Gina Young on her witchy queer musical “sSISTERSs”

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“Watch out for weirdos, girls.”

“We are the weirdos, mister.” 

The Craft

“We are the weirdos, mister,” is what comes to mind when talking about Gina Young, the interdisciplinary artist and creative witchy force behind the feminist musical, sSISTERSs, currently gearing up for its second theatrical run in Los Angeles, California. You might know Gina from seven of her other musicals and plays or perhaps from her days touring as a part of the lesbian rap duo Team Gina, and their queer take on Sir-Mix-a-Lot:

I like butch girls and I cannot lie

you other femmes can’t deny

when a butch walks in all the femmes wanna fuss

because there’s, like, one of them and 30 of us

-“Butch/Femme”

That’s the other thing about Gina Young—her art manifests as blatantly funny but can also be curiously esoteric. Both are traits we see embodied in her latest musical sSISTERs. The queer creative sat down in the midst of tech rehearsals to talk a little more about the musical that follows three sisters on their journeys who end up representing so much more.

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AfterEllen.com: What was the inspiration behind sSISTERs?

Gina Young: Well, I didn’t grow up with sisters but I had cousins, and our world was very magical. There were all these intense games and secret codes and elaborate rituals. I originally wrote these songs to sing them because we make a nice little trio and sound like the Andrews Sisters when we sing, but then it evolved into this whole other project about life and death and family and feminism. So it’s kind of a musical, except it definitely doesn’t sound like musical theater in the conventional sense. One cool part of the show is that I tricked two real life queer rock stars, Jess Imme from Professor Possessor and Paco from Sweet Bump It into being the two-piece punk band that anchors the show. Neither of them had ever acted before and they both had a lot of skepticism about my bizarre theatrical ways, but they are doing an amazing job.

HIGHWAYS_0521_JPablo-0035photo by Jenn Pablo

AE: What was the writing process for the music?

GY: sSISTERs started as a song cycle that I wrote in Seattle in 2009. I had been touring with this lesbian rap duo Team Gina, which was a total blast, but for balance I guess I started writing these really churchy, intimate, choral-style songs with layers of harmonies. When Team Gina disbanded and I moved to LA and started getting pretty heavy into writing and directing theater again, I started writing sSISTERs in the hopes of getting accepted to the REDCAT studio series, which we did, and I realized all the songs I had filed away now had a purposethey fit this show perfectly. Except the one about ballerinas that I cut even though it’s secretly my favorite.

 

AE: So you have three sisters that we follow in the musical—why three?

GY: Well, there’s Chekhov’s Three Sisters, and there’s a type of planting that existed for tens of thousands of years in Native American communities called Three Sisters Garden, and the stars in the belt of the constellation Orion are called the Three Sisters. Basically, I didn’t choose this subject, it chose itself.

postcard_imagephoto by Moira Morel

 

AE: And the spelling sSISTERs? Why that spelling?

GY: Its the word “SISTERS” with two small s’s on either side. I don’t know. It just came to me like that. Something about it feels more serpentine, like you have to say it with a sinister whisper or hiss. It also makes the word a little triangular, which is cool because of course our staging has tons of triangles since it’s all threes.

 

AE: Very cool. Tell us about the difference themes you explore with the the show. One is MichFest, the other Shakespeare, is that right? Quite the range!

GY: Oh man, the MichFest thing. Only a few people ever catch it! You know, what with this being the final year of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, it’s so ironic. I’ve been wanting for years to write a play about MichFest and the great rift it’s been the focus of, but that’s also the last thing I would ever want to do because a) it’s suicidal and b) it’s futile. I mean, I’ve watched that nightmare deadlock for almost twenty years and I wouldn’t want to touch it with a ten foot pole. But that’s also why I slip it into this show. Young Jean Lee said something in an interview that I loved because it’s exactly how I operate—she was like, “What’s the last play you would ever want to write? What’s the one thing I’m really averse to/afraid of doing?” And that’s it for me. I’m caught between two generations and I see them both really clearly. Who gets to be a sister and why? Who are the gatekeepers that get to police the boundaries of sisterhood? What are their motives or context? And from generation to generation does that get lost?

sSISTERSs crop

AE: You’re right in that being a huge subject to tackle. Can you talk a little more about the other queer elements and why that was important for you as well as the overall movement to include these elements?

GY: Listen, I can’t help it! I write queer female protagonists—primarily. We have exciting lives and we’re so underrepresented. One of the sSISTERSs is a lesbian with a revolving door of lovers who all meet each other in the end. We explore lesbians and transgender themes in the show because you can’t explore a so called “female-experience” without going to the outer limits of female daring.

 

AE: Female daring. Love it. What are the witchy elements of the show inspired by?

GY: L.A. is having such a witch moment.

Catch Gina (and all the weirdos) at sSISTERs Thursday, Friday, Saturday August 6-8 at the Lyric-Hyperion Theater in Silverlake

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