We sat down with Julie NIUBOI Ferguson, Fringe Theatre’s inaugural Nordic & Cloutier Family Innovation Award recipient. This annual award provides one local artist, group, or company with up to $2,500 in funding towards professional development, training, innovation, and/or special project development.
Julie NIUBOI Ferguson is a trans non-binary performance artist who creates the latest and greatest in #weird and brings it to you live.
Congratulations on being the inaugural Nordic & Cloutier Family Innovation Award recipient!
Thank you! It’s so exciting for me!
This award provides you funding toward innovation and special project development. Tell us about the project you will be creating.
I will be reworking and remounting Glass Washrooms, a show I created for Found Festival in 2017. It’s a found space work – it can be performed in any set of washrooms. It’s about my life growing up and coming out as a trans non-binary person (describes any gender identity that does not fit the male and female binary), and how that relates to being visible in society, and especially in washrooms, as washrooms tend to be the most awkward and sometimes unsafe experience for trans non-binary persons.
How do you plan on innovating Glass Washrooms?
The first step was very much me figuring out how to push myself to be personable in front of a group of strangers. I felt as though I was very safe in a lot of creative decisions I made in the first iteration. This time, I want to push myself and the audience further. I plan on pushing the work to be bolder, to make bigger choices, to step further into truth.
To do that, I’m hoping to connect with a mentor. That’s what this award will fund. This mentor will help me tear the script apart, challenge me to leave creative ideas on the cutting room floor, help me add in sections, and ultimately put it back together as a stronger piece of performance art in the end.
What do you hope to achieve as an artist?
I want to become a better story teller. When I first started the project, I thought it would be a dance show, but it’s very much a piece of theatre. I had never written a script before, I had never performed my own spoken work before…I had never spoken on stage before! It was a huge learning curve for me to write and tell stories and remember them. Now that I’ve done it once, I’m ready to get down to what it really means to tell stories, and make it have an arc that’s connective for people.
What is your background as an artist, and how does has that shaped the creation of Glass Washrooms?
I am a performance artist. I trained in dance as a child. I trained in stage management as a young adult. I’ve worked in and around theatre and dance my whole life. When I decided I wanted to make my own work, instead of stage managing – which is facilitating someone else’s work – it was difficult for me to place where I fell in the spectrum of art. Performance art fit for me – it combines my training in dance and theatre and the technical realms because I get to play with aesthetic and design elements that come into play in live performance.
How do you hope audiences will connect with Glass Washrooms?
I do know that at least in Edmonton, this is the first time there has been a work about a trans non-binary person.
To see trans people on stage is so powerful for me as an audience member. When Fringe Theatre produced Cleave by Tiny Bear Jaws as part of their season, it was so incredibly impactful for me to see a trans actor on stage playing a trans character. Representation matters.
Non-binary people haven’t really been explored or talked about on stage or in film, because it is such a new concept, even to people who identify as non-binary. I’m hopeful the show allows trans people to see themselves on stage, and helps cis people (a term for people whose gender identity matches the sex that they were assigned at birth) to feel more comfortable with trans people as a regular part of society. If I can be a part of that, I will be so happy.
How do you hope to support the audience in understanding non-binaryism?
We have a talkback after every single show to keep the conversation going. So if people want or need to talk, if they have questions, they have an opportunity to engage in discussion. In the first iteration, we found all kinds of humans hanging back wanting to know more, or clarifying that they got it right, and asking questions. I don’t want anyone to walk away feeling confused or frustrated. If we can clarify before we go, if we can keep the conversation going, then the work continues forward.
What’s the long-term goal with this piece?
The goal is to tour it across Canada, specifically to high schools. I am envious of how high school students have permission to live their lives more openly than they did when I grew up. Being queer is more widely accepted. But just because a student is queer at school doesn’t mean that they are queer at home, or at work, and although they may have an amazing queer youth community, they still have to deal with the frustrations of generations who may not understand. I want to take the show to all types of high schools and allow them to see a trans person on stage, to see it as a normalcy, and as something that’s possible. There’s power in sharing a story with someone else you might be experiencing the same or similar struggles.
Stay in the know about Julie’s project, Glass Washrooms, and their other performance art projects by following them online at niuboi.com.