Trinity continued the Latinx Heritage Month celebrations with a reading by playwright, director and performer Virginia Grise on Oct. 12 in the Holt Center. Grise grew up in San Antonio and earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Texas at Austin. Connecting elements of Chicano and queer identity in her work, Grise creates art that both critiques systems of oppression and personalizes them.
Her latest work “Your Healing is Killing Me” combines parts of performance art, poetry, lecture and even therapy. Framed around the concept of Mao Zedong’s “4 Minute Workout,” Grise synthesizes scenes from her own life into a performance manifesto on healing and its connection to capitalism.
Grise is able to communicate such complex concepts due, in part, to her ability to multi-task as a writer, director and performer. Beginning as a question posed to students to list things that were killing them and formulated around literal scraps of poetry from Grise, the work turns the specific and mundane into a relevant and political piece of theater.
Speaking to an intimate crowd, Grise made the reading feel more like a conversation, allowing the often personal and sometimes traumatic subject matter to feel more organic. Speaking of her father, she tells of the day that Ronald Reagan died. Grise’s father bought a cake and lit the candles, repeating the words “Ronald Reagan was an awful man.” The anecdote shows in a small way how Grise’s writing often works tragicomically.
A full chapter of the manifesto detailed her adventure through New York City attempting to heal her eczema, including black market steroid cream dealers and master cleanse missteps. But it would be disregarding the urgency of her work to describe any of these moments as purely comedic.
“What is making me sick is capitalism,” Grise said during a candid question and answer portion that covered everything between the logistics of producing “Your Healing is Killing Me” and the PTSD of Vietnam War veterans.
“Everywhere I go I am confronting a system,” Grise said, discussing her process of learning to take care of herself after moving to New York City. “Doctors operate in a system that ultimately doesn’t want us to be healthier.”
This philosophy presents itself in her writing process as well, with Grise aligning her work as an act of liberation for herself. Starting with a low-budget performance in Houston, “Your Healing is Killing Me” worked with an all-woman and trans crew in New York. Grise said this piece marked a transition in her relationship with writing because she changed the way she approached it.
Instead of “beating herself up” in the process, she focused on healthier writing habits. She found that while this meant the writing process was not as difficult as she had imagined it would be, the performance was more difficult than usual.
“These stories are inside of you. What was able to happen at these shows was that I was able to release them,” Grise said.