#52: Miriam Suzanne
Multi-talented as an artist, actor, designer and musician, Miriam Suzanne has roots in Brian Freeland’s LIDA Project, which brought an era of bracing experimental theater to Denver before Freeland moved to New York four years ago. But she’s also gone solo over the years with theatrical colleagues Julie Rada and Kenny Storms, most currently working under the title of Grapefruit Lab, while also performing with the band Teacup Gorilla and creating Riding Sidesaddle*, a morphing book project composed on interchangeable index cards. As Grapefruit Lab prepares to premiere its first effort, JANE/EYRE, we invited Suzanne to speak up via the 100CC questionnaire.
Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?
Miriam Suzanne: I take inspiration from all over: a band that I hear, an article I read, the people around me. If I’m stuck, I sometimes look to myths and other old stories for a familiar structure to explore and dissect.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
I'm not much of a party-throwing person, so I’d be most likely to invite my close friends and no one else. For a better answer, I’ll leave the party, and meet with these people one-on-one…
Let’s start with Laurie Anderson, since I’m working on a show inspired by her. I saw Songs and Stories From Moby Dick when I was in college, and have always wanted to create work like that.
It would also be an honor to meet Miss Major Griffin-Gracy — a constant advocate for trans, queer and sex-worker rights, since she helped lead the Stonewall uprising in 1969. I want to say thank you and then just listen to her stories and ideas for an evening.
And just for fun…let’s add Tig Notaro. She seems like someone I’d enjoy hanging out with. Hey, I’m three for three with living people! Time to make this happen, I guess.
What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?
I’ve made good friends in the writing scene, the music scene and the theater scene. I’ve found people to work with who are smart and professional and inspiring — and I’ve found the artist communities very supportive across the board. But I find the largest institutions to be a continual disappointment, with a stranglehold on arts funding and very little respect for the actual people doing the work. I have no patience for that.
How about globally?
I’m more interested in the local community when it comes to art-making. Who’s around me, and what can we each contribute, and who are we in conversation with?
Are trends worth following? What’s one trend you love and one that you hate?
I don’t think anything is worth doing (or worth avoiding) simply because it becomes popular — but everything exists in context, so we need some understanding of the audience expectations and assumptions. That said, I don’t think in trending terms. I’m not convinced that a global average provides any sense of real individuals. Every trend has an opposite trend in different circles.
What I most like to see is artists moving away from an abstract concept of “what an audience wants” — as some single, unchanging viewpoint — and toward a more conversational back-and-forth with real people. Art as a relationship, rather than a megaphone.
What’s your best or favorite accomplishment as an artist?
I really enjoyed collaborating with Buntport Theater to create 10 Myths on the Proper Application of Beauty Products. They asked about adapting my novel (Riding SideSaddle*) for the stage and invited my band (Teacup Gorilla) to underscore the show live. It was a fun project, and wild to see so many artists building on top of a story I had written.
You’ve come this far in life. What’s still on your bucket list?
I’m not looking for anything new — just the freedom to spend more time creating art, and less time paying rent.
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
I moved to Denver ten years ago, not knowing if I would stay. Now I’ve found community I love, places to make art, a home of my own and constant sunshine. I don’t want to leave, but I’m still not sure where New Denver is headed. The combination of “urban camping” laws, DIY-space crackdowns and rising prices worries me, without a visible plan for helping low-income communities and artists already here.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
There are so many people doing interesting work, but Buntport Theater stands out as a team. They are constantly creating new work on their own terms, with a clear respect for their audience and community. You’ll never hear them brag — but they seem to me like one of the most accomplished, long-running and friendly creative groups in town.
What’s on your agenda in the coming year?
We’re currently in rehearsal for a (somewhat queer) stage adaptation of Jane Eyre. It’s a collaboration between my new theater company, Grapefruit Lab, my band and a few others. That has all my attention until it opens on February 23.
After that, the band will be recording a new EP, and Grapefruit Lab will start talking about a fall show. Life is never boring!
Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
Whenever the Denver Center claims to be doing something new and original, look around. There’s probably a small company already doing that work, without all the pretense. Seek them out, and support them. Find queer artists, artists of color, artists with disabilities and women who bring a new perspective on the world. Talk about them, and help them thrive. There’s a lot going on, and it’s happening outside the big institutions.
Grapefruit Lab will present six performances of JANE/EYRE, a queer retelling of the Charlotte Brontë classic, beginning on Friday, February 23, at 8 p.m. and running through Saturday, March 3, at the Bakery, 2132 Market Street. Find info, showtimes and tickets, $15, at Eventbrite; learn more about Grapefruit Lab and Miriam Suzanne online.