Q-Mob explores Berkshire arts with a queer lens

‘Your letter was handed me last night on the road … So now I can’t write what I felt. But I felt pantheistic then — your heart beat in my ribs and mine in yours, and both in God’s.’

Herman Melville catches the valences of the moment when Nathaniel Hawthorne told him what he thought of Moby-Dick. He was sitting at his desk when he wrote those words, looking out at the night sky over Mount Greylock, and remembering the ‘joy-giving and exultation-breeding‘ shock of reading Hawthorne’s response.

Out in the dark he’d been driving a farm wagon on an old dirt road when he was handed a note from down the valley — and he recalls the flash of exaltation he feels, finishing a work after years of struggle, putting the nub of himself into it, and then in these few words — knowing he is seen.

Adam H Weinert performs on the Inside / Out Stage at Jacob's Pillow. Press photo courtesy of the Pillow.
Photo by Chris Duggan

Adam H Weinert performs on the Inside / Out Stage at Jacob's Pillow. Press photo courtesy of the Pillow.

A new community of friends is looking for stories like these and encouraging the telling. Tom Truss and Bart Church have helped to found a new affinity group in Great Barrington, Queer Men of the Berkshires. And among their friendly activities, a group is forming to explore the arts.

“We started talking about how little community there was for queer men in the Berkshires,” Church said, “and how surprising it was, because it’s such a classically queer area, with really famous artists who have lived here for a long time, huge organizations.

“Everyone thinks of the Berkshires as this really cool, queer place, but in reality, between first AIDS, then COVID, and then the rise of the hookup apps, all of those factors have conspired really to decimate the in-person community among queer men, to the point where there really isn’t anything, at least nothing we can find. We don’t have an AIDS service organization — we don’t have a coffee house … nothing.”

Now they do. Members of Q-Mob are leading an ongoing exploration of art and music, theater and dance to support artists and artwork, encourage creative places to bring them in and draw out new conversations in the arts world around them.

Church remembers Truss at Arrowhead in summer, exploring Melville and Hawthorne in a new play he had co-written and performed with collaborative dancemaker, writer and artist Matthew Crumble. Truss is a director, actor and choreographer living in Great Barrington; Church is a project manager in geothermal energy, and they are old friends.

Church appreciated the Berkshire Historical Society’s willingness to explore the depths of Hawthorne and Melville’s kinship.

“(Tom) said let’s look at Melville with a queer lens,” Church said, “and they said ‘bring it on.’ We’re in our third year of performing there, and it’s a very openly queer look at Melville and Hawthorne’s relationship and their works of art, how you can read them with a queer lens, and how it informs your reading of them if you have that lens.

The Melville estate has a wealth of records, he said, and they have scholars who have gone through those records and written books. And they’ve said ‘there is something here.’

‘There’s a lot of love and passion here that is born out in the documentation … There’s a history that deserves to be told.’ — Bart Church

“There’s a lot of love and passion here that is born out in the documentation,” he said. “And I think that’s true in a lot of these homes and museums and performing arts spaces. There’s a history that deserves to be told.”

Q-Mob’s art and culture group will start this winter with a visit to the Clark Art Institute and a tour the Clark is curating especially for their group.

They want to create an audience and a relationship with creative places, Church said, and encourage them to look in new ways at the stories and lives they curate — seen with a new lens, art hanging on the wall can reflect richer histories. And the Berkshires has many of them, widely present and not always widely known.

Maurice 'Pops' Peterson imagines a joyful scene in a 21st-century vision of Norman Rockwell. Press photo courtesy of the Norman Rockwell Museum.
Photo by Maurice 'Pops' Peterson

Maurice 'Pops' Peterson imagines a joyful scene in a 21st-century vision of Norman Rockwell. Press photo courtesy of the Norman Rockwell Museum.

“Every museum, every performance art space has queer history,” he said, “and yet it’s not often talked about.”

“And if we give them an audience to talk about it, they’ll talk about it. If we create a group of us that want to know what the history of dance here, and which queer dancers have come here and how did that work … because it goes all the way back to Ted Shawn, and the origins (of Jacob’s Pillow). There were queer folks at the beginning of almost all of these institutions.”

Places like the Pillow also bring people in, said fellow Q-Mob member Max Rivinus. Arts institutions tend to have queer men involved, and they’re often transient.

Often they’re in the Berkshires while working on a project — talking at a local college, designing green and sustainable architecture or gardenscapes, writing or researching, dancing at Jacob’s Pillow, acting in summer theater, musicians, artists in residence — and he hopes Q-Mob can help them to find community while they’re here.

Truss feels a vein of imagination running naturally through their lives.

“Whether its nature or nurture, and I believe it’s both, Queer men are genetically and societally programmed to create,” Truss said.

They have had to make so much of their lives for themselves — another way of living, another way to love, another way to have a family.

“We have grown up with that way of ‘I need to do it differently,’” he said.

He plays Melville in his new work, and maybe he taps the energy Melville felt on that fall night, on the edge of launching his epic into the world, transfigured and unstoppably moved.

‘A sense of unspeakable security is in me this moment … I speak now of my profoundest sense of being.’

By the Way Berkshires is a digital magazine exploring creative life and community — art and performance, food and the outdoors — and I’m writing it for you, with local voices, because I’ve gotten to know this rich part of the world as a writer and journalist, and I want to share it with you.

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