LocationAlhambra , CA United States
Akbar is a bar that has been in Los Angeles’s Silver Lake neighborhood for 21 years. Its mission statement reads: “We abhor homophobia. And hetero-phobia.” Alhambra resident Joshua Castro and I sit on the edge of a planter to talk about the upcoming performances happening at Akbar that night. Castro wears a Pikachu skirt and a black tee. He will be performing three lyrical poems as part of the venue’s monthly activist-oriented showcase, Planet QUEER.
Joshua Castro has been an Alhambra resident for almost 20 years and is an Alhambra High School alumnus. He was first covered by Alhambra Source in 2013 after writing “Julio Buys a Skirt,” a short story published in the East Los Angeles College English Department’s publication, Milestone 2012.
“Has any of your art been inspired by Alhambra?” I asked him.
“Actually, [“Christmas, stop coming to town in September”] was inspired by a house in Alhambra that was beautifully decorated,” Castro said.“We’re talking candy canes, ribbons on the door, icicles everywhere. It was really beautiful. The only problem was that it was early October.”
Castro’s interest in writing began in 2010 after watching a cable special on F. Scott Fitzgerald. He was amazed by what the eccentric novelist had accomplished at such a young age. At the time, he was attending East Los Angeles College, but he decided that he wanted to write and to be remembered. He immediately began drafting his first novel. Today, Castro has published several short stories and poems and has written many more.
Though Castro started off as a prose writer in 2010, he moved onto lyrical poetry in 2015. He came to prefer poetry because when he publicly performs them, the audience is responsive to his animated act. Castro makes a point to differentiate himself from a traditional poet, marking a lyrical poet as one that interacts with their environment and uses the audience’s reaction to fuel the performance. While on stage, his goal is to invoke a simple emotion from his audience – joy. According to Castro, a traditional poet has a deliberate and deeper emotional agenda in their art. His prose has always been the place to take on serious topics such as those in the LGBTQ community, while his poetry is a less serious venue for his art and is deliberately “melodramatic.” When asked about the themes in his work, he plainly answers “whimsicality.” And this was definitely translated through his poem “Don’t Date Andre,” a two minute song about the dangers of dating a fictional ex named Andre.
I asked, “Is there a difference in satisfaction between writing short stories and publicly performing a poem?”
“It’s definitely a different response,”Castro said. “The feedback from the audience is a lot more immediate when I perform at a live event. At Open Mics, if they like you then you hear it and it kind gives you a high. Instant gratification. Versus the short stories where the feedback is often delayed or not even responded to.”
An important element to his art is the structure. The melodies in his poetry are based off of classic 20th century works. He pulls them apart and repurposes the content – filling the empty spaces with his own experience. “Recycling something old and making something new out of it.” With the structure of the classic melodies, he plugs in his own subjects: digital romance, LGBTQ stories, and silliness. By applying his own experiences to these classic melodies, he keeps them relevant and hilarious.
As spectators and performers in drag began to pile into the bar, I asked him, “What attracted you to joining the Planet QUEER showcase?”
“I just recently discovered them! I saw a flyer and went to a show and was immediately attracted to the variety and creativity performers. From musicians, drag queens, burlesque, it was a collective of people doing what they love and shined at. So I just wanted to throw my performance into the mix.
Planet QUEER is an event series organized by activists Ian MacKinnon and Travis Wood, two Los Angeles residents. The series grew out of another LGBTQ performance series, Queer Mondays, which was created to offer a safe and stable platform for activist artists. On their website, the group notes that Planet QUEER is “committed to providing a venue for new queer work, & embracing all artistic disciplines.” The showcase has been running for a little over 5 years and highlights new, queer performers that focus on experimental and activist art. I asked MacKinnon, “What makes an event like Planet QUEER activism?” They responded: “Queer expression is activism. We frame the work at Planet Queer as being an act of creative queer liberation.” The showcase occurs every third Monday of the month at Akbar in Silver Lake.
Before Castro went on stage, I asked if there were any creative LGBTQ spaces in Alhambra. Castro responded, “As far as something like this? No.”
In addition to “Don’t Date Andre” and “Christmas, stop coming to town in September,” Castro also performed “One-night Stand Jose,” a humorous commentary on hookup culture through the lens of someone looking for a stable relationship. If you would like to see Castro’s next performance, he announces them on his Facebook page. Past performances can also be found on his YouTube channel.
Dominic Tovar is the Community Outreach Coordinator for Alhambra Source. He is a San Gabriel High School alumnus and a board member of the Alhambra Latino Association.