New project centers QTPOC art and performance

When someone’s mission is radical healing and brilliant growth, it’s time to take notes.

Briyana D. Clarel’s The Starfruit Project moved to Philadelphia in 2018 from Austin, Texas and crafts LGBTQ-focused writing workshops, blog hubs and performance classes centering on queer and trans people of color.

“I started dreaming up The Starfruit Project two years ago, weaving together my interests in healing, theater, writing and community building,” said Clarel, a Princeton University graduate who majored in sociology and minored in African American, Latin American and urban studies — and took graduate courses in fine arts with a focus on theater for youth and communities and gender and sexuality studies.

The name for Clarel’s initiative came simply.

“Stars are brilliant and fruit grows,” said the queer nonbinary artist, writer, performer and educator. “Using the word ‘starfruit’ felt right for an initiative centering on brilliance and growth. Plus, I love fruit.”

The Starfruit Project is a mobile intelligence unit run solely by Clarel but with support from others in their circle.

“My work is not to heal anyone, but to offer creative and artistic tools that may aid in their journeys of healing and growth,” they explained.

This summer, Clarel directed a series called “Creative Writing Prompts” with questions to energize writing, such as “How do you nourish your soul?” and “What are you growing through?” Each set of prompts also had corresponding visual components offered on Instagram (@thestarfruitproject).

“I aim to create prompts that work well for journal entries, poems, paintings and whatever else folks can dream up. Most of all, I offer starting points for introspection,” Clarel said. “I hope the reflections that emerge will help guide people along their journey.”

Building on the popularity of its writing prompts, Starfruit will offer a theater program as part of Free Fringe Philly called “Non-linear: Works-in-progress by Black LGBTQ artists” Sept. 23 at Vox Populi. Cocurated by Ang Bey, a storyteller, playwright, director and teaching artist from Southwest Philadelphia, and Clarel, the program is still open for submissions but closing soon, on Aug. 22.

The Starfruit Project defines theatre broadly and welcomes entries of choreopoems, monologues, sketches, TV pilots, 10-minute musicals, one-act plays and any other performance art. If work is accepted, Starfruit can help find performers, secure rehearsal spaces and provide feedback.

Much sooner — on Aug. 17 — Starfruit will host a healing station at Qunify’s cookout at Malcolm X Park. 

“At events, I set up a table with interactive activities for people to engage with, including writing prompts and affirmations,” said Clarel. “People can engage in the moment or take something home for later. I appreciate the opportunity to bring these offerings to people out in the real world and not just online.”

Clarel has demonstrated an unbridled passion for their artistic outreach with involvement in The Queer Bazaar, QT Noir Arts Festival and Asian Arts Initiative’s International Womxn’s Day Event. In addition, The Starfruit Project has interviewed Shanel Edwards, Mugabi Byenkya, Tarik Daniels, Jackie Torres, Melissa Benbow and Javetta.

“This past Sunday, I hosted a QTPOC clothing swap at Radical Therapy Center. I really love swaps as a way to give clothes a new life, find a new treasure and connect with new people,” said Clarel.

The Project also offers much online and utilizes social media: to be more accessible and wide reaching.

“Anyone can use the arts as tools for reflection and expression,” said Clarel, explaining that one does not need formal training or extensive experience in an art form to express oneself creatively through the arts. 

“I hope The Starfruit Project will grow and blossom into a platform with a strong voice, impactful offerings, working in close collaboration with other artists and creators,” said Clarel. “I’m planning to offer more workshops, both in person and online. I also plan to create more spaces for black queer and trans performance artists to share their work and create together.” 

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