Almost two years ago, Byron Nilsen was walking home from a night downtown when he was attacked by two men on Cumberland Avenue who took issue with the way Nilsen was dressed (he "looked like a faggot," they said). He's spoken about the incident only a few times in public; Nilsen says he has no desire to become "a poster boy" for hate-crime survivors. But don't think he's backing off. He's merely processing and presenting his feelings in a different way.
On August 13 and 14 at the St. Lawrence Arts Center, as part of "Revolution! A Performance Uprising," Nilsen will showcase (under his performance moniker, Lord Byron) a piece that explores how he "was trying to find a better way to come to terms" with that night. Against a jarring video montage (the exact contents of which he'd like to keep under wraps until they're revealed on stage), Lord Byron will unpack his experience and its aftermath. Ultimately, he hopes the performance — which he warns will be provocative — illustrates how "not to let other people's hate shape who you are . . . The performance is a way for me to be able to peel back the layers, to grow and learn."
Through his production outfit, Organized Chaos, Lord Byron is co-producing "Revolution!" with local dancer and performance artist Selcouth, who founded and runs the monthly Dark Follies event in Monument Square, a vaudevillian street-theater variety show with a goth streak that takes place on First Fridays. The two have known each other for several years; this is their first concerted effort, and its scale matches their combined intensity.
The show will include solo and group performances by Lord Byron and Selcouth as well as: Goldie Peacock, a former Portland-based genderbender who now lives in New York City; Vivid Motion, the inclusive troupe that brings us the Nutcracker Burlesque every December; goth belly-dancer Sanguine; fetish performance artists PV-Scene, who create theatrical shows based on niche themes; Vivian Vice of Whistlebait Burlesque; the Dirty Dishes Burlesque Revue; belly-dancers Jaiyana and Lindsey Feeney; and several others. There will be costumes. There will be props. "Blood, sweat, tears, emotion, energy, and money" have all been poured into this production, which fuses "a lot of different genres in one show," Nilsen says.Most of the performers have worked together before; their interpretations of the "Revolution" concept are broad, ranging from emotional and relational to political and anarchical, from dissecting past revolutions to inspiring future ones.
"Revolution can mean anything from your own personal revelations to something much larger — political change or overthrow," Selcouth said over a post-rehearsal coffee earlier this week.
In her case, the interpretation is personal. Selcouth, who extricated herself from a domestic-abuse situation in her 20s, says she uses movement to process difficult emotions; dance and performance offer "a way to be able to tell that story in a way that people can relate to." Her solo piece in Revolution is called "Resurgam" — the name refers not only to her personal "rising again," but to Portland's city motto. "Portland is the place I kind of recovered from that and came into my own," she says.