Look up the definition of self-made man, and you're likely to see a picture of Joseph Varisco.
While working toward a career in social services and volunteering at Howard Brown Health Center, Varisco began to interact with various performance scenes in Chicago and fell in love, so to speak. "I became enamored with wanting to know these people," he said in an interview with Windy City Times.
What started as a few gigs here and thereproviding documentation support for various projects and developing professional partnerships with Chicago IRL and Jane Beachy's Salonathonhas today turned into a full-scale production company called JRV Majesty Productions. Under this guise, Varisco has produced a number of literary collections, oral-history projects, educational workshops and live performance series, including his current posts as resident curator of Poonie's Cabaret, co-curator of Salonathon and producer of POST-Q and Queer, Ill, & Okay, opening its third season July 24 at the Storefront Theater.
If anything seems to unite Varisco's many projects, it is a tireless commitment to providing queer, gender non-conforming and otherwise underrepresented artists with resources and opportunities to show their work. In the process of building his company over the past three and a half years, Varisco has worked random jobs to support himself, including anything from "data-entry crap," as he called it, to grant writing, to most recently becoming development director to The Inconveniencea multidisciplinary performance cooperative.
Varisco sometimes escapes notice in the dance community because the focus of his projects is not purely dance. However, dancers are increasingly collaborating with theater and performance artists, spoken-word performers and musicians/sound artists, and the need and desire for a diverse range of voices from within the queer and gender non-conforming communities is putting Varisco on the map across disciplines.
"The word queer is sometimes associated with privilege or holds specific connotations," he said, and desires a broader definition of "queer" then the one generally accepted and demonstrated by mainstream media sources. In creating multidisciplinary performance opportunities for any and all queer people, Varisco makes his living providing multiple platforms for the exploration, expression and promotion of conversation and collaboration surrounding topics such as gender, politics, sexuality and disability.
In its third season, Queer, Ill, & Okay is a performance series that features the narratives of queer artists and their relationships with various forms of chronic illness. The series began as a response to Varisco's diagnosis as HIV-positive, and has evolved to incorporate stories from individuals coping with a wide range of mental and chronic illnesses.
This year, the performance will feature three headliners: interdisciplinary film, photography, and performance artist Oli Rodriguez; poet Amir Rabiyah; and multimedia artist/activist Joan Giroux, in addition to Sky Cubabub, Scott Artley, Ireashia Monet, Allie Shyer and Donnell Williams ( a dancer and long-time teaching artist with the Barrel of Monkeys ).
Varisco envisions growth for series like Queer, Ill, & Okay, and recognizes the challenge of diversifying his audiences to include individuals from outside the communities he serves, he said. Varisco is passionate about finding a way to make these conversations happen.
Varisco said he imagines regional workshops, collaborations and partnerships in neighboring communities that open lines of communication as well as allow for transparency and vulnerability between people who don't think they have anything in common.
JRV Majesty Productions presents the third annual Queer, Ill, & Okay July 24-25 at the Storefront Theater, 66 E. Randolph St., in partnership with the City of Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events ( DCASE ). Shows begin at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15, available at the door. The Storefront Theater is an ADA-accessible space.
Also by JRV Majesty: Varisco is helping produce the exceedingly popular Fly Honey Show, an annual modern burlesque extravaganza/benefit for the Inconvenience Aug. 13-29 at the Chopin Theatre. Also, through a partnership with High Concept Laboratories at Mana Contemporary Chicago in Pilsen, Varisco is also developing a brand-new initiative called the Chicago Queer Arts Mentorship Program ( CQAMP ). Modeled after similar programs in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, CQAMP pairs 10 emerging artists with a mentor, plus a stipend and access to rehearsal/exhibition space, as well as administrative and production support. Look for the full kickoff about CQAMP in Fall 2016. Read more about Varisco's recent production, POST-Q , in the Dancin' Feats column from May.