Power Performer

Local actress, playwright, poet is artistic force of nature

(Photo Left) Nikki Powerhouse performing her one-woman show at the Painted Bride Performing Arts Center in Old City. Photo courtesy of Nikki Powerhouse.

Nikki Powerhouse strikes an imposing figure.

Standing 5 feet 11 inches tall and with thick curves, she holds nothing of herself back. She gives the audiences of her one-woman shows, the readers of her poetry books, and the students at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, where she poses as a nude model, every ounce of who she is.

Powerhouse’s latest work “The Art of I Am” has toured nationally, after performing to a standing ovation in 2016 at the Painted Bride Performing Arts Center. Last month, it played at the Church of the Advocate to an equally spellbound audience.

Powerhouse, in her one-woman show, uses poetry and spoken word to embody a character named Crystal at different stages of her life. She also performs as a number of people with whom Crystal engages. The play is described as a work that “challenge(s) the standards of beauty, sexuality, belonging and rediscovering identity in a world which Crystal never fit into.”

From the show’s opening to its uplifting end, powerful is the word that comes to mind most often.

Nikki is a native of Philadelphia, and graduated from Philadelphia High School for the Performing Arts. From there, she attended a number of schools in New York City, and was also part of the Black Nexxus studio and Theatre for New Generation there. She returned to Philadelphia to major in theater at Community College of Philadelphia, and to earn her Bachelor’s degree in theatre and communications from Temple University.

Powerhouse discovered her calling as a playwright, and her penchant for bold, mature topics, at the age of 11, when she penned a piece for her sister, a jazz singer, titled “Black Woman.”

But the self-acceptance that she now wears so easily was honed through  her life’s journey, part of which winded through Philadelphia’s Gayborhood.

“The Art of I Am” at the Painted Bride, was directed by Ardencie Hall-Karambe.  Jos Duncan interviewed Powerhouse for her web series, “Revolutionary Love Stories.”

In the video, Powerhouse walks along the corners of 13th and Locust streets and recalls the nightlife scene, “I remember having this being, like, it was the missing piece to my puzzle. Drag queens helped me live in a good pump. Dressed up, standing 6’5”… they would walk like they was walking on a feather. And when I realized that that was something that they could do, I [said to myself] I could do that too.” She summarizes, “Honey, we were our own world, and everything was yes. ‘Yassss …!’”

Powerhouse says what pushed her to perform “The Art of I Am” was her mother, who died September 2015.

“I just had to get it out,” she says of the emotions roused from the loss.

In one scene, of the play, Powerhouse hovers over an outline of a baby cuddled against her chest and pats its pretend back. “I gave your mother what I had,” she tells the infant. “You always got something to give. Every part of you is enough.”


Power Performer
Sheila Simmons - Contributor

Sheila Simmons brings many years of writing and communications experience to her work for Liberty City Press. She began her professional writing career at the Philadelphia Daily News, where she covered Business, City Hall and Education.


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