Before I step outside: A Performance by Travis Alabanza

Mackenzie Somers ’20 reviews her experience attending Alabanza’s performance and meeting the artist.

I was lured to the Travis Alabanza performance by work responsibilities and enthusiastic recommendations by students who had seen them perform before. The VCAM screening room was completely filled with members of the Haverford community, some of whom had seen Alabanza during a performance the year prior. Finally sitting down in the front row after spending half an hour welcoming eager guests, I was ready to see what all the fuss was about.

To begin the show, Clara Abbott offered a warm introduction for Alabanza, recalling an encounter with their work during her time abroad in England. When the lights dimmed, a distant voice echoed through the speakers overhead. When Alabanza emerged from the back entrance, striding confidently, carefully toward the microphone in front of the audience, their words, sometimes in time with the recordings playing overhead, sometimes resisting those drone-like patterns, pierced the room with sincerity.

The performance dramatically shifted back and forth from intensely painful to incredibly comedic. Alabanza asserted their interest in dealing with troubling issues while also pursuing lighthearted connections with audiences and friends. They worked through poem after poem from their latest project, pausing between each one to engage in a conversation with the audience, whose participation during the event reached its peak at the conclusion, when Alabanza asked us to hum a tune during their final poem. The result was a powerful hymnal connection between artist and audience, queer individuals and allies. In fact, Alabanza revisited the idea of “ally” consistently throughout their performance, questioning the allyship of those who choose not to speak or who speak inappropriately, offering opinions or advice which speak only to their ignorance and intolerance.

That snowy Thursday, it was a good thing Alabanza wore their “sensible heels” to the event. Even though snow threatened to shut down all campus activities, the show went on. Travis was disappointed that they couldn’t stay and check out Q-house, the Dining Center, and, most importantly, all of Haverford’s glorious trees. They had to catch a flight to New York before snow caused any cancellations.

Despite the rush, they did take the time to greet guests individually after the show. Copies of Alabanza’s latest publication of poems, Before I Step Outside [You Love Me] were for sale for the flexible price of $10- $15. Some kind soul ahead in line offered to temporarily cover the charge of copies for me and my roommate since we were out of cash. It seemed like everyone was in a generous mood after the performance. Alabanza graciously signed the inner cover addressed to my two cats, “Eli and Isabelle, haven’t met you, but heard you’d like this.”

It was a brief but personal encounter. Alabanza has a way of transforming small talk into something more personal, intentionally seeking a deeper connection. It helped me to reflect on the way that I interact with those around me and how productive and caring those encounters can be. I look forward to keeping up with their future projects.

Written by MacKenzie Somers ’20, History of Art and Museum Studies Major

Edited by Andrew Nguyen ’19, English Major and Dance Minor