Peter Griggs On "Killer Queen"
Peter Griggs promises an "in-your-face" experience in his new one-man show, but since it is a show about a boxer, the "in-your-face" part presumably ends where your nose begins.
Killer Queen: The Story of Paco the Pink Pounder, opening April 28, is being staged in an actual gym, and the audience of no more than three dozen per performance will be incorporated into the floor-level boxing ring. Griggs, who never boxed before conceiving the story of an out-gay champion boxer, went into training to prepare for the role. He found his boxing muse in Michael Onello, who both trained Griggs in pugilism and provided the gym where Killer Queen is being staged.
"Michael turned out to be a huge influence on this show," Griggs said. "He matched one of the characters in the original script, a coach who didn't care at all about the fact that this kid was gay. Michael also has these writings all over the walls at the gym, and I've integrated some of those into my piece."
Onello began his involvement with Killer Queen during its workshop run last year at Mama Calizo's Voice Factory, and when the new queer collective named THEOFFCENTER became interested in remounting it, Onello suggested putting the boxing show in his Michael the Boxer Gym and Barbershop.
Director Wolfgang Lancelot Wachalovsky liked the idea, noting that Paco's struggles as a gay man of color within the macho world of boxing can take on greater resonance staged in the "traditionally homophobic space" of an actual boxing ring. The project has also led Onello, Griggs, and several others to create the Empowerment Center Boxing Gym in West Hollywood, with an outreach to at-risk LGBT youths. After its SF run, Killer Queen will reopen May 20 at the Empowerment Center.
Killer Queen not coincidentally is also the name of a rock song written by Freddie Mercury for Queen. Both the music of Queen and out rocker Jimmy Somerville play an important role as Paco's story unfolds through reminiscences, reveries, monologues, and scenes in which Griggs also plays other figures in the boxer's life and career.
"The play starts at a gym as Paco is talking to a group of people who have come to learn about boxing," Griggs said. "It also happens to be the anniversary of the day Paco the Pink Pounder won the super middleweight championship belt of the world."
His stories include his early days as a troubled kid, and an uncle who helps him through tough times. "Since we only have 90 minutes, we have one boxer to represent Paco's nemesis. Some of the stories come from boxers who came out after their careers were over. This is sort of a fantasy, of what might have happened in society if the momentum that was happening in the 1980s hadn't been stopped by AIDS."
Griggs, who calls himself a "performance activist," has been involved in numerous theatrical projects that aren't always high on the mainstream radar. His Burning Monk Collective presented Subrosa: Subliminal Joys ... The Ego Outed, a study of gender, race, and shame, at Mama Calizo's in 2008. Earlier this year he played Stanley Kowalski in A Hand in Desire, a dance-theater remix of A Streetcar Named Desire, in the basement room of an antique store in the Mission.
"I think I'll probably keep doing social activism work on the stage," he said. "But when you're doing that, you do a lot of one-offs and monologues that you're testing. And you keep on working until you have something you really believe in. This is definitely one of those things."
More info on Killer Queen is available at www.theoffcenter.org.