Lucky Stiff (they/he) is a trans and nonbinary director, writer, and performer working in Chicago and New York. Their performance piece, Jesu Maria, uses Joan of Arc’s rallying cry of the same name and engages all of the senses to lead the audience on an archaeological journey of identity, drawing a straight line between their great grandfather’s immigration to America and their own social and medical transition. The performance will be interactive to audiences’ comfort level, and can only be experienced in our upcoming multi-arts production The Memory Place, centering cultural memory and hidden histories June 1-11. We got to chat with Lucky about their career as an artist and their inspiration for this piece. Be sure to grab your tickets here.
PIVOT ARTS: Your career as a drag performer has taken you to prominent performance spaces in Chicago and New York, including Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, and Bushwig Festival of Drag. What drew you to drag as an artistic path?
LUCKY STIFF: I grew up in a smallish town with no access to any queer community that might have existed there, and so my first summer in Chicago was all about exploring. I went to my first drag shows at Berlin and was completely in awe of the performers I saw there, and felt a connection in their performances to the gender questions that had already begun to appear in the work I was doing. I think anyone who explores drag as an art form does it because there’s something deep inside of them that says “there’s more to you than meets the eye.”
PA: Using Joan of Arc’s words, “Jesu Maria” as a rallying cry, your piece of the same name, Jesu Maria, connects your great grandfather’s immigration to America with your own social and medical transition. What prompted you to explore this connection between your personal and familial history?
LS: Each of the sections of the piece were written during an intense physical and emotional moment in my life where I was separated from family and calling out to the past to help me deal with the present – so all of it came from a place of need. Art for me is a survival technique and way to understand the world, so this piece is digging in to how the journey of my grandmothers and grandfathers was like and yet not like the life I’m living now.
PA: Your piece “engages all of the senses to lead audiences on an archaeological journey of identity” and will be “interactive to audience members’ comfort level.” I’m intrigued by what this could mean! Without spoiling anything, can you give us a little sneak peek into what audiences can expect?
LS: Two things: I think smell and taste are underutilized tools in making theater, and sometimes “magicians” need an assistant.
PA: Your work combines nightclub culture with performance art, but you also have a strong background in theatre. What is it about nightclub culture that inspires your work and how does that translate to a theatrical setting?
LS: I think sometimes critics like to draw lines between art that’s purely entertaining or beautiful and art that Means Something in a big way. After transitioning I don’t believe in that kind of binary thinking. Everything is part of everything. Everything inspires everything. The lessons of performing in a nightclub translate to performing in a theater setting. I’m into blurring the boundaries.
PA: While we’re talking about identity and cultural history…which Chicago landmark would you say most embodies your personality and why?
LS: I’m not sure if it embodies my personality, but every time I step into the botanical gardens I feel like I’ve come home.
Thanks so much to Lucky for giving us a closer look at their artistry! Don’t miss your chance to experience their incredible work.