"Performance is where the parts of me [Haitian -- anthropologist -- professor -- singer -- writer] integrate. When I perform this piece I am wholly human and meet the audience on that visceral level."
As Gina Athena Ulysse prepares for her show, Because God is too Busy: Haiti, me and The World at La Mama (Monday, December 13, NYC), her homeland is again crying out in protest and violence. I spoke with Ms. Ulysse yesterday, December 8. She answered the phone and let out a long low, moaning breath. Haiti, she explained is her reason for everything. At first, she had tried to be a singer, playing clubs and working the scene in New York City in the '80s. After struggling for nearly two years, she decided to take a different route and went back to school. A self-described accidental academic, Ulysse earned her Ph.D. in cultural anthropology in hopes of helping her birth-country. She graduated in 1999 and has been engaging students in classrooms, conference halls, bookstores, and performance venues ever since. Onstage she marries her love of singing and performing with her academic training. She also returns to Haiti to help out and witness the situation first hand. She was last there in August.
"Haiti's history and our responses to it has always been a bigger issue about how we define humanity and how we deal with humanitarian crises. The revolution is not over. The revolution's aim remains an unfinished project."
Currently a professor at Wesleyan University, Ms. Ulysse teaches a course called Haiti: Myths and Reality. The class is one way she educates people and raises awareness around the history of Haiti. Writing articles, essays, and poems is another vehicle for her educational message. And her one-women performance piece is where, she says, it all comes together. Because God is too Busy: Haiti, me and The World is a dramatic monologue and investigation of "how the past occupies the present. Ulysse weaves spoken word with Vodou chants to reflect on childhood memories, social (in)justice, spirituality, and the incessant dehumanization of Haitians."
Haitians are emblematic of larger world issues. I am comfortable with the notion that the stage can be a place for expressing rage. I want the audience to feel the wailing of Haiti and her people. I use my voice and body to embody the complexities of history, statistics, personal narrative, and theory so that we can explore these things on a human level. I infuse this work with Vodou chants to bring breath and spirituality into the process of deeper understanding. I call this an alter(ed)native -- a commitment to engage with the visceral that is embedded in the structural. So while I deconstruct and in some ways instruct, I repeatedly chant to keep us all embodied in the process.
Next Monday's performance in New York City is a fundraiser for inured.org -- a small organization that is committed to research, higher education, and capacity building in Haiti . Ms. Ulysse will be selling her CD, I Am A Storm: Songs & Poems for Haiti, to support two projects: (1) a scholarship for 10 students from Cité Soleil who are studying in universities in Brazil and (2) a community forum.