For Ron Gatsby, Beyonce and Prince are the two loves of his life. So when it came time to establish an artistic family, he melded the two together in the name.
“Prince’s passing and Beyoncé’s Lemonade album occurred the around the same time as the [group] was forming so I took it as a sign,” said Gatsby, founder and artistic director of the Purple Lemonade Collective, a dance and production group who has graced stages from the Seattle Rep to the Seattle PrideFest. The collective specializes in creating works that meld various forms of street, club, and contemporary styles.
So The Purple Lemonade Collective was born. Though it started as a 13-member collective, that number has fluctuated over the seasons to as many as 22. Nowadays, Purple Lemonade is a close-knit group of 10 people.
“We don’t have a formal audition process, we are a ‘come-one-come-all’ collective,” Gatsby said. “Reach out to us and we’ll find a place for you.”
Purple Lemonade carries this welcoming feeling through all of their performances. They’re in-your-face about their individuality, and they invite you to do the same. They take up space, and they pull you in to carve your own. Whether it be at the hallowed halls of the Seattle Art Museum, the fields of the Olympic Sculpture Park, in your computer screens, or in front of the roaring crowds at the PrideFest, the collective makes you feel like you’re at a family function — if your family just happens to all be very enigmatic and charismatic artists. Though the story behind the group’s title might seem coincidental, it seems like each collective member is blessed by the Purple Lemonade’s namesakes. Each possesses the star power not dissimilar to that of Beyonce or Prince, one that comes from knowing and embracing their full selves.
Given that the PLC is made up of everyone from dancers to stylists to graphic designers and music producers, its projects range from fashion editorials to dance projects to remixes. It’s also a “fully functioning production company,” specializing in content creation and creative direction for businesses and public figures. Gatsby said the collective usually chooses projects that allows them to take their work to people who would otherwise never see their style of performance, such as concert dance spaces, music venues, festivals, even fashion shows or site-specific works.
“Our creative philosophy is that EVERY artist should have the resources to produce their work to its highest potential,” Gatsby said, who started PLC because he was tired of “being at the whim” of whoever was casting or hiring artists for projects. “What feeds [our] creativity is the desire to be ourselves and tell stories from our personal experiences. We don’t always get to do that.”
Their latest family endeavor is a cabaret, Maison du Gatsby, to be performed September 28 and 29 at Re-Bar. Though a cabaret screams glamor and lavishness, the starting point of the project begins with the less enchanting side of being an artist: grant writing.
Gatsby said the process started with a grant he got from 4Culture. He was trying to explain to other artists how to get their work funded, and realized that the journey of putting your thoughts and dreams down on paper (for money) is an emotional one. “Everyone is capable of putting out their work, but sometimes you have to face your inner demons to get out your dreams,” he said.
And to Gatsby, a cabaret makes perfect sense for the format of the performance.
“A cabaret doesn’t need all the pomp and circumstance of a ‘show,’” he said. “It’s rooted in being authentic-in-your-face-pull-no-punches entertainment. I hate filtering myself. The cabaret lets us be free.”
That tale of finding freedom and living your dreams by facing your inner demons is told through “dance, music, and opulence,” so the show description goes. PLC even partnered with the Beauty Boiz queer collective to elevate the evening in what Gatsby describes as “the most organic of collaborations.” The Beauty Boiz will be helping behind the scenes with stage management and promotional materials, as well as making guest appearances throughout the the show.
In creating this work, Gatsby says, the family feel is preserved throughout.
“Our process is super simple. We get together [at] our houses, eat a bunch of food and talk about where we are in life,” Gatsby said. “We journal a lot and use OneNote to place all of our ideas and inspiration together. We then use [that] info as a sort of well we all draw from while we create.”
This time around, it’s not just dance. “There’s original pieces of music that people are rapping, there’s monologues that the collective has written, there’s visual that have been created for the show. All of these things we built together from the ground up,” Gatsby said.
Following the cabaret, PLC is also collaborating with Beauty Boiz on its Beauty Boiz Go Boo Halloween party. Then, the group’s members are booked on personal projects until after the new year, but they will then regroup for the artist-of-color-centered TINT Dance Festival. In the meantime, the collective is also working on some scripted visual works. Guess we’ll just have to get used to seeing this family take over this city.
“Following through on my goals is what helped me make a place for myself and my family,” Gatsby said. “It’s my own personal testimony to making lemonade out the lemons handed to me.”
Maison du Gatsby runs September 28 and 29 at Re-Bar. Doors at 7:00, show at 8:00. For tickets click here. Use the discount code “SeattleDances” to get $10 off your ticket!