by Cara Blouin
“No one,” says multidisciplinary performer Eppchez !, “escapes responsibility.”
Publik Private, Eppchez’s contribution to the 2018 SoLow Fest, is an exploration of people navigating their identities within the limitations of the social structures of the past. In effect, these trans, nonbinary, and Latinx characters are the performer's ancestors, but the show isn’t a veneration.
Publik Private delves into two lives. Those are Le Monje Alferéz, a 16th-century Basque nun who escaped the convent and lived as a man, ultimately earning the rank of second lieutenant in the Peruvian army; and the Publick Universal Friend. The latter was born Jemima Wilkinson in 1752 and, after claiming death from fever in 1776, came back to life as the Friend, an agender Quaker prophet.
The show is coming to Panorama Philly in Kingsessing, June 19 through 23, at 6:30pm. It’s created and performed by Eppchez (who also provides projections and sound), with puppets by Mila Romero and Gwen Rooker. Gil Johnson directs.
Complexity and context
Eppchez ! (who uses the pronouns ey/eir and uses an exclamation point where others would use a surname) doesn’t discount the value in affirming that nonbinary people have always existed. But ey insists that queerness is the least interesting thing about eir characters. “I think it’s important not to just hold people up because we want to see ourselves in history as queer people,” ey says. “It’s important to treat them as whole, complex people living in the time that they lived in.”
Sidestepping the temptation to create flawless heroes, Eppchez emphasizes that although eir characters lived courageously in some ways, they were problematic in others. Le Monje Alferéz, Eppchez points out, completely bought into European and Catholic supremacy and fought violently to uphold them. Ey describes the Friend, an early abolitionist and advocate for equality, as nonetheless an “obnoxious person” obsessed with piety. The way that we all shift between the role of oppressed and oppressor is a timely theme.
“This other kind of creature”
Publik Private offers Eppchez as an artist a rare chance to live into all of eir identities. The show is in both English and Spanish and creates a meaty role for a person who is hard to cast in more traditional work. “Generally I’m hired for other projects because they need a trans person,” ey says. “I don’t really know what else to want. It’s not like someone could hire me and ignore the fact that I’m just this other kind of creature. That’s part of the reason that I write work for myself.”