What happens when you mash visual art, live performance, and music into a young adult story? Well, you’d imagine you probably wouldn’t get anything extraordinary, and that’s where you'd be wrong. Ninth Planet and Brandi Burgess have a delightful experiment on their hands with their upcoming performance of Honey Honey, which hits the Cherry Street Pier on Friday, October 4.
There aren’t enough narratives for teens and young adults in theater. Especially contemporary ones that don’t talk down to them. And the performance lets us into the lives of Joss, Speedster Princess, Red Ruby Girl, Batty Boo, Foster, and no/name.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Sam Tower and Nia Benjamin, two members of the creative team, about the colorful, charismatic roster of characters and how the team crafted them.
There was talk of lightning quick prompts, and Weetzie Bat, a young adult book series from the 90s by Francesca Lia Block. “We were influenced by the fantastical realism of her writing and how discovering our queerness in this crazy world,” they said. “There are 15 people on the project team, and we wanted to co-author something equally and eliminate the need for one singular lead artist voice.”
In a “messy, unspecific nutshell” (as they called the summary of the characters), Speedster Princess loves to go fast but has a problem with speed and how life comes at them in many rapid ways. Batty Boo comes from a far away place and uses vocal tones to echo locations of creatures in their space. Red Ruby Girl is on the run from something, potentially themselves. And music producer in training no/name has a special relationship with a snail and might be a traverser of worlds.
Tower and Benjamin noted that they refer to everyone in the show as creatures instead of people. And these creatures have converged for a cosmic house party where beats pulse, temperatures rise with hook ups, break ups, and mixtapes.
Staying young at heart
Coming off of the Pilot Artist Residency at Christ Church Neighborhood House, and after receiving support from Theatre Philadelphia and The Attic Youth Center, Ninth Planet is committed to responding to the voices of young people. They’ve got a lot of growing pains, contradictions, and identity crises happening, and Honey Honey is a show that helps them explore that.
Honey Honey isn’t bound by the its socially conscious themes. Yes, the show is queer, but it’s not merely about queerness. It’s something that can inundate the young adult novel landscape, relying too heavily on a character’s otherness to make its albeit necessary, significant points.
“It’s a show that everyone goes on a journey to find out who they are, and no one understands who they need to be, and it can be a confusing, sexy, difficult thing to embark on,” they added.
The performance, with the help of the Attic Youth Center, is reaching out to those young people to further explore and better empathize and articulate their experiences.
Tower and Benjamin spoke about it at length.
“People are aware that young audiences need work, but they aren’t wanting to put themselves in the place of a young person’s narrative. It’s happening but no young people are involved. It’s people talking at them, not with them.” Concerned about how didactic outreach to teens can be, the production is an open door for teens and young adults. “We’re different. We’re not you, but we want you to be part of the making of this.
Alongside Burgess, Tower, and Benjamin, the creative team includes Paloma Irizarry, Anthony Martinez-Briggs, Sav Souza, Emily Johnson, Jackie Soro, Kira Rodriguez, Rachel Sumi Ishikawa, Jacqueline Constance, and young collaborators from the Attic Youth Center.
What, When, Where
Ninth Planet and Brandi Burgess’ present Honey Honey on Friday, October 4 from 7pm-9pm at Cherry Street Pier, 121 North Columbus Boulevard, Philadelphia. The event is free and runs in twenty-minute intervals with variations for each performance. For more, visit Ninth Planet online.