Q&A: Rad Pereira Queers Prince Ferdinand in Pgh Public Production of The Tempest

The Pittsburgh Public Theater debuts a new production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest  Thursday January 24 – Sunday February 24 at The O’Reilly Theater

Marya Sea Kaminski’s premiere production will crack open this old story to unleash a world where magic reigns, sailors sleep with fish, spirits surround us, and love can strike like lightning to brighten the darkest night. Told from a female perspective with an original score, this Tempest will swirl with vicious plots, ridiculous jokes, and the powerful pull between violent revenge and veritable forgiveness. Pittsburgh Public Theater welcomes the extraordinary voices of the Pittsburgh Youth Chorus as spirits of the magical island on which The Tempest takes place. 

I had the opportunity to interview actor Rad Pereira who portrays Prince Ferdinand in this production. Rad also has a Rad Pereirafeature role in Season 3 of the series Blank My Life that was filmed in Wilkinsburg.

Your Name: Rad Pereira
Your Age: 29 (but i don’t believe in western notions of thyme)
Your Pronouns: they/them/us
Your Affiliation with the production: playing Prince Ferdinand (aka FerdiRad)

How do you describe your identity? In a nutshell, I’d say I’m a brown queer genderfluid immigrant. My gender identity varies day by day. Style has been one of my most consistent modes of self-care because I can fully express myself through it, especially when I’m working in institutions where I’ve felt silenced.

Please tell us about your very first impression of Pittsburgh: I came to Pittsburgh once in high school, then again last year to film (Blank) My Life. I’m a bit of an urban planning nerd, so I love walking around cities and understanding why/when/how things were built. I’m fascinated by all the bridges and tunnels in PGH. It feels like the real Gotham! You can tell how much labor went into building this place. It’s a rather unlikely location for a city, so many hills and valleys and rivers, but they made it work. I’ve loved exploring the South Side, as well as various queer places (upstairs @ Ultra There lounge has been v fun) and black women owned places (Casa Brasil).

What Pittsburgh creators – writers, musicians, poets, etc – have influenced your work? Is there anyone with whom you’d like to collaborate? I mean August Wilson of course… What a legacy! Betty Davis is so amazing. One of my best friends has been a Pittsburgher for 10 years now and I admire his artistic endeavors so much, Jerreme Rodriguez is an amazing dancer, actor, singer and choreographer. Right now he’s choreographing “In The Heights” at PMT, it’s been fun dancing some of his choreo with him. The local actors we’re working with are BADASS: Laurie Klatscher, Shammen Mccune, Jamie Agnello, Deena Aziz, Emma Mercier, Julia de Avilez Rocha!

I will say at the beginning and end of the show seeing a black woman being cared for very attentively is a subversive act, in a country where statistics about the healthcare of black women are so dire.

Tell us about your Ferdinand. How has a cast of all women and nonbinary folx changed the characterization of this particular role? SPOILER ALERT: To be honest I was never interested in any of the young lover roles in any of Shax’s plays. I was always more interested in his creatures, clowns and Royals. But Marya’s adaptation really filters everything through a lens of grief, loneliness, nurturing and love. So Ferdinand gets to have a very beautiful evolution in this version: Ferdinand thinks they lose their Mother, the Queen, and falls in love simultaneously. Ferdinand was definitely a fuckboi back home, having whoever they wanted. It was easy for Ferdi because people wanted to please them and potentially marry them, but Miranda knows nothing about hookup culture and power games. Miranda is a transparent light, she was not raised with shame or lies. This is extremely liberating for Ferdinand. They have no choice but to be honest with her. A few weeks ago some cast members went to see the inimitable Sandra Cisneros do a reading at Carlow University, at one point she said that “the loss of a loved one clefts your heart in two and leaves you in a sacred space where you feel everything…”, Ferdinand is exactly in that place for the play and I feel very grateful to inhabit that space. They are lonely and fragile. It feels like a direct subversion of fragile/toxic masculinity! Which is very exciting because Shakespeare was a deeply toxic man, so this feels like a reclamation/queering of some outdated norms. Ferdinand is undeniably charming and loving, their love with Miranda even more so, I hope this allows audiences to have a change of heart in terms of accepting non-heteronormative relationships. Marya said one day in rehearsal that she believes “Theatre is not about changing people’s minds, but changing people’s hearts” and I hope this love story can really do that.

One theme of The Tempest is colonization, a topic you’ve explored in multiple artistic endeavors. How does this role and the overall adaptation resonate with your Decolonization work? One of Marya’s inspirations for this adaptation was Aimee Cesaire’s “A Tempest” which is directly referencing  issues of race, power, and decolonization. All the narratives touch upon this, but the casting complicates an easy, direct projection of colonization. The royals who land of the island, and might be interpreted as colonizers, are all people of color. Prospero, who might be interpreted as a slave master to Ariel and Caliban, is a woman of color. A more “traditional” casting might make it easier to explore these themes, but ours almost blows it apart because we are mostly diasporic and/or indigenous people, so you really take in the story apart from a sociopolitical lens. My favorite version of this story is Augusto Boal’s “Caliban”, which tells the story with Caliban at the center and the colonization of Brazil. I have my own interpretations of our production and so does Marya. I’m hesitant to divulge because I don’t want to sway people into my politics and way of seeing the show. But I will say that it can be a great exercise in understanding settler privilege.

