Staceyann Chin is a force of nature. A mother, playwright, poet, and activist, she manages to weave all of her passions into her work. Currently, Chin is performing the Chicago debut of her one-woman show, “Motherstruck!” as part of the Greenhouse Theater’s Solo Celebration.
The show debuted last year in New York City and was co-produced by Rosie O’Donnell and directed by Cynthia Nixon. “Motherstruck!” tells the story of Chin’s journey from a young child in Jamaica, to moving to NYC and coming of age as a lesbian, poet, and activist for the LGBTQ community, then on to single motherhood via IVF.
One of the underlying themes of “Motherstruck!” is change, something Chin is intimately familiar with as her Brooklyn neighborhood undergoes rapid gentrification.
“[It] improves the daily quality of your life. Amenities become better. Food deserts are decreased to accommodate people. Schools and food gets better,” she says. “But the irony is [that] then you can’t afford it, so the neighborhood becomes less diverse and more affluent,” driving out the people that the gentrification was supposed to help, theoretically.
Chin continues, “When your salary is average and houses cost millions of dollars that I can’t afford, it means the safety of my home is not promised.”
In “Motherstruck!” Chin also discusses the difficulty of growing up as a queer woman in Jamaica. I wondered, upon returning nearly 20 years later, if she still feels that tension. While her homeland is known for being hostile to the LGBTQ community, Chan says there are “different struggles” today than when she was growing up.
“I’m not as much concerned about my freedoms,” she tells EBONY.com. In America, “progress is gathering momentum and gaining speed, even in the face of pushback in North Carolina, Tennessee, and other laws about our civil rights. Homophobia lives in the fabric of American philosophy.”
While Chin struggled growing up queer in Jamaica she says her connection to her Blackness was never in doubt. “I didn’t struggle with being Black in Jamaica, but I do here” she admits, due in large part to the financial hardship.
Though Chin may have had a difficult time early in life, she hopes her four-year-old daughter Zuri does not. The poet is working to ensure her daughter becomes a confident woman by teaching her that agency and body autonomy are incredibly important.
“I foster the feeling that she has a right to speak. I do that in the way that I talk to her. My grandparents would never put up with talkback or an argumentative child,” Chin says. However, she’s choosing a different route. “If she is smart, so will be her mouth.”
Zuri’s “smart mouth” leads to significant “negotiation, including her choice for breakfast,” admits Chin, and the “idea that no one should touch her without consent, which is never transgressed.” Chin added that this can lead to “difficult moments on your part, with a late-moving child. But it is a small price to pay for her body autonomy and to know that her body is her own.”
Zuri travels nearly everywhere with Chin, including to protests and marches. Even while “Motherstruck!” is mid-run, Chin the activist remains tuned in to what is happening around the country. She recently read a beautiful poem as a tribute to those who were lost in the Orlando massacre.
“As an activist, living out and proud, in defiance to racism and homophobia, I felt compelled to speak on the massacre in Orlando. What I think about more than anything else is that these people were brutally targeted and executed,” she says. “I see where other bodies are consistently targeted. Yes, I was shocked and shaken, stilled by the tragedy of it, because I thought this group was safe. The tragedy exposed my own privilege as a queer person who is not homeless, not a new immigrant, not a Black man.”
Because she is not apart of these groups, Chin thought she was safe. Still, the tragedy hit home because of the victims were targeted for being a part of the LGBTQ community, like Chin.
“I escape the systematic state-sanctioned violence. I am intent in pointing out that it’s yet another place where the system doesn’t work. We don’t stand up for the people who are most vulnerable. I didn’t think it wouldn’t happen to us,” she says. “What Orlando highlighted is that none of us are safe unless all of us are. We must push the hands of those who are insisting that we can’t or shouldn’t change anything. We must push everyone. Put gun control laws in play. Fight xenophobia. We have to stop letting the Right dominate the conversation. Make America Great Again is code for ‘progressive freedoms are applied to our lives. We don’t like the movement; let’s go back to Jim Crow.’”
Seamlessly, Chin ties her feelings about community to what she hopes people take from “Motherstruck!”
“I want people to understand that the human story is at once remarkably unique to every person and astoundingly universal at the same time. Whether you’re gay or straight, man or woman, old or young, Black or white, parent or not, immigrant or not. There are so many versions to the same story,” she explains. “The human spirit can recognize itself in almost anything. I invite people to experience this universality inside of a very specific story. The past can trigger all that you want and don’t want but eventually you come to make sense of the mess.”
After its run in Chicago ends on July 17, “Motherstruck!” will be at the Studio Theatre in Washington, DC this fall.