ETERNAL QUEERS: Playing an Icon
‘The Eternal Queers’ opened to a full house!
Here’s our interview with the vibrant and talented Nani Mahal, who plays Stormé DeLarverie in this brand new play by Estelle Chout, and written by our increasingly prolific BCA writer Daisy Remington.
You’re playing Stormé DeLarverie, better known as the butch lesbian, who is a huge part of of queer history, especially with her involvement in the Stonewall Riots. What was it like to play such an amazing icon who embodies so much for so many?
I didn't know much about Stormé prior to this role. Having experienced pride in New York and seeing how queer positive New York has become it was amazing to get to know this powerful person. She is a hero and deserves to be celebrated, and that’s one of the reasons this script really resonates with me. I feel like, I know this, this is my life - but in all honesty I didn't know much. This role brought up a lot of the things that I have been dealing with, and it felt quite personal. I feel many people, especially in BIPOC rainbow communities, will be able to relate to aspects of these characters and that's what makes this play so great. It highlights these amazing icons that deserve to be recognised and we are telling their stories from these communities!
What has it been like working with an entire cast and crew from the BIPOC rainbow community?
When I first walked in for the interview and I saw Krishna (Director) and Chinwe (Exec Producer) I knew I was in good company. I haven’t been acting since I was 15 but knew I had plenty of experience. When they asked me to tell them more about my roles in the past, I told them, I’m black, I have to act to survive and I play any number of roles in a day. I also got support from a friend and that helped. I will say I impressed myself and got the part!
Honestly, working with LGBTQI+ BIPOC can be tough. We are all coming into this with cultural and personal experiences and then working under the pressures of putting on this amazing play. Working with this group of wonderful people is like working with family. We have our ups and downs but we are coming together and making meaningful work. Everyone has been so dedicated to this play and our Producer, Chinwe has kept things on track. The turnaround time for getting us all to this point despite the setbacks and drama is pure excellence. It’s meaningful this work and in it is real personal growth and opportunities. I’m loving it.
What was your very first acting experience?
I was eight and I played a snake in a rewrite of CATS, the musical that my mom wrote. My mom was really into acting, she had Shakespeare on the book shelf and I could recite most of ‘A Midsummer Night's Dream’ by the age of 10. At Wellington Highschool I joined an acting class; it was one of the most informative experiences of my life. It was a bit summer camp meets ‘Lord of the Flies' on a backdrop of teenage drama, it was such a happy time.
I will also add, begrudgingly, I am very much a black nerd who became obsessed with Dungeons and Dragons from the age of 11 onward. It was great being a part of a community, making friends, and dragons. I loved the theatre aspects of role play. I have a similar backstory as Vin Diesel, he too was a nerd and like him, I feel that has helped me develop the skill to bring the characters alive!
What inspired you to get back into acting?
I was a full time illustrator but after experiencing some serious loss in my life I stopped. I spent a long time healing and I‘m still on the journey. I was swept off my feet and slowly started putting things in place. I also got rid of a lot of things that were hindering my healing process and that was hard. Art enabled me to channel my emotions and I got to a point where I needed to shake things up and find myself. I started trying different things and these included dancing, singing, writing, and of course acting. This script really speaks to the journey I have been on.
Who are some of your role models?
Serena Williams is such an inspiration to so many young black girls. She is powerful and such a force. All my nerd girl homies and role playing friends are also my acting inspiration. Being able to explore in a safe environment, as a black girl, was transformative. When it comes to illustration, it's Fred Perry, a black comic writer and illustrator. He runs one of the longest independently run comic book companies. Currently I am really inspired by Cardi B, Lizzo and Megan Thee Stallion. These women are out there maintaining a lighthearted attitude while being black women in the public eye - that takes strength and when I'm having a bad day I can listen to them and love my big booty.
What do you see for the future of black creatives?
I could spend all day talking about this but for me it's about the micro narratives. The short stories and lullabies that stick in our minds, the ones that give children ideas about what is possible. I want millions of these and have them cover everything from the powerful black history to modern day narratives. Stories about CEOs and modern day queens. I want to see more black history because it's lit, it's fun, it's beautiful, and it’s art.
While we're at it, I also want love stories and family stories, stories about rich black people becoming more rich. I want emotional rags-to-riches stories and stories about people who have healed their trauma. There are so many stories waiting to be told and I think we are starting to see more of these stories. Our future is another renaissance.
What do you love most about being a black creative in Aotearoa?
For me Aotearoa has been a place where I felt safe to take the time I needed to heal. It’s green, It’s peaceful, and it feels safe. I feel these things are not always afforded to many in the black community. The quietness I found in nature gave me space to reflect. I watched as many close to me in the States had to keep moving with no time to slow down, while I was able to take the time I needed.
I truly see Aotearoa as a still pond where you can walk safely in nature; you will hear bird song and it is healing. After all the loss I experienced, this land showed me I could slow down. I didn’t have to keep running. Here I can get lost in the forest with a ukulele and some watercolors with no pressure to move on before I was ready. I am truly grateful!