Does the context of healthcare and a “cancer ward fever dream” specifically fit in a post-colonial analysis of the text? I don’t think I can answer this question as it’s Marya’s vision not mine. I also don’t think she would say that she’s aiming to be post colonial… her adaptation was more heart centered.

Pittsburgh is a city with an ongoing healthcare battle between two monolithic companies that each own a set of hospital and an insurance provider. One result is that what we often define as ‘women’s healthcare’ has been restricted to two specific hospitals, one in each system. One system just announced the closure of a birthing center, seemingly without making accommodations for the pregnant patients who had already begun planning to deliver there and must disrupt their pregnancies to switch to another hospital. Access to cancer treatment and LGBTQ competent care is also part of that larger power struggle as well. How can the arts help us resist being imprisoned by healthcare industries? Yes, I think this is an amazing question. Definitely part of the great turning that’s underway as we are in the final stages of disaster/late stage capitalism. The pharmaceutical industrial complex is a nightmare, it has so much control of our world. I hope that as we turn to community based or more horizontally federal models of care, we can eradicate this industry that rules and oppresses us. One of the most direct ways to use the Arts to resist being imprisoned by healthcare industries is using “Theatre of the Opressed” techniques, such as legislative theatre, which brings communities together to enact their realities and potential solutions. I believe that so many of our issues today are perpetuated through a lack of imagination and awareness, people don’t know that there are other options that are already operating around the world. They think it’s some far-fetched dream, but it’s here and a reality! Emergent strategy proposes that we learn from each other about these alternatives and connect our (grass)roots in solidarity to gain strength and make these the new normal. It’s an exercise in communal imagination, which I believe is one way to plant seeds for system change and culture shift. I will say at the beginning and end of the show seeing a black woman being cared for very attentively is a subversive act, in a country where statistics about the healthcare of black women are so dire.

Another project you’ve been involved with is the streaming web series Blank My Life: Goodbye New York, Hello Hell (filmed in Pittsburgh, set in Ohio) which includes an undead character haunting his former BFF. We love our zombies in Pittsburgh. Tell our readers about your character and if we’ll see you in future seasons.
Spending 3 weeks in Wilkinsburg filming was really great. I learned a lot about the area and the urban renewal/gentrification going down. Genevieve is a lesbian artist working at a middle school in Socksville, OH where she meets the lead character Susan. She takes no bullshit but is very compassionate. Alex was really great about changing some lines to reflect my lived experience as a working femme of color and the way relationships with white women can be harmful and toxic. I was really proud of the work! Genevieve leaves for grad school at the end of the season, so I don’t know what will become of her in the show. Shout out to Community Forge, an amazing amazing project, where we shot all the school scenes!

Please tell us about the first LGBTQ person that you knew and what impact they had on your life. TW: antigay slur. I’m sure I knew many before they knew that’s what they were, but officially it was the two moms of a fellow actor at the Ft.Lauderdale Children’s Theatre I grew up attending. We were shooting a commercial on the beach when I was 8 or 9, and a person i assumed was a man jogged by in a thong speedo, we laughed at him and someone called him a “gay faggot”. My friend spoke up and said his mom’s were gay and that it was not a bad thing but a beautiful thing. We were quiet and that moment taught me a lot. I have always said that the lgbqt community has always been my home and saving grace, this was especially important to me as an immigrant. Queer people have always been my guiding light. I am grateful to have been surrounded and accepted by a queer community.

What is your love song for LGBTQ youth?

Who are some of the younger openly LGBTQ artivists that our readers should be following, but might not know about? So many I know and love or admire from afar: Indya Moore, Mandy Harris, Britton Smith, Keelay Gipson, Alok Vaid-Menon, Ita Segev, Diana Oh, AMYRA, Elsz, Tourmaline, Jahra, bunny michael, sonia guinansaca, asia kate dillon, chroma.ny, collectiva cosmica, fuckupayus

What projects will you pursue after this production ends? I’ll be playing Electra in The Oresteia at Shakespeare Theatre in Washington DC! Continue developing my ongoing performance project “Decolonization Rave”

Where can readers find you on social media?  @____rad__ on Instagram. @radpereiraworld on FBook

If there anything else I should have asked? I would just like to give a shout out to Marya, the new artistic director of PPT! Most artistic directors of “prestigious” regional theatres are old white cis men, who program/cast/hire mostly other white cis men. Marya is ushering in a whole new era at PPT! This is her inaugural production and it stars a black woman and features a bunch of femmes of color in powerful roles that expand minds and hearts without perpetuating harmful narratives. She’s fostered a very grounded, nurturing, rigorous environment. It gives me a lot of hope to be in more and more institutions where femme leadership style is valued.  Down with the cishetwhitecapitalist patriarchy :).

Tickets for The Tempest start at $30.

Pictured here are a group of diverse young cis/trans women and non-binary folks in position at the edge of a stage, singing the final number from Riot Antigone, a band and musical by Seonjae Kim, at LaMama etc.,


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