Thursday, January 5, 2012

Interview with Eboni Hogan of "Foreign Bodies"

By Byrne Harrison

Eboni Hogan is an award winning performance poet, author and teaching artist, who often moonlights as a Vargas girl, albeit a heavily tattooed one. Born in the Bronx to an emcee and a choir girl, Eboni studied at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. She is the 2010 Women of the World Poetry Slam Champion, 2010 Underground Indies Slam Champion, the 2008 Urbana Grand Slam Champion, and a two-time representative of the Nuyorican Slam Team. She has performed and facilitated workshops in over 30 U.S. cities, as well as abroad in Ghana, Austria and Germany. She is the author of "Grits" which was nominated for a 2010 Pushcart prize. She believes in the healing properties of bargain shopping, globe-trotting and cannolis.

Tell me a little about Foreign Bodies.

In 2006, I applied to take part in a study abroad program in Ghana, West Africa although I had recently been diagnosed with bipolar I disorder. It became my mania-fueled mission to convince a team of psychiatrists and advisers that traveling to a foreign country would be the best treatment plan for me. Foreign Bodies documents 6 months of pure madness in Accra, Ghana -- ill-advised sexual encounters, whirlwind romances, endless nights of bar hopping, and one unruly appendix. The piece was born of an intense need to not only share my story, the story of a young black female battling mental illness, but to tell the stories of countless other survivors, sufferers, and wanderers.

This is billed as your return to the theatre.  How long have you been away?

The last time I appeared in a theater production was in the spring of 2007, so it has been long enough to suddenly miss acting. If you had told me six years ago, when I was a malnourished, starry-eyed theater major, that years would pass without any work in the theater realm at all, I would've probably spat at your feet and made a dramatic exit from the room. Although I wasn't acting, I never left the stage. I've traveled the world as a performance poet but I miss preparing for a role and transforming into someone else for a night.

What were the challenges for you in writing this piece?

It's a pretty raw piece. I think that people that are familiar with my work as a poet expect to have that sort of say-anything experience with me but I approached topics in Foreign Bodies that I'd barely touched in my poetry (or had disguised with lots of frilly imagery), and I've gotten the "Wow, I had no idea..." reaction from quite a few people. The real challenge for me was being totally honest about what it is to be bipolar. There's nothing romantic about mania or depression. It's ugly. It's scary putting the most atrocious versions of myself on display for an audience but it wouldn't be honest any other way. Yes, the story is about Africa and what it feels like to be a foreigner but to me, that's the backdrop. It was also a huge challenge to find the joy and humor in such pain.

I've heard that the best art comes out of the darkest, most difficult places.  Has this been your experience?

I've never been one that was able to write when I'm seriously unhappy. I'd much rather wrap myself firmly around a bottle of bourbon and listen to bad '90s R&B ballads. When the fog finally lifts is when my gears start shifting and I'm able to process the emotions in a productive way.

If you could say anything to your potential audience, what would it be?

This is the scariest thing I've done artistically in my entire life. If it sucks, I'd really appreciate if everyone still assured me that I have great fashion sense. Thanks.

Foreign Bodieswritten and performed by Eboni Hogan

Friday, January 06 at 5:00PM
at Wild Project
195 East 3rd St. (btwn Avenues A & B)

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