In Conversation with Travis Alabanza

Travis Alabanza, performer, poet, creative thinker, activist and absolute stylish diva, who may I add has appeared in campaigns with MAC x ASOS and performed across the country and internationally! They took some time to catch up with me after performing in Denmark. Travis touched on various topics from loving A.Z, creating and performing their new show Burgerz to finding and finessing a bae!

Eye-catching, riveting and controversial is how I would describe Travis Alabanza’s performances. Known as an emotive queer artistic performer, Travis has been recognised by various publications such as the MOBO Awards and ARTSY over the last couple of years. Travis’s quirky cocktail of performance, poetry, style and political views has created a unique bold presence who states, “performing always came naturally to me from a young age because I always had thoughts and feelings that I wanted to get out. I didn’t know where I could articulate them”. Travis realised from a young age that they, “weren’t being listened to in the classroom”. Often we (the LGBTQ+ community) find ourselves being ignored and this is something Travis relates to, “I wasn’t listened to in politics” but noticed that “something would happen” when they were on stage. They explained, “suddenly people would listen to me. And I think that’s one of the things I love, being on stage and having a sense of power that I wouldn’t be able to get off the stage”.

Over the last few years, Travis has become one of the faces on the conversation around trans politics as well as a prominent part of the London queer scene. Giving talks and performances at over 40 UK universities, Travis has created a platform. “I can go on stage and suddenly feel like I am being celebrated for the things that I get discriminated for and try to hide on a daily basis”. Although performing would be quite nerve-racking for anyone, Travis oozes confidence and calmness and they explain that the secret is, “surround yourself with a group of friends and have some good food. It’s always the go to”.  They are the youngest recipient of the artist in residence at the Tate workshop programme and have performed at the V&A, ICA and the Roundhouse (to name a few). However, Travis has created a completely new show, ‘Burgerz’ which is set to be a game changer.

“Burgerz is a bit different from what people have seen me do before, it’s my first long theatre show. So with this, there’s a 5-week process, there’s me, a director, rehearsals, a stylist, all this lighting team! I’ve been writing the script for over a year now”. From listening to Travis, it appears a lot of preparation, blood, sweat and new found thoughts brought this innovative show together. Travis explains that their influences for Burgerz come from, “pop culture, the way I create aesthetics, my imagery, dress sense as well as issues surrounding gender”. Travis performances have always held narrative to real life events which ooze authenticity, serenity and sometimes pain. “I wanted to create a show which was pop but also the name Burgerz came from an incident which happened in April 2016 where a burger was thrown at me in broad daylight and I was called a tranny. That was the first time food was ever thrown at me as a form of harassment”. Travis took the time to express how it felt to be a person that could experience such hate and outrageous harassment. Trans and non-gender conforming people face abuse on a daily basis and they continue to struggle and strive for acceptance, however, Travis states, “something felt absurd about the burger”. Using this life-changing event has allowed Travis to,  “create a conversation for other topics such as bullying, gender, accountability and responsibility”. Travis posed the question, “can the moment be reclaimed? Is it possible that some violence is too much?”. This piece aims to create, “new ways to talk about gender but also question whether the definition of gender has already been set?”

Travis hopes this piece will take the conversation, “away from bathrooms, away from changing rooms as gender affects us all and constraints us all”. We also reflected on, ‘bystander effect’ in the midst of such harassment and the hope that “the audience leave knowing each person has a responsibility to protect one another. We can’t just back down and be bystanders”.

Travis and I also spoke about the growth and their journey up to the creation of Burgerz. “People have got to know me over the last 3-4 years but this show is an amalgamation of my transition. I am definitely stronger and I have gotten better at knowing I don’t know everything”. Travis noted that they were, “so afraid of being wrong and taking responsibility, especially in relationships” and now has the ability to apologise (one I am sure a lot of us still need to learn). Travis also noted that they spend, “more time thinking about personal relationships and how to treat others”. This was followed by some reminiscing of the good old naughty days, “I was just running around and cussing people when I was younger saying whatever I wanted as long as it was in a nice way”. At this point I could hear the laughter in Travis’ voice, now reformed Travis spends their time, “taking selfies and sharing kind supportive words”, referring to themselves as, “the aunty in the corner!”  

My conversation with Travis was funny and memorable what they call “the Central line event”. They saw someone reading their book on the central line, “it took me a minute to register that they were reading my book and that they were looking at the author!”. The inspiration for the book came from a lack of relatable material from trans authors, “I didn’t want to write the book I was searching for the book. I was looking for a book from a trans author but it wasn’t available”. Travis’s book, “Before I step outside (you love me)”  was published last year, has gone on to be sold in over 21 countries and been was listed as one of the top trans literary books of 2017.

To end our conversation I wanted to get the scoop or a secret. Travis revealed, “I am the only one in my family who can’t cook! So I am hoping to learn how to throw it down in the kitchen! I want to be able to invite someone over on the third or fourth date and finesse them with my cooking! That’s right I’m single and I’m ready to put my cooking skills to the test!”

Follow Travis on Twitter.

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