Monét Noelle Marshall

When the world is destroyed, someone must remake the world. I think you’d call that art.

-The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson

 

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I’m thinking about queer Black womanness.... in the Christian tradition, grace is something we are given, and we don’t deserve. I believe that the labor of Black women in this country is grace because we continue to give it, and this country continues to not deserve it. And yet, we give it anyway. So many of us give it and we don’t even recognize how holy that offering is. We don’t see ourselves as holy, and we don’t see ourselves as art. I feel like many of us are dying and struggling and stressed and hurting because we are not getting any messages that say, “No, you deserve rest and care and peace and joy and pleasure.”
There’s two ultimate realities for what Durham could look like … it could very well go the Oakland route, where it’s incredibly gentrified and folks can’t afford to live here … and then there’s another way in which we figure out how we can both grow, and do it sustainably, in a way that there’s still room for all types of folks to make homes in Durham. And in that version there’s all kinds of cultural events and small businesses popping up left and right, and there’s an ecosystem of equity and care that’s also reminiscent of the way folks talk about Black Wall Street. That’s the version I’m more excited about.
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Marshall’s art forces us to the realization that we are the only ones that can heal ourselves, and only if we decide to embrace our own beauty and individuality.
“I’m still in rehearsal digging deep,” says Monet Noelle Marshall about how her current performance piece “Buy My Body And Call It A Ticket” is forcing her to accept and love her body and how she presents herself.
“This piece is me saying out loud that I see the system,” Marshall said. “I’m not fooled, and I know that a lot of it is harmful.”

“Buy My Soul and Call It Art” is the first piece in Marshall’s “Buy It Call It” trilogy and premiered in January at Durham’s Living Arts Collective. The next installment, “Buy My Body and Call It a Ticket,” runs June 8 to 16 at The Fruit in Durham.

A carnival theme sets the scene for this show that asks, “What price are you paying for your body? What would you admit to be free?”

“It is me letting go of my shame about myself,” Marshall said. “There’s nothing anybody can say about me if I’m like, ‘Here’s who I am. Here’s what I am. You can’t use me against me.’ That feels incredibly scary but also really liberating.”
Monet: There could be art that is being made right now that we don’t even have words for yet and we want to be able to have room to fund it because that could be the next thing. And I actually think that that is the most quote unquote American piece around innovation, and you don’t I don’t know what this is yet and we don’t know what it is but we need to leave room for it. So if we are funding differently and we are funding in a way that folks of color women and queer folks trans folks have the same access or have more access to funding then that means that they can then impart who they are and the truth of their lives into our into our cultural narrative, in a way that tells a whole story of our country and we would all be better for it.

from "How Did CAM Raleigh Botch Its Handling of the Margaret Bowland Controversy So Badly, and What Can It Do to Move Forward?"

“I don’t care about Margaret Bowland as an individual artist,” Marshall said on Saturday. “I’m more interested in systems, and in what does it mean for an institution that has a mission to curate art for a wider community to be responsible for the art they bring in.”
Monét Noelle Marshall on how black art is used in the global economy:
Because we’ve commodified it, we can’t separate it from the racial underpinnings of capitalism in our country. So even when when we want to say that: Well it’s just art. That’s actually a very dangerous statement, because then we’re saying that I actually don’t want to do the work to unpack how race and class and gender and sexual orientation and all of our socio-economic markers impact my relation to your art.
 Photo credit:  Derrick Beasley

Photo credit: Derrick Beasley

Capitalism tells us that there is a price tag on every single thing, but that is actually a lie,” said Marshall. “There are some things that are priceless. Our souls are priceless. Our art is priceless.
 Photo by  Derrick Beasley
With a topic so complex, the show does not come without an appropriate amount of controversy. While it’s engaging from entrance to exit, I found the conversations afterward most interesting. From my perspective as a black artist in this community, the experience portrayed in Buy My Soul and Call It Art is an everyday reality. I left the Living Arts Collective dazed, trying to understand what was part of the show and what was uncovered in my own reality. I haven’t experienced something as horrifyingly relevant to my life since watching Get Out.
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What Makes HER Special: “I’ve been immensely drawn to and empowered by Monét’s generous and inimitable artistic style, her commitment to liberation, unapologetic blackness and queerness, healing, joy, and radical self-love,” says JaMeeka Holloway-Burrell, an artistic partner and a friend. “Whether through her work as a playwright, performer, director, or community curator, Monét ensures that you are seen and that somebody in the world is thinking of and creating just for you.”
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“Underrepresented communities are incredibly resilient. I just wish they didn’t always have to be,” says director and arts activist Monet Marshall, who fears that Durham is approaching a time when its theater will no longer reflect its cultural identity. “If the only people able to present work are those with the means to rent more expensive places ... the work won’t speak to and from the wider community.”

Marshall sees the theater’s closing—and the unlikelihood that it will be replaced—as interconnected with Batalá Durham’s struggle to rehearse on public land in Central Park. The inaccessibility of downtown real estate is evidence of a city “really wrestling with who it’s going to be in the next five to seven years,” Marshall says.
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All improv comics live or die—figuratively, onstage—based on their ability to react to complex, changing circumstances. But, as comedian Monet Marshall notes on the Improv Noir website, the same is true, literally and offstage, for African Americans. Marshall calls being black in America “a constant improvisation.”

