On Feb. 28, Peterson Toscano visited the ETSU campus for an event titled “Everything is Connected” event, a tour de force of instigating conversations that need to be had.
In “Everything is Connected,” Toscano took on the three topics of religion, gender and climate in a very unique way that combines humor and political commentary all in one.
Peterson Toscano is a comedian, actor, writer, educator and activist. He’s known for being performing a one man act, displaying various talents by performing multiple characters in one event. His events provided picking his brain and seeing what motivates him to do what he does.
“What is challenging and exciting is developing a relationship with the audience,” said Toscano. “In a traditional play with multiple actors, we have each other on stage. With a one-person performance, I break the fourth wall and engage the audience directly. They have a tremendous amount of power. As they respond, I respond.
“I love the intimacy of the one-person performance, but it has its risks. The audience may be shy or even apathetic. That makes it much harder for me, but when the audience is engaged, laughing, smiling, talking back to me, then I suddenly do new things on stage in response. The chemistry we create can be downright magical.”
Toscano’s performances also have a very close connection in parallel to his personal life. Toscano is a gay man who underwent years of conversion therapy, trying to change and hide who he is. This hindered not just his potential to be who he really was but also his career.
“For years I attended a church where I was forbidden to use my brain for anything creative or original,” said Toscano. “I simply had to memorize and repeat what the leaders where saying. In my 30s, I came out gay, and more importantly, I came out as myself. I rediscovered my creativity and my love for learning.”
As his personal experiences fueled his new creative desires, they also fueled a connection to educating and advocating not just the public but specifically to college campuses as he did at ETSU last Thursday.
“While I take on various topics—LGBTQ issues, the dangers of conversion therapy, Bible scholarship, climate change communication—there is a common thread in all the work,” explained Toscano. “I care about people, especially people who are overlooked and treated unfairly.”
Toscano also elaborated on why he enjoys specifically going to universities to put on events and share his stories.
“A while ago, I decided whenever I come to a university, I do not want to simply give my performance and then leave,” said Toscano in reference to why he enjoys speaking at universities specifically. “I want to engage with the community in as many ways as possible, through classroom interactions, organization meetings, lunches, workshops, etc. I want to listen and learn as well as share some of what I’ve discovered. I love hearing other people’s stories.”
Toscano said his performances create space for intimate conversation because people feel comfortable to share their stories.
“Sometimes it is hard to hear stories of people’s traumas,” he said. “I do not feel prepared all the time to do so, but it is always an honor to be in those spaces where that sort of sharing happens.”
He said he was thankful to Mary B. Martin School of the Arts staff, especially Anita DeAngelis and Kathleen Moore for hosting him.
“They have an excellent vision for making ETSU the best place possible, and I am grateful I can contribute to that great work,” he said.