If you’re looking to kick off your February with top notch local queer entertainment, look no further than the Marcel Michelle Obama curated Exposition on February 1st. Billed as a night of queer performance and conversation, Marcel Michelle Obama and Liv Hnilicka host as some of the biggest names in Twin Cities drag, burlesque, and music take center stage. This show is part of 20% Theatre Company’s ongoing mission to give LGBTQ+ artists as many opportunities for performance as possible. In this case, the company remains fairly hands-off as Marcel Michelle Obama curates this low-key night of high-end talent during the company’s dark nights of the upcoming one person show, The Pink Unicorn.

“Marcel really wanted to create an opportunity for local queer and trans performance artists of all different performance types to come together, learn from one another, be inspired by each other’s work, and talk about it,” says Avitabile of 20% Theatre. “Marcel specifically invited artists that rarely, if ever, have the opportunity to share a stage – such as a burlesque artist and a modern dancer, a poet and a rock musician. They also wanted to create opportunity for these artists to be able to dialogue about their work – both with one another, and with the audience. It’s going to be a truly magical evening.”

For those unfamiliar with Marcel’s work (which has been featured at Black Hearts Burlesque and Patrick’s Cabaret, just to name a couple), Marcel takes everything we think we know about burlesque, drag, and performance art, spins it in a blender, and creates a totally new (sometimes sexy, sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes both) piece of queer art. As aforementioned, Marcel Michelle Obama is being joined by Liv Hnilicka for hosting duties. Hnilicka is another Patrick’s Cabaret alum with a huge heart, deep love of the queer performance community here, and a big (but kind) personality that will complement Marcel perfectly. The hosts alone could sell this show out with their caliber of talent, Marcel’s eye for talent is exceptionally strong, and the entire set list for Exposition is awe-striking.

Included in that lineup is Black Hearts Burlesque co-founder and current show producer, Elektra Cute. Elektra steals and breaks hearts every Friday night at Lush as part of a Black Hearts’ residency there, but what’s most notable is how Elektra Cute’s burlesque work is never afraid to experiment, embrace darker elements, or push boundaries — even by burlesque standards.

Drag artist Christina Jackson, who performs all over Minnesota, joins Exposition, as does performing artist Pedro Lander who’s movement and performance work is so well-received that Lander has even been involved in events at the Walker. Albert Conteh of Energy Dance Collective will grace the stage as well, and I’m excited to see so many beautiful and unique movement performers getting pulled together in one show.

Also on this ridiculously beautiful list is local rock star Venus DeMars. DeMars is known almost as much for her love of queer and trans community as she is for her phenomenal body of work that includes fronting rock bands, performance art installations, inclusion in shows for visual art, and a formidable resume as a live DJ. DeMars shows of any type often include conversation as she praises current queer community leaders and gives audiences some lessons in LGBTQ+ history and how she’s seen her own identity as well as the community change and grow. DeMars confirmed that for this event she’d be performing music, as always keeping the event itself in mind and striving for balance since other performers seemingly have performance art covered.

This line-up alone is guaranteed to be worth the price of admission (though with sliding scale options starting at just $5, it’s actually a total steal), but Marcel Michelle Obama is choosing to curate the show with community-building in mind, hence the conversational take on the night. For the past several months, artists from all marginalized communities have felt the pull and urgency of strengthening their communities. Important conversations are happening in most arts communities, and while many of those conversations focus on “how will we survive,” many more are simply about strengthening and bonding our communities.In the case of Exposition that bonding comes from the audience and artists being able to immediately discuss the work that was just performed, connecting over queer art itself.

One of the most enchanting things to experience at live art events are those moments when artists discuss their work with each other, and the rare chance for the audience to participate only deepens how such events inform our love and understanding of our favorite artists. This is also lineup of thinkers and change-makers in the LGBTQ+ community at large, and there’s no telling where that conversation will go. Community and conversation are life rafts right now, and Exposition is giving us more than enough to hold on too—once you factor in the restorative and cathartic necessity of queer art, this is a night that you absolutely should not miss.

Exposition: Queer Performance and Conversation is one night only, February 1st at 7:30 at Open Eye Figure Theater. Tickets are available here, and are on sliding scale between $5-25. Doors open at 6:45.

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