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Something To Hold On To’: The Art And Healing Of Miki Vale

San Diego playwright, performer and rapper Miki Vale is set to launch SoulKis...

Credit: Laura Zablit

Above: San Diego playwright, performer and rapper Miki Vale is set to launch SoulKiss Theater this summer.

Somehow — between her work writing radio plays, teaching, cooking up musical collaborations, acting and writing a commissioned full-length play — Miki Vale found the time and energy to launch SoulKiss Theater, "a Black arts and healing space for queer womxn."

Vale has taken the pandemic's impact on the performing arts in stride, and the timing wasn't just right for SoulKiss Theater to find a home, it was necessary.

"The issues with inequity and all the Black Lives Matter stuff, that’s not new. That’s something that’s been going on for my whole life, and that has always informed my art since I've been making art," Vale said. "It’s kind of more fuel because now there’s this awakening that wasn’t happening before."

SoulKiss has a history, too. The project first took shape in 2007 as a LGBTQ+ women's hip-hop night. Cofounded by Vale, SoulKiss ran for more than 8 years, hosting regular events and parties until 2015, when the organizers decided to focus on their careers and art.

The events served to build community and create safe spaces for LGBTQ+ women of color to gather, and Vale realized that the purpose of SoulKiss remained, over a decade later.

"I have no intention whatsoever of throwing another party, but I thought, however, this could be a good way to bring people together where the focus isn't on drinking all the time, and bring people together in a way that's constructive," Vale said. "People are going through a lot right now."

Vale cultivated her love for theater and playwriting when she enrolled in a Community Voices beginning playwriting course through the Old Globe. It's also where she fine-tuned her skills as a teaching artist. She had taught hip hop in the past, but being a student in Katie Harroff's program prompted Vale to ask to shadow Harroff for her next session. Harroff, in turn, invited Vale to enroll — her next advanced playwriting class started the next day.

Vale emerged from the experience not just with some teaching artist gigs, but with a commissioned play from the Old Globe.

Vale is part of a cohort of four playwrights currently working on commissioned pieces for the Globe. During the pandemic, the group participated in a weekly discussion and craft series. "Playwrights Unstuck" aimed to share the process of writing, particularly the difficult task of tackling a full-length play. In a weekly livestream throughout June and July, Harroff and dramaturg Danielle Mages Amato check in with Vale, Jonathan Mello, Jessica Hilt and Mike Sears, the four current Globe-commissioned playwrights.

Vale also contributed original work to the La Jolla Playhouse's Walks of Life radio play project, in collaboration with local theater company Blindspot Collective. Vale's work, "Home Is," premiered in the program's third episode, and was inspired by her own neighborhood.

In addition, Vale is a songwriter and rapper. She's recently recorded a few tracks with other local musicians, including a track set to release next month called "Bad Wolves," written by local songwriter Veronica May alongside Vale, Rebecca Jade and Jason Mraz.

One more notch on the pandemic resume: Vale was recently asked to act in Moxie Theatre’s “Dinner and a Zoom” project, a partnership with Common Ground Theatre featuring original works by Black playwrights. The play, “A Promise of New Life” by Joy Yvonne Jones runs (on Zoom, of course) on Friday and Sunday evenings.

The breadth of Vale's work this season is informing how she shapes SoulKiss Theater. For now, she'll be developing online playwriting classes and "Manifest Mondays," a program to gather and set intentions each week, beginning in mid-August, but she hopes that the space will encourage a vibrant community of art making, collaboration and sharing. "I know for me, I feel the most comfortable sharing my stories — I'm a queer Black woman — I feel the most comfortable around people that are like me," Vale said.

In the future, when people can gather, she’ll launch in-person workshops, readings, film screenings and more. The Barrio Logan space, which served as the Black Panther’s San Diego headquarters in the 1960s, also has an attached art gallery.

Until then, Vale is raising cash … and plants. She wants to deck out the SoulKiss Theater space with plants rich in abundance symbolism, as well as healing and air-cleaning plants, to create a comfortable space for groups to gather in the future.

"SoulKiss as an event company, we provided something for people that they just didn't have. They knew that they could come be themselves," said Vale. "Especially in this time where we're just dealing with so much on a daily basis, and people are really struggling emotionally. Just to have something to hold on to, a space to be either physically, or just for a feeling of community to feel safe and to heal."

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Julia Dixon Evans
Arts Calendar Editor and Producer

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI write the weekly KPBS Arts newsletter and edit and produce the KPBS Arts calendar. I am interested in getting San Diegans engaged with the diversity of art and culture made by the creative people who live here.

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