By Jeaux Nathan Anderson, Jr
Austin Mahogany Project play explores the idea of love between Black Men
The Mahogany Project is a collective of Black queer individuals who use prose/poetry/storytelling and theatre to highlight our experiences and heal our pain.
The Mahogany Project was born after my friend William Lyons attended a conference teaching people how to use art as a vehicle for activism. Since he knew I was a writer, we partnered to create this group. We used our spades nights, formally called “sweet tea discussions” about once a month to come together and would chat about a topic then folks would hang out, drink, eat, and play spades. The shade was incredibly real during these times and it was dope to meet new people as well! We used these gatherings as an opportunity to talk to Black queer men in social settings and get content to use for our shows. The project was born out of exhaustion from other people telling our narratives without our permission. The Mahogany Project has been performing every summer (except 2019) with new volumes of work with each corresponding summer. Our troupe (currently six members, but has consisted of upwards of 15 in the past) writes all of our work and this is pretty much what started me in theatre as a performer and a writer. Performing work written by people who don’t identify as Black and queer isn’t something I am interested in at this time. I want to ensure the voices of our community and our work are being amplified.
P.S. I Love You (PSILY) was the third installment in what we call The Love Jones Series which explores the idea of love between Black men who love Black men. It follows the first installment, Love Jones (2017), and the second installment, For Lover’s Only (2018). PSILY is the conclusion to the series of a Black man’ s quest for love. The love of a partner. The love from community. And ultimately the love of self. I feel PSILY is one of the most authentic pieces I have written before. I drew from my own insecurities to write this show: the hurt and the pain I feel is apparent, but also the joy.
PSILY is the merging of live music, singing, and poetry to tell a love story. (Think Jill Scott mixed with Tiny Desk Concert and Def Poetry Jam.) The plot for this show is simple: it’s a love story that explores the intersections of race, sexual orientation, and body issues. I use art to heal from pain and scars that I’ve experienced and this show is really no different. As a thicker and bigger Black gay man, the world sometimes strips us of our sexiness and vibrancy. I wanted to use this show to tell the story of someone who sees his insecurities as strengths. This show is to address the feeling of being Black in White queer spaces, being queer in Black spaces and how that impacts being in love with a Black man as a Black man.
I think our shows are different because they don’t have specific character names usually. The benefit is that people can imagine who that character is for them personally. For our Love Jones Series, I perform as if the story is mine – because it is. I wrote three love stories, each based on the idea that we all get three loves in our lifetime. (I read this somewhere and thought it was cute.) I wrote about my first love who taught me how to be intimate and vulnerable. I wrote about my second love who taught me how to have an adult relationship. I wrote about my last love who taught me to love me. PSILY and the corresponding shows were written to follow this pattern: The hurting, the healing, the hope. PSILY is here to give people hope. We all want someone to win and find the person they are destined to be with. I want to use this show to fulfill the audience who have been on this journey with me for three years. Our next show will have the title Legacy and will highlight not only the legacy of our ancestors, but the legacy we’ll be leaving behind and the fight that will continue.
Since I work in HIV prevention, I think it’s incredibly important to partner with organizations during our shows. Over the past years we’ve partnered with various sexual health organizations to be at our events and to promote their HIV/STI testing programs. Austin Public Health, Kind Clinic, and ASHwell have all sponsored a show and brought their services to the people. Our shows sometimes involve sexual topics and we want to highlight that sex should be fun and pleasurable for both partners. No matter what type of sex you’re having we want you to enjoy it. But we also want to let people know they have options to experiment with ways to reduce risk of HIV/STI transmission. We also want to normalize getting tested with our partners. That conversation has to be had.
Upon reflection after the show, it was fantastic. Truly amazing. Spectacular. There were tears, laughs, and love. I think the best way to describe the night is we felt triggered and the words/music helped us heal. We moved past hurt and made magic and memories that night. There are no words to describe the night other than for an hour and a half we were all able to reflect on love and feel hopeful. It was dope. We were all able to realize that even in darkness there is light. And the light is in our legacy and lineage as black queer folks!
The ultimate message I wanted people to walk away with is that we can be our own daddy. We can be our own prince charming or princess. We have enough within ourselves to be what we want and to love. We are dope. PERIOD. We define what love looks and feels like for us. I encouraged everyone who came to the show to know that this is a safe space to own that idea.
Jeaux Nathan Anderson, Jr is a playwright and activist living in Austin, Texas, hailing from Dallas originally. He wrote, produced, and acted in his most recent production, P.S. I Love You, performed by the Mahogany Project at Cheer Up Charlies in February in Austin.
My name is Jeaux Nathan Anderson Jr and I am proud to say I was born in the “Big D”—Dallas, Texas. I’d say from a young age I was always interested in storytelling. I remember using my toys to create fictional worlds and create characters that were reminiscent of the daytime soap operas my grandmother used to watch. My grandmother didn’t realize it at the time, but during these formative years she was crucial in my development as a storyteller. I became fascinated with the stories of our family that she’d share with me. It was in the 7th grade that I wrote my first piece and, please know, it was awful. The title was Double Dutch Chocolate, which is ironic because I actually don’t even like chocolate. But from there, the seed was planted and I continued to work on my craft through high school and the beginning years of college. During my time as a student at The University of Texas at Austin (UT-Austin) I started to share my work and actually perform. I grew more comfortable with my voice. I came out. I started to grow into the person I am today. Most importantly, I met William Lyons. Will was my first access into what it meant to be a Black gay man and introduced me to many of the friends I still have today. He and I grew from co-workers to “bristers” (brother sisters) during our time as orientation advisers at UT-Austin, and it was with him that I worked to create what is now The Mahogany Project in Austin.