“Art is here to prove, and to help one bear, the fact that all safety is an illusion.”
— James Baldwin
“I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now. I’ve come too far to turn around.” — gospel/spiritual I used to hear as a child in church
The Welders, the DC-area playwright’s collective, will begin performances of the third production to come from its most recent cohort on May 4, 2022, at Busboys and Poets at 14th & V Streets NW.
This is the first live, in-person offering from Welders 3.0, which took over leadership of the organization in 2020 just as the pandemic shutdown began. Appearing one year later than had originally been planned, the piece is entitled Crossroads, Detours, and Exits. The solo show chronicles the life journey of Welder member JR “Nexus” Russ as he negotiates being a person of mixed ethnic and cultural heritages and practices in a world that often tries to regiment or colonize human spontaneity into one way of being.
The show — directed and distilled in collaboration with Regina Aquino, Sisi Reid, and others — is a performance that will take place at various Busboys and Poets restaurants in the area. It is a one-man show that is (according to its tagline) “part storytelling, part stand-up, part history lesson, all true.”
Nexus is an active participant in the Burning Man community and about to enter a doctorate program in communications at Howard University. His life journey up to now has been full and diverse. He was introduced to storytelling through Story District (a local organization that teaches and promotes autobiographical storytelling), and since then storytelling as a form of community building has become a central impetus of his life and it is the backbone of Crossroads, Detours, and Exits.
“This show is both the most exciting and the most terrifying performance I will have undertaken in my life,” he shares. “As a multi-hyphenate individual who’s lived my whole life in Washington, DC, I hope to share those moments in my life as well as our country’s history, which have brought me to where I am today.”
About his name: JR (as in the soap opera Dallas) is the name one of his aunts gave him. Nexus (a crossroads/intersection) is his Playa/Burning Man name. And Russ is his family name.
Some other things to know about him:
Nexus’s existence is a crossroads of the world in one body. His mom’s Filipino, his dad’s Black.
He is a native Washingtonian. He is Queer. He was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 20.
He was raised Catholic but he has been involved primarily with Episcopalian institutions. His body tattoos include a DC Flag that he received on July 16 (Residency Act Day) and a Filipino Flag that he received on June 12 (Filipino Independence Day).
It is because of these multiple intersecting identities that at Burning Man he was given the name Nexus.
You could think of him as a man on fire, standing on the frontlines of the 21st-century version of humanity’s wrestling with the question of whether we will choose life or not.
It was a conscious decision to offer performances of Crossroads, Detours, and Exits at Busboys and Poets restaurants. DC is a city that is divided in ways that reflect the brokenness of the entire globe at this time: Race, class, gender, culture — the divisions are legion. Nexus wanted “a venue that could foster a sense of community and gathering,” he wrote in a recent blog entry. On the menus at “Busboys,” as it is affectionately called, owner and founder Andy Shallal has inscribed his manifesto for the restaurant as “a place where racial and cultural connections are consciously uplifted… a place where art, culture and politics come together and intentionally collide with one another… a place to take a deliberate pause and feed your mind, body and soul… by creating such a space you can actually begin to transform a corner of a city, the city itself and indeed the world.”
The venue, named after DC and Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes, is recognized as a place where all people are welcome and the reality of diversity in a gentrifying city is acknowledged and celebrated rather than ignored. Nexus notes that “doors to the performing space will open 30 to 60 minutes before the show starts to give audience members an opportunity to eat and drink together. And even if you aren’t necessarily interacting with each other, I hope it engenders a sense of togetherness, since another throughline of my show involves interrogating community.”
The stories Nexus shares in this show come out of intersections he has experienced in his own life. By engaging in this sharing, he provides his audience with a map of the territory of modern life we are working our way through, as he has experienced it. It would seem that transforming the city and the world is also one aim of Nexus’s work.
The Welders is partnering with organizations such as Theatre Prometheus, Council Office of Racial Equity (“Our mission is to eliminate racial disparities and achieve racial equity within the District of Columbia”), and Story District (“We champion the art of autobiographical storytelling”) to fully realize the community engagement aspect of the project.
When I asked Nexus about the Welders 3.0 journey as a new cohort through this pandemic, he noted that these first two years of being the Welders were challenging ones for this cohort: “We were able to be in community together and focus in the midst of the world’s upheaval. The work was how we found joy and were able to support each other. Being in community together was how we were able to deal with the challenges we were facing.
“Being able to postpone our initial season allowed us to come to an understanding and commitment to the practice of taking care of ourselves first and taking care of our audience in everything that we do: especially with all the things we didn’t know about COVID. Presenting at a venue such as Busboys and Poets, we can control how many tickets we sell, how we space people apart — all of this is part of the practice of taking care of ourselves and our audience and our work.
He was enthusiastic when we talked about the possibilities for this production: “Even though we only announced three performance dates in May, this is just the beginning. We are in the process of scheduling dates through October. People will have at least two to three weeks of lead time before the next performances. In addition, because of our successful experiences with streaming during the pandemic shutdown, we expect to have online versions this summer.”
Crossroads, Detours, and Exits will be presented by the Welders performing at various DC venues on different dates, three of which have been announced. Single tickets for each ($20 to $40) are available online (or click on the individual venue address below).
You can see a preview of JR “Nexus” Russ’s storytelling below. Here he tells about his coming out as part of Don’t Ask, Do Tell: Stories About Coming Out, Coming Clean, and Just Plain Coming, A SpeakeasyDC production at Woolly Mammoth Theatre for Capital Pride Week 2011:
And you can read from the blog that JR “Nexus” Russ has been writing as a lead-up to his performance of Crossroads, Detours, and Exits. Some of his blog topics have included “Reflections on being ‘Black enough,'” “Growing up in an immigrant family,” and “Inclusion, diversity and equity…at Burning Man.”
About the Welders
The Welders is a DC-based playwrights’ collective that provides an evolving, alternative platform for play development and production. Through our platform, we inspire and encourage each cohort of producing playwrights to:
- Take risks and make bold leaps in exploring the craft of playwriting
- Produce one performance of work created by each member playwright over the course of three years
- Create significant, meaningful, direct engagement between artists and members of the community
- Support future generations of DC-area playwrights, by passing on the organization and its resources to a new cohort of playwrights at the end of their tenure
The Welders was founded in 2013 by Bob Bartlett, Renee Calarco, Allyson Currin, Caleen Sinette Jennings, Jojo Ruff, and Gwydion Suilebhan. The third generation of Welders — Cat Frost, Farah Lawal Harris, Jared Shamberger, JR “Nexus” Russ, Sisi Reid, and Teshonne Nicole Powell — began their tenure in 2020. Learn more at thewelders.org.