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TBA Online: News & Features: March 2019

Black Benatar Schools TBA Conference With Spectacle: An Interview with Black Benatar

Wednesday, March 20, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Rotimi Agabiaka
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by Rotimi Agbabiaka 

When it comes to equity, diversity, and inclusion, Black Benatar is here to tell you: you can do it! A self-described “social justice drag queen,” Benatar is the alter ego of coach Beatrice L. Thomas and she’ll be conducting the closing keynote session at this year’s Theatre Bay Area conference.

In recent years, Benatar has been a featured drag queen for Radar Production’s Drag Queen Story Hour at Bay Area libraries, graced the stages of museums and nightclubs, and created the Black Benatar Black Magic Cabaret centering queer and trans performers of color. Trained as a multidisciplinary artist, Thomas uses Black Benatar as an outlet to craft sparkly narratives about the equity and inclusion consulting that she does in her day drag.

We sat down with her to chat about her preparations for the conference.

Black Benatar. Photo by Garage Gooch.

.What can folks expect at your keynote session?

I’m opening with one of my favorite numbers that’s kind of an introduction to this concept of equity and change.

I have show on April 18 called Black Benatar’s Black Magic Cabaret and it is a show that centers QTPOC [queer, trans, people of color] talent and then I weave an equity-based, allyship narrative through it. I am a hardworking black magician host, we’re in this cabaret, and the pieces between the performers are these interactions between me and my white assistant, Wyatt Ally. This piece is really about a white ally engaged in a reparations internship with me.

For [the TBA conference] I decided to connect my performance to the show which is a lot about change because allies and the relationship of allyship between both the people being allied and the people who are the allies (or aspiring to be allies) actually needs some attention and examination.

So I’ll give a practical, personal pathway to change and reparations … you’ll be entertained, possibly a little bit scandalized, and come away with some more informed thinking. I’m not teaching Equity 101 in 45 minutes. I want people to be able to come away with the ability to think strategically about their own personal advancement in equity but really this can actually be applied to anything. It can be applied to getting better at something in your creative practice, it can be applied to being a better parent. It’s about how you take the reins of your life and set goals and meet out those incremental goals. Sometimes we think of something as so big and so impossible because that’s how it’s been presented to us that we miss the part that we can do this.


What does good allyship look like?

Great allyship looks like a lot of listening even when you feel like you should say something, it means learning how to deflect to listening. When you feel guilt welling up inside you … you’re going to know how to listen, you’re going to know how to differentiate yourself from “bad” white people without having to raise your hand and be noted as “I’m one of the good ones.”

You will experience less racial discomfort and if you experience it you’ll learn how to tend to it yourself and not make it everyone else’s problem. You’ll have many more tools for de-escalating situations. You’ll have more tools for engaging in respectful dialogue. I think your life will change. It will change how you parent your kids, It will change the notion that there is some age that you should start talking to your kids about race. I think you’ll be better about explaining things. You’ll be able to interrupt in your workplace in a way that helps generate a sense of equity.

Good allyship looks like listening, good allyship is intentional, good allyship waits for acceptance from those you seek to ally. Good allyship is knowing how to support, how to be a power supporter.

Beatrice L. Thomas.

Why is Black Benatar the perfect guide through equity and inclusion? 

I work in so many different capacities and I’m teaching on equity in so many different ways so Black Benatar always was a social justice drag queen. There has to be some reason to connect me to why I want to put on all that makeup and all the pads. It can’t just be because I want people to scream “Yaaaas” at me.

I am a cis(-ish) gendered woman and putting on exaggerated femininity is not a liberating experience for me, which I think it is for many cis males who get into drag. So why am I doing it? Black Benatar has always been, from the moment she was conceived, a vessel to promote blackness, equity, and allyship; and also what blackness can be—blackness in all aspects. Blackness can be heavy metal, blackness can be a diva, blackness can be so many things.

Equity work is great but not everyone is going to get to the equity training but if I give people drag and a social message—for the 90 minutes I have in that room or for the six minutes I am on that stage, they are receptive, they are taking in the message. So I’m using spectacle, I’m using this big, black spectacle that I have created to message around the world in which I see and tools that I think can make it better, things you need to be aware of to make it better.

It isn’t my dream to be an equity trainer … it’s my dream to be in a world where me and my friends get to live in a space that allows us to be all the myriad things that we can be and because we aren’t there yet … if this is what is needed to help move the needle just a little bit over so that everyone in the world can benefit from the riches of the world and fulfill their potential regardless of race, I’m here for that.

The Theatre Bay Area conference will take place on April 1 at Freight & Salvage and the Berkeley Arts Corridor. Register here.

Rotimi Agbabiaka is the Features Curator for Theatre Bay Area. He is an actor, writer, director, teaching artist, and a collective member of the San Francisco Mime Troupe. Learn more about him at rotimionline.com