my own experience but could still be just as magical and mysterious as all the others.
This is sort of based on your own life? Please tell us you ran off with the circus at some point in your life!
Haha, I wish I could! But I’ve always loved the idea. I studied clowning in college and fell in love with it. At one point, I did apply to clown college (The San Francisco Clown Conservatory) and I even got in! But I decided instead to get a degree in applied theater — an area of study that deals with how theater can be used for education, social justice and community building. To me, the circus is a place of joy and wonder, as well as secrets and satire. That, coupled with all the sensory stimulations, make it a great metaphor for a quest for love.
Do you wish someone had told you this kind of fairy tale when you were a kid? How have your own views on love and sexuality evolved over your lifetime?
I do! Absolutely. In my play I say, “If you’d told me when I was a little girl that I could be honest enough in love to cry on my sweetie’s shoulder when my heart ached for another, I’d never have believed it.” That is just one example of how my views have shifted. I used to think that love meant you got everything you needed from just one person, and that person was everything to you. Now I’m non-monogamous, and “one and only” just doesn’t fit into my paradigm. It’s not so much that I think we get everything we need from multiple people — it isn’t that simple of a switch. It’s more like now I think love means being brave enough to put your own needs out there with extreme honesty. I used to think that being in love meant promising forever, and now I think that all of our feelings are constantly shifting and there is no shame in that. I identify as queer, so of course, when it comes to sexuality, I have my own coming out story. Which is a big evolution for all of us! But that’s a long story for another day — suffice to say, I’m still figuring out what is possible in terms of sexuality and sexual attraction, and it’s always an interesting journey.
What are you hoping the audience will take away from the show?
I’m hoping they will see some of their own experience in it, and feel a connection with another human’s story. I’m hoping they can see that polyamory and non-traditional relationships aren’t as strange and foreign as they might think. And I’m hoping that they laugh a lot and have a great time!
This is your first solo show, right? Was that scary, or something that you just dove right into?
This is my first full length solo show, though not my first outing in the realm of solo performance. I’ve done shorter pieces — some autobiographical, some fictional, and some of the burlesque variety. This felt like an extension of all of those explorations. My director, Olivia Harris, was brilliant and supportive, so I felt really safe and nurtured through the beginning of the process. Of course, there’s always a sense of risk in putting out something so personal for the review of the public, but I wouldn’t use the word scary. I would say exhilarating, full of uncertainty, and a path to new discoveries about myself as an artist and a human.
How long have you lived in Ditmas Park? What made you decide to move to the neighborhood in the first place?
I’ve been here for a year and a half. I moved from Bed-Stuy, where I’d been for six years and a place for which I have a deep appreciation. A big deciding factor for me was Third Root Community Health Center. I started practicing yoga there about three years ago, and when I found myself riding three trains to get to a yoga class, I knew I needed to live closer. It’s not like any other yoga studio — it’s so much more than that, and I couldn’t be happier I made the move. In fact, going to Third Root eventually inspired me to get certified to teach yoga. You can take a class with me there starting Thursday, Aug 6 at 9 am!
Are there places you’ll go in our neighborhood for inspiration? What do you love most about the community?
Yes! For inspiration, Third Root, obviously (see above!) I also love riding through Victorian Flatbush on my bike. Marlborough, Argyle, Rugby, Winchester — I can’t pick a favorite path or corner, but just riding by the houses and looking up at the trees puts me in a Zen place.
What I love most about the community is that people who live here are really invested. If you live in Ditmas Park, you want to stay in Ditmas Park — to shop, to eat, to hear music, to meet up with people. I love how we are all connected — at the Food Coop, at an outdoor movie, grabbing a cup of coffee — there is always a familiar face.
There are so many incredibly creative people living in Ditmas Park — do you find yourself working with, or bouncing ideas off, neighbors?
Yes! Some of the creative encounters I’ve had with folks who live near me include singing lessons, costarring in a cabaret, swapping show info, and getting feedback on bits. I’d really like to find more ways to collaborate with fellow Ditmas Parkers — maybe on a site specific performance related to our community’s interests and concerns.
What can we expect to see from you in the future?
My next big project is a show called the Red Dress that deals with issues around young women’s sexuality. It starts from one girl wrestling with the choice of whether or not to have sex for the first time. This show also presents a lot of unexpected perspectives on an age old question, and in particular looks at the way technology and the media are changing these issues. You can see it at University Settlement from November 20-22.
“Love and Circus: A One Woman Queer Fairytale” will be held Friday, August 7 at 7:30pm at The Dixon Place, located at 161 A Chrystie Street in Manhattan. Tickets are $12 in advance or $15 at the door. To purchase tickets online, go here, or call the box office at 212-219-0736.