The Wesleyan Argus | Artgus Artist Spotlight: Luna Dragon Mac-Williams ’22 Explores Performance and Art Education
This is one installment of the Artgus Artist Spotlight, an ongoing series presented by the Arts & Culture section, intended to showcase the artistic talents of the wider Wesleyan community. In this episode, Editor Luisa C. Rodriguez-Oei ’22 spoke with Luna Dragon Mac-Williams ’22. Mac-Williams is a writer, poet, playwright, jewelry business owner, future fashion designer, dancer, and drag king. Rodriguez-Oei and Mac-Williams met in the theater department basement to discuss Mac-Williams‘s work and creative background.
A Pinocchio puppet hangs from a peg and stares at me. The funny thing about the theater department is that, as costume shop manager Robin Mazzola says, “IIf you think you’re in the wrong place, you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be.
I meander down the hallway and hear a voice calling my name. I turn around and see Mac-Williams’ fashionable severed head sticking out of a giant metal door.
The rest is blurry. As I rush to greet them, Mac-Williams explains to me that the green room is not really a green room but a large closet where the costumes are archived. We kiss in the doorway, and before either of us can set foot in this so-called green room, the heavy metal door slams on their foreheads.
“It’s okay, I’m used to pain,” they say, trying to get me into the green room.
It is partially true. Anyone who has met Mac-Williams knows they will throw themselves into their work, often quite literally. The slight regrowth of their eyebrows (which have been glued down repeatedly for drag king makeup) and the dancer’s bruised knees from jaw-dropping floor slides are the markers of an artist dedicated to his craft. The red, swollen bruise on their foreheads, however, tells me the door snagging was no artistic panache. A run to the health center and an ice pack later, we are ready to begin.
Mac-Williams faces a long wall of period costumes, arranging dresses between the 1970s and 1980s. Very few people can radiate the energy they seem to possess while holding a giant ice pack over their head .
“I just know that at this point you live there,” Mac-Williams said. “You breathe it. You write. The art is in you. You don’t have to prove it to anyone… If you can do it and don’t put pressure on it, you can do it and come back.
Growing up in southwest Chicago, in a town called Little Village (also known as La Villita due to its vibrant Mexican immigrant population), Mac-Williams comes from a family of educators. Their grandfather was, and still is, a teacher in their primary school. Their parents met in second grade in the same Chicago community, where Mac-Williams’ paternal grandmother taught the class.
Their family, their community and their Mexican American identity profoundly influence their artistic talent. For example, their latest production as a playwright, “Corazones,is a realistic fiction, one-act memoir that follows the stories of six young women in Chicago (told by themselves). One of the characters, Margarita, was inspired by Mac-Williams’ mother, who moved alone from California to Chicago when she was 19.
Asked about other influences in their upbringing, Mac-Williams practically sings about their elementary and middle school choir teacher, Ms. Martinez. Each year, Ms. Martinez has organized a fundraiser for eighth graders to see a professional theater production. When Mac-Williams was in seventh grade, they had an extra ticket to see “West Side Story.”
“[Ms. Martinez] was like, ‘Do you want to go?’ said Mac-Williams. “And I was like, ‘Yeah.’ I had never seen a musical like this before.
They tell of their passion for dance, theater and song, their body language changing with the grace and awareness of a dancer.
“I saw a show where people were doing all of this together,” Mac-Williams said. “It was beautiful, it was beautifully timed and it felt like fun. The audience was tuning in.
With upbringing playing a vital role in their upbringing, Mac-Williams learned to trust her creative impulses and intuition.
“Growing up in such a creative, yet challenging environment, I always knew what was beautiful and what wasn’t, or [what] felt good,” Mac-Williams said.
When I ask Mac-Williams if they think they’ve changed since childhood, or if they think they’ve stayed the same, their firecracker energy seems to shift inward. They describe their second year at Wesleyan. At the time, Mac-Williams was taking three classes, performing in two student plays, performing on two dance teams, coping with mental health changes and navigating life as a 19-year-old college student.
“I was depressed, anxious, [and also] wanting to be a high-achieving person,” Mac-Williams explained. “[I am also someone] who really struggles with the value I place on certain kinds of relationships, or certain kinds of affirmation in relationships.
They pause and breathe deeply. Their hands still, fingers tentatively intertwined.
“I’m the exact same person, but also exactly different,” they said.
Although the phrase contradicts itself, it perfectly sums up where they are now.
“I‘I relaxed so much,” Mac-Williams said. “I feel like my energy isn’t so freaked out and on the front of my face.”
While Mac-Williams sees themselves as many things as an artist, their energy emanates from a purpose that transcends any of those roles.
“Knowing that people can… impact other people’s lives made me think, ‘Oh! That‘this is what I‘I will, because Ms. Martinez did it,” Mac-Williams said.
At the start of the pandemic in 2020, Mac-Williams created a program within After School Questions (ASM). ASM is a paid internship program that gives students from primarily low-income households in Chicago experience working with professionals in different fields. Mac-Williams’ program, “By Us, For Us: Creating Theater in Chicago’s Neighborhoods,” is based on their own transformative high school experience with ASM’s Musical Theater Experience internship. Mac-Williams uses various techniques from his own personal practices to teach his students.
“One of the things I’ve always done all my life is the journal, and making my journal a place where I can‘Don’t be afraid to be messy and depressed,” Mac-Williams said.
With written prompts and journaling guides, they are already making an impact in the lives of their students.
“One of the most meaningful things for a teenager [from my program] said is that it makes them like writing in a journal,” Mac-Williams said. “It was day three, and they were like, ‘Yes, let‘s diary.’ I was like, ‘Period, Carlos! Want to journal? Yeah. Want to write freely? !”
Interestingly, in all of Mac-Williams’ artwork, you won’t find a single villain – and why?
“This‘It’s just complicated people,” Mac-Williams said.
While some people may struggle to understand this concept, Mac-Williams’ self-awareness demonstrates a deep empathy for the world around them.
“The fact that I have always been able to tap into this other space where I come to see the beauty of how everything is,” Mac-Williams said. “That hasn’t changed.”
Mac-Williams is one of the most grounded people I know.
“I am who I am because I come from unquestionable care, from people who reach out with care at every opportunity, with beauty and with a question, not out of fear,” Mac-Williams said. “I know that‘This is the energy that I must give back to the world.
And that’s exactly what Mac-Williams seems to be doing: throwing his whole being into the cosmos and waiting with open arms for what comes.
To nominate a student artist for a profile, go to tinyurl.com/3ttmszh4.
Luisa C. Rodriguez-Oei can be contacted at [email protected]