As Vanessa German and a group of artists were about to settle in for a night of writing and discussion in her house, a car crash outside derailed the March evening.
The group witnessed an altercation between the victim of the crash and police officers who responded to the scene, and feeling that the victim appeared unsafe, the artists began to document the incident with their cell phones.
“People think that the sound of listening to a woman scream in the street is something they’re used to, but when you actually have to hear it and see it, it really takes you out of everything that is ordinary,” German said.
Afterward, the group returned inside so each person could write and reflect from their own perspective, carrying on with their weekly ritual.
The Tuesday Night Monologue Project is a weekly event held Tuesday evenings at 41-year-old artist German’s Art House in Homewood — a creative space she transformed into a living community, open to the public anytime its front doors are open.
“I really believe that there is great human connection and depth of understanding that can come if you can sit with people and listen to their stories,” German said. “It’s really difficult to superimpose and fictionalize and make simply romantic and parade the myth of your own point of view when someone is in your face telling you their story.”
Though TNMP is only open to women — and those who are transgender and gender nonconforming — participants have come from surrounding towns, like the South Hills and Wilkinsburg, and comprise an intergenerational group with ages ranging from 19 to 65.
Each week, guest artists and writers come in to facilitate writing workshops and assign prompts, which the participants then write on and share with each other. At the end of each season, works are compiled and displayed in evenings of performances.
“You can imagine people from all around the Pittsburgh region coming to what is literally the zone prize high-crime hotspot in the City of Pittsburgh and doing a performance, and us selling out shows in the backyard of an art house in Homewood,” German said.
In the past, workshops and prompts have revolved around ideas of justice, race, love and intersections of all of those concepts.
The first “season” of TNMP spanned five months beginning last January under the theme of Powerful and Dangerous — in reference to an Audre Lorde quote. The current season began this past January with the theme of Sex and the Body.
The theme of Sex and the Body came about when nine people from the project were causally bouncing around the idea of creating a TNMP midnight session that would focus on the idea of normalizing sexual agency, having control over your sexuality and reasserting love. The midnight aspect, as German realized, would not convey the message they hoped.
“We decided to take it seriously and not have it be something that was the midnight sessions, because you talk about these things only in hidden and set-aside places with lowlights,” German said.
Deesha Philyaw, a 46-year-old writer from Wilkinsburg, has led two sessions at TNMP. One focused on the word “prone” and how it’s represented throughout a lifetime. For the other, Philyaw had audience members write pieces that stood up to the lies they’ve been told about sex and their bodies.
“TNMP is important because we’re living in a time of inauthenticity and brutality and hate and ruthlessness,” Philyaw said. “And we counter that with our voices. With truth, with love, with rage, with compassion, with healing and with touch.”
Philyaw said her contributions have typically focused on transitional moments of great significance in her life, such as getting a divorce and losing her mother to cancer in 2005.
This type of deep emotional expression is the very basis for TNMP. The idea came to German after a white woman shamed her for not attending the Women’s March last year — citing its peacefulness as opposed to Black Lives Matter protests. As a black woman, German saw a “painful irony” in this and was inspired to create an outlet for personal storytelling in the form of TNMP.
Tyra Jamison, a 19-year-old student, poet and artist raised in the Hill District, took up the opportunity to facilitate a session for TNMP. A student at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Jamison’s first workshop centered on the theme of an authentic voice, and the second was on sex work.
“I noticed that ‘feminist’ conversations around sex work were often very negative, which is wild because I’m sure everyone knows & loves someone who does sex work,” Jamison wrote in an email. “It’s just any other job honestly.”
For Jamison, TNMP is a platform that gives women — specifically black women and femmes, or lesbians who appear traditionally feminine — a chance to have their time and wisdom valued.
“It’s how we can learn from each other and connect with each other,” Jamison said.
German said she strives to make the creative space of Art House as accessible to the community as walking into the grocery store and grabbing a bag of chips.
“We live in an incredible stressful world and art is healing — the process of making things is very healing,” German said. “So if it is that medicinal, then it ought to be available.”
Last year’s end-of-year performance took place in a tent in the Art House backyard, which freed German from the constraints of waiting to implement her ideas until she applied for and received grants. Instead of paying for a performance venue, the artists used the stage German built — which the neighborhood kids use to dance and perform skits.
“Last year it was really special to have a performance experience where your citizenship of Pittsburgh was present in a way that was visceral,” German said. “We performed to the sounds of the streets.”