Tart Collective is a group of queers with a microphone. The goal: discomfort. It’s mainly comprised of three of my most favorite freaks. I talked with Mara Siegel, Casi Jordan, and Rachel Lewis on their method, goals, and philosophy. Enjoy.
TART COLLECTIVE IS A GROUP OF FAGS WHO WANT PEOPLE TO LOOK AT US. TART COLLECTIVE REJECTS PROFESSIONALISM IN THE ART AND ALL OTHER WORLDS. TART COLLECTIVE BELIEVES THAT AMATEURITY AND EXPERIMENTATION ARE CENTRAL TO THE QUEER EXPERIENCE AND THAT THEY ARE SYSTEMATICALLY EXCLUDED AND DELEGITIMIZED IN CREATIVE SPACES AND IT’S REALLY BORING. TART COLLECTIVE IS FULL OF NASTY DIVINE BITCHES. TART COLLECTIVE SEEKS TO UNEARTH POTENTIAL IN OUR SOCIAL SPACES AND THEN TRANSCEND THESE SOCIAL SPACES AND BECOME FAMOUS. TART COLLECTIVE SEEKS TO MAKE YOU UNCOMFORTABLE FOR THE GREATER AND QUEERER GOOD. TART COLLECTIVE IS FOUNDED ON THE NEED FOR REVENGE AGAINST HIGH CULTURE AND ACADEMIA. WE MAKE UP NEW WORDS. TIP US.
Do you ever fear you will make people uncomfortable?
Casi: The goal is discomfort. A livable discomfort. We want to push boundaries and see how far we can go, but never to scare anyone away. There are always trigger warnings. We hope that it’s a space you can feel gleefully unsafe for ten or so minutes.
Mara: I definitely fear it, but I’ve also come to accept it and love it.
Rachel: No. I want people to view our shows as guilty pleasures and be able to revel in the constructed unsafety amongst a trusted audience. The way our shows are structured and the reactions we’re looking for really only work in an intimate space; bright lights and a big stage are not on our radar. Through this intimacy we are able to bring a level of filth without making the audience feel exposed or alone.
What does the collaboration look like within Tart Collective?
Rachel: We all have so many ideas and desires swirling around in our heads. It’s actually pretty easy to pick and choose themes because of how closely we live our lives together. We are all in constant communication, so many performances come from our lived and shared experiences. We are also lucky that we have so many friends that are naturally theatrical and excited about our project. We usually write characters as our friends and ask them to be a part of it once it’s written. In my opinion, the best content comes from our friends showing up at a show and us just handing them a script like wanna read? The enthusiasm we get from our peers really drives us.
Where do you see this project in a year?
Casi: We’re going to convince next year’s “new scene” that Tart Collective has been here for decades. It’s hard to imagine where we’ll be, seeing how much we’ve evolved in the past two months. I want to keep challenging form, finding new ways to do what we do. I see us doing it bigger–not necessarily bigger spaces, I want to keep the intimacy, but a bigger reach. I see Tart Collective being a household name. I want more musical numbers.
Mara: Definitely bigger. I see a tour in our future.. hhmmmm?
Rachel: I want Tart to be a household name.
It’s obviously important to have a queer voice in Athens, which gives ya’ll a platform. What do you hope to do with this platform? Especially if normies are in the crowd.
Casi: We’re queering DIY! I want to show people that queer art can be cheesy, sappy, nasty, sexy, dirty, raunchy, sad, and funny, and all of the above at the same time and none of it too. I want to give the queers in the audience something they can connect with. Frankly I don’t care what normies think, but I hope they can connect too and come away a little queerer than before, if not just confused.
Mara: I think sometimes it’s easy to just assume that DIY spaces are ‘safe’ for queer people (nowhere is really safe if you think about it), but it’s just not true. By being really gay and really excited about it, people are forced to be like oh shit and work to be better.
Do you see Tart Collective as inherently political?
Casi: We’re doing sex and art, so yes. Queer bodies on display will never not be political. We have a manifesto and an agenda. There’s always an element of am I missing something? for the audience, so people are, and should be, assigning political meaning to what we’re doing no matter what.
Mara: I think between this and $targrrrlz [group of non-male activists], queer performance and politics in Athens are becoming more and more connected than they already were. Every performance we do has some sort of political something or other, what it is isn’t always so clear though.
Rachel: If we weren’t also participating in movements as individuals and staying current with our local political context our work would fall flat. What makes art political is the artist themselves and the context they are working within. What makes Tart Collective political is our own activism being worked out on stage. I don’t think our identities inherently inform politics, but a fag in a dress really makes you think.
Who are you inspired by with playwriting?
Casi: What makes Tart Collective especially cool is that there’s no traceable, trackable base inspiration for what we do and what I write. The influences are there. You can see them, but everything we reference and are inspired by has been pulsed in the food processor to the point that it’s indistinguishable. My inspiration is literally everything I see and I just reflect what I like in the pieces we do–early 2000’s rom coms, deep-youtube hidden gems, vaudeville, municipal court, you name it, anything goes.
Rachel: I don’t know anything about anything. Most cultural references are over my head, I just know I want to be filthy. I pull a lot of inspiration from Glenn Milstead, especially his early work with John Waters. He came from a close minded conservative family (like me) and created a double life for himself, being a ‘normal son’ by day and a club queen by night. He would do pretty much anything he was asked to do on set no matter how shocking or disgusting. He hungered for fame in a way so many queers did at that time (and still do). To be visible, to be loved, to be heard, and to live a glamorous life. I see the stage as a place for me to find those things.
What is your process?
Casi: It starts with oh, shit we have a show in a week and a half then it’s the birkin bag of ideas. I say something I’ve been thinking about, then Rachel gives her take and Mara too. I ask my donkey cashier, my Green Cab driver, my boss, my mom, my dog what they think we should do, and then we write it all down. Rehearsals are usually the night before and the night of. The whole thing doesn’t happen the way it’s going to be until we start live. A lot of it is ephemeral–dealing with perishable props, like meat, banking on applause and laughter and audience participation, the projections won’t be ready until five minutes before, et cetera. we read through, we see what works, then the crowd goes hush and we just do it.
Rachel: It almost always starts with me bringing some vague self serving idea to Casi like I want to pull raw meat out of my underwear on stage! and Casi works their freak magic and comes up with a genius script. Lots of laughing. We usually have a moment of mania together and hammer out an entire production with costumes and set changes and lots of fluff, but what ends up being acted out on stage is a bare bones version of that with hysteria and inebriation mixed in. Still lots of laughs.
What was the inspiration for ALL WOMYN ARE BORN DEAD?
Casi: The title comes from a line in Monica Byrne’s play What Every Girl Should Know. I took the idea implied in that line a step further to say, in my eyes, that womyn (non-males) die all the time, everyday with the things we have to do to survive. The play it about sex work, suicide, lying to men, and female insanity. Womyn, taking matters into their own hands, putting themselves on the line, and being used the way they are by men is like suicide.
Rachel: I wanted to use all the most heinous things I’ve heard in online chat rooms. All of the lines from the first segment come from my own experiences and I wanted to process my thoughts and feelings on the stage.
EXCERPT OF SCRIPT FOR ALL WOMYN ARE BORN DEAD
If you had no limitations what would Tart Collective evolve into?
Casi: The catalyst for fully automated luxury space communism. Something bigger than myself, and something that makes a tangible impact on the world around me.
Mara: Maybe like a ponzi scheme, but sexier.
Rachel: I think we all just want to be club queens that get paid to show up places and look hot.