2017-07-26 / Features

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Alicen Grey

Alicen Grey is an award-winning writer, performance artist and tireless question-asker. Her work, largely inspired by her experiences of both abuse and oppression, explores the relationship between the personal and the political. In all of her artistic endeavors, Grey strives to inspire interpersonal connection and deep emotional healing in her audience. Grey’s first full-length play, GYNX (pronounced “jinx”), will be premiering Off-Broadway this August. This independent, woman-powered production is being crowdfunded on Fractured Atlas: bit.ly/2tKz7Tz.

QG: What was your inspiration behind the creation of GYNX?

AG: I wrote GYNX for so many reasons. Partly to speculate – what would it take to achieve a rape-free world? Partly to stake out space for women in theater – because as we know, theater is historically male-dominated. And partly for catharsis: I had just cut contact with some fringe feminist circles I’d been part of, and on top of that I was between jobs, so I had a lot of free time to think about how I wanted to redefine myself, my politics, my career and my artwork. It was a perfect storm for creating something new and meaningful. But at the same time, writing GYNX was also a casual decision. I’m a curious person. I love trying new things, and I realized I’d never written a play before. So after all of these factors came together, I kinda shrugged and went, “I’m gonna write a dark comedy about castrating rapists. Because why not?”

QG: In GYNX, you focus on the very real problems of human trafficking, child pornography, reproductive rights, rape culture, etc. Can you describe why shedding a light on these issues is important to you?

AG: Given how vocal I am about these issues, people seem to assume that I was horrifically victimized in some way, but I actually haven’t gone through anything that severe. I was never trafficked, or exploited by the porn industry, or forced to carry a pregnancy to term, or anything like that. It’s just that I’ve known too many people who were. People throughout my life have chosen me as the first person they confess their trauma to, after years and years of holding it in. I don’t know what it is about me that makes people come to me first, but I recognize how much vulnerability it takes to speak about trauma, so I don’t take their trust for granted. Because those experiences aren’t mine, I have the ability to emotionally detach when discussing them – a capacity that most survivors don’t have. And I feel like, if I can talk for hours, days and weeks about certain social injustices without being triggered myself, and I have a voice that people actually listen to, then it’s my moral responsibility to speak for those who can’t. And that’s how I think it should be in every arena – not only with misogyny, but with racism and poverty and other societal abominations. If you have the platform and the emotional strength to educate others, then when marginalized people get exhausted from fighting and they pass the baton to you, you have to take it and run as fast as you can for them.

QG: Do you have any plans for furthering the integration of social justice issues and your creative work?

AG: Yes! I’m working towards owning a venue one day. I envision it as a space for artists who would otherwise have difficulty securing resources to develop their work – because obviously, that’s a struggle I relate to. The way I see activism, everyone has a unique skill set that can be useful towards the greater good. Not every activist has to be loud or take up leadership positions. You can be a quiet, behind-the-scenes change-maker, if that’s what your particular skills allow you to do for a cause. And since I’ve always had an inclination to nurture people, hold space for their emotional healing, and connect through art and conversation, my ideal activism would be to create a physical place where all of that can happen. Activists tend to get frequently and conversation, my ideal activism would be to create a physical place where all of that can happen. Activists tend to get frequently overwhelmed with anger and hopelessness, which leads to burnout and compassion fatigue, so it’s important that we take breaks to appreciate the beauty in life – to build as much as we deconstruct. There needs to be that balance. If I can help strike that balance by using my particular skills, then that’s what I want to do.

QG: Is theater your favorite medium to work with? If not, what is?

AG: Oh man, that’s a tough question! A favorite medium? Hmm.... My main mediums are the stage and the paper, and I’d say I love them equally, but for different reasons. On stage, there’s an intensity, vulnerability and connectivity that can only happen when you’re sharing the same space and moment as your audience. You have no choice but to be entirely present and trust that they’ll be receptive. Writing, on the other hand, can be done in the shadows – if I wanted, I could spend the rest of my life writing in my journal, never showing it to anyone. Some might say that makes writing more selfish than live performance, but I choose to see it as an exercise in reclaiming one’s agency. You get to control what you say, how you say it and how it’s received. There’s something to appreciate about both artistic mediums. So yeah, they’re both tied for my favorite.

QG: How did you wind up living in Queens?

AG: Not to get too deep, but I moved to Queens during a dark night of the soul, so to speak. My best friend had just taken his life, which made me severely unstable. And my living situation at the time (in Mount Vernon, with family) prevented me from fully processing the pain. So I up and left. I moved into the first apartment I saw, in a lovely little corner of Ridgewood. It was my first time living independently – which is a crazy thing to do when you're going through a huge loss. But taking that huge risk saved my sanity. I finally had a private, quiet space to let all my emotions out. And when you're going through a trial like that, it really helps to have friendly neighbors and everything within walking distance – the laundromat, lots of grocery stores, discount stores, everything – because you lose all your motivation when you're grieving. When you're healing from anything, the environment you're in makes a huge difference. Thankfully I was able to find peace and stability in Queens – and I don't know that I would have found that same healing effect in other parts of the city – definitely not in Manhattan!

QG: What are some of your favorite things to do in New York?

AG: I love to go to this adorable spot in my neighborhood called Bushwick Bakery (the one on Seneca Avenue). Their sandwiches and sweets are heavenly, but best of all, it’s run by a family of the sweetest women ever. It’s so rare in New York to find places where the employees get to know you, talk at length with you, and make the neighborhood feel brighter – and I’m all about supporting women-owned and local businesses. Plus, they let us use their space to film the GYNX trailer, which was crucial to our fundraising efforts. So everyone reading this: go grab brunch and talk with the wonderful ladies at Bushwick Bakery!

This column was originated in July, 2013 by Nicollette Barsamian.


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