Within just three weeks, folkLAB’s artistic team distilled a lifetime into a 75-minute play.
“Mija: one bitch’s tale” is an interdisciplinary, autobiographical one-woman show by folkLAB’s miniMythologies resident artist Nicole Gallagher, the show’s creator and performer and a queer Latina.
Gallagher’s story will be brought to the stage inside Beauty Shoppe’s Terminal Building in South Side from Wednesday, July 31 through Sunday, Aug. 4.
Through monologues, the show untangles themes of identity. During the performance, Gallagher acts out different characters, relies on some audience participation, and presents a 10-minute documentary created in collaboration with Julie Mallis of BOOM Concepts.
A native Chicagoan who now lives on Pittsburgh’s North Side, Gallagher was born into a mixed ethnic family and raised by both Mexican and American family members. Gallagher said her piece explores being raised by “a newly immigrant family,” being a “little wild child,” and finding the support of “chosen family.”
“Raising myself through my experiences and out of some dark places, my piece speaks to coming up in that world and struggling,” she said. “I think the framework is a lot of joy and darkness and my struggle learning to be an adult and learning to be an OK adult.”
While the show is heavy, it also has lighter moments. Gallagher has studied comedy through Steel City Improv and Arcade Theater and particularly enjoys sketch comedy.
For director Ayne Terceira, that balance is part of what makes “Mija” so special.
“The draw for the show is that melding a life story can be multiple things,” said Terceira, who also serves as founder and creative director for Uncumber Theatrics, which pushes the limits of improvisational techniques and creates immersive, interactive, and environmental theater.
“We have these dark moments inside us that when we retell them they are full of joy and comedy and that’s how we cope. And that’s how we come to understand our own life — through the retelling and the finding of joy and comedy in our own life story.”
Even the title of the show seeks to reclaim the word “bitch.”
Terceira also points out that “Mija” explores queerness and a Latinx background in a way that “normalizes those things” instead of tokenizing.
That’s exactly what folkLAB strives to do. FolkLAB is dedicated to fair representation, compensation, and access in the performing arts, and it “aims to create a new, decolonized American folklore and mythology through performance in the voices of the oppressed.”
And it’s not just about “putting people on Pittsburgh stages that don’t get a lot of play,” it’s also about providing agency, said Abigail Lis-Perlis, folkLAB’s artistic director and founder (she’s also an Incline Who’s Next honoree).
“She has full agency over the story that she wants,” Lis-Perlis said. The agency doesn’t end once the show’s over. Since folkLAB’s shows are presented as works-in-progress, Gallagher can continue to develop the piece as she wishes.
With its three-week timeframe to create the content and rehearse and then one week to perform, this is the longest folkLAB creative process to date.
FolkLAB’s timeline is aimed at an accessible art-making process. Many of its team members work at least one other full-time job and the company is still 90-percent self-funded, and a longer rehearsal process is more exhausting, challenging, and costly, Lis-Perlis explained. Plus, she added, a quick deadline can spark creativity and ingenuity.
This is folkLAB’s fifth project and the second in the miniMythologies residency, which challenges artists to explore identity and mythology by exploring a skill or medium they’ve never tried before.
For Gallagher, that medium was the concept of performing solo.
While the work-in-progress is a solo piece, to Gallagher the story is “universal.”
“I feel like I am that all-American kid,” she said.
IF YOU GO: Tickets are available here — and it’s recommended you buy in advance, as shows often sell out. Note: The show contains references to sexual assault, emotional abuse, and physical violence. It’s ages 14+, and anyone under 18 is advised to come with a parent/guardian.
Updated 10:50 a.m. July 30