”It’s very real,” she adds. “At any moment, I have to be prepared to say, OK, this is the new reality. What do I do now?”

From "Triangle art director encourages people to find purpose"

“The question I’ve been asking people is: What would you be doing when all the wars are over?

“The question is, do you give your life over to that [struggle] — basically sacrificing your life — or do you say, ‘I’m going to live my best life because I believe that what I’m meant to do — my passion and my purpose — can also serve to make a better world.”

...If there were no wars and no need to unveil the struggle of marginalized people, who knows what Marshall would be doing. You could probably still find her on a stage, performing history, helping other people tell their stories and creating experiences for others to learn and understand.

But the wars wage on. Cyberbullying is still an issue. Racial tensions are still high. People around the world are dying for many unthinkable reasons.

For that reason Marshall will continue on, center stage, as she continues to empower the community.

“What I’m more interested in is how to create creative citizens,” she said. “If we have creative citizens then we can have creative problem solvers.

“But it starts with us having the confidence that our ideas matter.”
Two regal Black women assumed center stage. Smartly dressed and owning the space, Monet gently coaxed the youth to the floor. “Could all of the young people and young at heart please join me down here on the mat?” The kids took their places with no hesitation, scooting around and making room for one another. Watching them as they hungrily awaited instruction from these beautiful women invoked an image of village Elders passing on their wisdom. Before them stood two highly accomplished women boasting college degrees, acting careers, and entrepreneurial success. An instant bond formed between the ladies, children, and families, setting the tone for the remainder of the afternoon. One by one, hands shot up with questions. The future stars were anxious to soak up all that the women had to offer. In that exchange lay an unseen, selective trust between the families and the dynamic duo. Because these women looked like them, spoke like them, and seemed to understand them, the children were open to the knowledge they could impart. Language and a sense of humor really opened the pathways for the children to open up to Kalilah and Monet who were not only down to earth, but also recognized the wonderful creativity within each child. They expected the best from the children which led to positive responses.
Monet Marshall, artistic director of MOJOAA Performing Arts, observes that the theater community is “not very quick to self-assessment” about the stories it produces and the ones it ignores. But, she’s quick to add, “it’s not a malicious thing. We often get comfortable telling the stories we’ve been telling, producing the playwrights we’ve been producing, working with the actors we’ve been working with.”
— Indy Week, August 26, 2015

 From "Building A Black Arts Community In North Carolina"- An InTerview on WUNC's The State of Things with Frank Stasio

Marshall has three hopes for the forum: networking between black artists, connecting black artists with the business sector in the Triangle, and inviting white allies to be included. One of the issues they hope to address is the idea of norms when it comes to theater and the world of art.
  JL: What is the most significant opportunity—or challenge—facing the theatre field, and how can we address it together?    MNM:  I think the most important word in that question is “we”. We, as theatre lovers and practitioners, need to take a moment to stop looking out at our audience and start looking around at ourselves. We have a diversity issue. Period. We are not creating an environment that allows younger artists, artists of color and artists from working class families to create sustainable lives in theatre. So they leave the field and we lose their voices and their genius in a time when we need them most. And then we have the audacity to look out at our audiences and wonder why they look so homogenous. This is not new but it doesnt hurt any less.  But we can do address this! Our goal should not be more diversity initiatives but that we get to a point where diversity is ingrained into the missions of every single organization AND we have supported so many diverse theatre artists and companies that they are sustainable on their own. But that takes real work. It takes personal responsibility. It takes looking around room and asking who’s not here, why aren’t they here and how can I change that? It takes asking hard questions and being receptive to real answers. And it may even mean asking some of our long term donors and funders to give to someone else. Gasp!

JL: What is the most significant opportunity—or challenge—facing the theatre field, and how can we address it together?

MNM: I think the most important word in that question is “we”. We, as theatre lovers and practitioners, need to take a moment to stop looking out at our audience and start looking around at ourselves. We have a diversity issue. Period. We are not creating an environment that allows younger artists, artists of color and artists from working class families to create sustainable lives in theatre. So they leave the field and we lose their voices and their genius in a time when we need them most. And then we have the audacity to look out at our audiences and wonder why they look so homogenous. This is not new but it doesnt hurt any less.

But we can do address this! Our goal should not be more diversity initiatives but that we get to a point where diversity is ingrained into the missions of every single organization AND we have supported so many diverse theatre artists and companies that they are sustainable on their own. But that takes real work. It takes personal responsibility. It takes looking around room and asking who’s not here, why aren’t they here and how can I change that? It takes asking hard questions and being receptive to real answers. And it may even mean asking some of our long term donors and funders to give to someone else. Gasp!

“I believe in the power of theater,” Marshall said. “You can get all these different people [together] and they can live the same experience. Having people sit and listen to the perspective of six African-American men on this subject is powerful in itself,” she said. “I want people to understand it is a complex issue,” and that we cannot find solutions “until we have conversations with one another….”
— Durham Herald Sun, February 4, 2015
“The most important thing is the audience hearing these words,” Marshall says. “[Actor] Justin Peoples said he’d always wanted to be able to say these things. To give someone the opportunity to speak their truth, even through somebody else, is really powerful. We have experts in our midst, but let’s treat every person as if their voice is just as important.”
— Indy Week, February 2015

Cover Photo by Chris Charles

Background image by Flickr user SlimJim