Liza Jessie Peterson’s Performance Industrial Complex By Sun SingletonBy editor • Jul 10th, 2008 • Category: news
Actor, poet, playwright, teacher. Liza Jessie Peterson’s activist spirit compels her to reveal human truths via a mash-up of mystic-artistic guises.
To poetry aficionados, she is Liza Jessie Peterson the tall bronze goddess of Def Poetry Jam fame, whose poem “Ice Cream Cone” exhilarates street-harassed women everywhere when, upon being told by a sleazy passerby to lick it, tells his ass exactly where to stick it.
To girls and boys in the New York prison system she is called Sister Liza, the committed outreach coordinator who has taught weekly creative writing courses to talented, incarcerated youth for over ten years.
Inmates at Rykers Island and Sing-Sing prison know Sista Liza as a lone storyteller who comes bearing her magical gift of theater. “The Peculiar Patriot” is Peterson’s dynamic one-woman play about Betsy LaQuanda Ross, a woman whose devotion to her imprisoned lover compels her to collect and sew together the inmates’ stories like a beloved family quilt. She’s performed the play an astounding forty-four times, and her audiences, from the OG’s and newbies, are often moved by her work in ways that still surprise her. “Once I did the show on a hot summer day with an auditorium of 300 guys, and I had been billed as a comedian. So these guys thought they were coming in to see a comedian, which I’m not. I’m like ‘Oh my God, this is gonna be problematic.’ But after I finished the show, they all stood up and gave me the black power salute.”
When the show is over, Liza conducts a Q&A session, personally transcribing the inmates’ feedback for “Voices From The Inside,” a program designed to give insight about prison life to her adolescent students back at Ryker’s. “I take [the older inmates] comments and have discussions with the youth, to then comment back to the OG’s”
“The Peculiar Patriot” is a multifaceted project that encompasses the play, a feature film, documentary and an erotic pin-up calendar featuring the former couture model, all to be released under her LJP Inc. banner. When asked the obvious question, “why a pin-up calendar?” the actress responds with candor: “The prison pin-up calendar is speaking the language of the current culture which is celebrating the hyper-sexualized black woman, and it is my answer to that, in bringing back the totality of the Goddess through these images. I’m putting honey on the blade.”
Liza is also clear about her purpose in performing “The Peculiar Patriot” for audiences too often forgotten by the outside world. “There are millions behind bars. We see the chaos in our community because the order is behind those bars. We need to restore order by bringing their voices back.”
Liza Jessie Peterson’s forty-fifth performance will take place at Sing-Sing prison on July 19th.