Paul Outlaw Examines the Enduring Legacy of Slavery in “BBC”

Opening a day after Juneteenth, BBC (Big Black Cockroach) examines the enduring legacy of slavery, and ultimately provides a vision for emancipation.

Writer and performer Paul Outlaw returns to REDCAT with the debut of his gripping work of experimental theater, inspired by classical European mythology, American comic books, current events, and Franz Kafka’s best-known novella, Die Verwandlung (The Metamorphosis)

A nightmarish satire, in which a right-wing American white woman wakes up in the body of a Black man, BBC (Big Black Cockroach) mixes a disorienting cocktail of historical violence and near-future visions. Innovative design elements, including projections and spatialized sound design built entirely from recordings of Outlaw’s voice and movements, echo the expanding identities within the protagonist, and the production’s indelible central image—a queer Black male body in stark isolation—becomes the vessel for America’s violent past, present, and future.

Photo by Brian Hashimoto

Los Angeles-based Outlaw, a beloved queer icon of the performance and theatre community in Los Angeles, has been creating and presenting critically acclaimed works for over twenty-five years. Outlaw is the recipient of various grants, fellowships, and residencies, including a City of Los Angeles Individual Artist Fellowship and a Los Angeles County Performing Arts Recovery Grant. 

“The struggles of people of color and LGBTQIA+ folk inspire and inform my work which I perform in churches, terminals, parks, nightclubs and galleries—and yes, sometimes even in traditional theaters,” Outlaw said. “This multiplicity of venues supports my challenging of the conventional relationships in a live performance. Who is the audience? Who is the performer? Who’s watching whom? My plays and performances have been called one-man shows or solo performances, but I prefer to describe them as collaborative ensemble pieces performed by one visible artist.” 

“All of these themes and considerations come together in my latest project, BBC (Big Black Cockroach),” he continued,” which I began writing during the eruption of social unrest at the end of the Trump administration and continued to develop during the uncertainty of the global pandemic.

In creating the various iterations of this project, I’ve explored multiple modes of performance— silent film acting, audio drama, naturalism, theater of the absurd, standup comedy and storytelling—while shifting between embodying tropes of Black manhood and white womanhood. These dissociations are a variation on the loss of speech and identity experienced by Gregor Samsa in The Metamorphosis as he succumbs to an existence as a cockroach. The difference in BBC (Big Black Cockroach): Black men are not “monstrous vermin.””

Outlaw’s award-winning solo projects and collaborations have been presented in the US (including at LACMA, MOCA, REDCAT, the Getty, The Lab, Yale Union) and abroad (including at Maxim Gorki Theater in Berlin, Melkweg in Amsterdam, and GES-2/V-A-C Foundation in Moscow). He also played the title role in Pepe Danquart’s Schwarzfahrer, winner of the 1994 Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film. 

Photo by Vanessa Crocini

BBC (Big Black Cockroach) debuts at REDCAT June 20 – 22 in Downtown Los Angeles.

For more information and tickets head over to https://www.redcat.org/events/2024/paul-outlaw

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