Activist brings poet-inspired performance to campus


Nicole Girgen

LGBT activist and performance artist Patrick Scully performs his show “Leaves of Grass-Illuminated” based on the life and poems of Walt Whitman in Memorial 300 last Wednesday.

Lauren Gennerman, Features Reporter

LGBT activist and performer Patrick Scully visited Winona State University last Wednesday, Oct. 11 for a performance of his piece “Leaves of Grass – Illuminated,” a dance piece about and inspired by poet Walt Whitman.

While Scully’s performance was focused around Whitman’s experience being a closeted homosexual man in the 1800s, Scully believes the performance goes beyond that.

“This was obviously an important week to perform, as Wednesday was National Coming Out Day,” Scully said. “Recognizing Whitman’s sexuality and not being afraid of it is crucial. But my performance is about so much more than that as well.”

Scully has spent the last ten years researching and developing this performance, starting with a cast version of the performance that opened in Minneapolis in 2014.

Scully then developed the show into a one-person performance during a residency at the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography (MANCC) at Florida State University in 2015.

“Leaves of Grass – Illuminated” premiered as a one-man show in New York City and Minneapolis in 2016 and is now touring in 24 communities in Minnesota, with support from the Minnesota State Arts Board’s Legacy Funds—a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.   

“This was the most joyous of academic research I’ve done,” said Scully. “For every minute of the show, there’s a hundred minutes of other content I could’ve included, but everything I have researched has been worth it, as it’s given me context for what I perform.”

The two performances took place in different locations. The first one was at Paperback and Pieces, a local bookstore soon to be celebrating its 40th year in business, while the second performance was in the dance studio in Memorial Hall.

Paperback and Pieces’ performance was minimalistic in lighting and sound effects, focusing the attention on Scully himself, while Memorial Hall’s featured different effects, such as videos of

men dancing in the background.

“Both styles of performance attract different

types of viewers,” Scully said. “Some people like to focus solely on my narrative and the way I portray Whitman, while others like to watch the dancing and get lost in the story that way. That’s why I like to do both styles.”

Scully’s work with dance, opera, literature and theater has spanned numerous years. In 1986, he founded and ran Patrick’s Cabaret for numerous years and has performed all over the world.  Scully received McKnight Foundation awards in six different years, a Sally Award for Vision for the Arts in the Twin Cities in 1995 and a Sage Award Special Citation for Lifetime Contribution in Dance in 2010.

Scully plans to keep performing “Leaves of Grass – Illuminated,” as well as occasionally teach

English as a second language in Minneapolis. 

“I think we are still very afraid to show how we feel as people in the United States, and I think

that’s so toxic,” Scully said. “If my performance can do anything, I hope it shows how beautiful it can be to let yourself feel and show others how you feel.”