Off-site Event: Angels in America

A few weeks ago I had found myself lucky enough to catch the Broadway revival of Angels in America, the show finally returning to the Great White Way after decades. The show’s ridiculous length, epic nature, and intense subject matter make it a bit unwieldy for some, but for many it was the play of their generation – a generation of men and women wiped away by the AIDS crisis and forgotten about by the government and the straight, and white, majority. It was a play for a world gone mad, in the most biblical sense of the word.

However, upon watching Marianne Elliott’s mad, grand vision of Tony Kushner’s work unfold, I couldn’t help but feel struck by how weirdly hollow the work felt in some places. I later reviewed the show and found it difficult to articulate just what about it made it so strange to me. I knew this text pretty well and thought the message that Kushner wrote in his seven-and-a-half hour fantasia was an important one. However, it felt like something was lost in translation when the show was first staged at the National Theatre and then subsequently brought over.

It felt like watching an outsider’s idea of America, which is probably what made the show a bit empty in some spots for me. The endless visions made real seemed to be nothing but that – hallucinatory fever dreams of a mind trying to make sense of something. I guess in some ways Kushner’s writing is like that, but it seemed very oddly assembled and in some ways Elliott mistook intimacy for grandeur and grandeur for intimacy. The ever-expanding space that her design team created made the work feel overwhelming in some places, and the “heaven as a theatre” metaphor felt somewhat cheap in some respects.

As for the cast, they did a pretty outstanding job aside from Andrew Garfield’s bizarre drag queen accent. Someone had told me that they found it quite offensive and it was easy to see why. I can imagine some directorial motivations for having Garfield keep the accent, but couldn’t it just have been easier to understand that he was a gay man by quite literally everything else that states him to be? His partner, Louis, inexplicably speaks like a normal New Yorker, albeit that’s including his philosophical and political rantings.

All in all, the production felt very much like an outsider’s perspective on a truly American work, in a way that was detrimental to the overall dramaturgical integrity of the show. While new visions are needed in the theatre, it was a baffling one that overtook this British production. Perhaps a new dramaturge was needed on the production, or a more multilayered understand of why this play became the work for its generation – it rocketed into the American canon from a place of deep, palpable pain. That pain seemed to be oddly absent in this production, an otherwise stunning and engaging piece of stagecraft that very few can rival in their execution. If only that execution was much cleaner.

Readings: Jill Dolan – Utopia in Performance

Utopia in Performance, frankly, was an interesting read but there were many moments I could not find myself connecting with. I completely agree with Dolan in that performance becomes a statement that then exists in a space with an audience that feels and reacts, but she attaches this to the “what if” quality of a work but most works I have responded to, and watched people also respond were not pieces of what if but pieces of “here is the reality we live in” in some sort of way. I get that this could connect to the what if in certain situations.

It is also confusing when she mentions the meaning of utopia in terms of performance that is experimental and changing the way of the work, the way we exist in the world, and the way we respond to politics, but performances that are utopic, at least in the sense that I think of utopia where problems have been solved and people are happy are what we usually assume to be spectacles that are empty. Then I wondered, is she talking about the utopia of everything that is real and critical safely happening in one space. But then that is what all performance creates and connecting the sense of safety of a space of performance mostly to experimental and non-traditional performance than does not make sense.

I have seen plenty of theater that was “experimental” that did not explore themes of politics and the changing world, and I have seen many traditional shows that did exactly what Dolan’s talking about Playwright’s Horizon’s This Flat Earth, Broadway’s The Band’s Visit, and the list goes on. This confusion maybe because we only had the introduction and the first chapter, but something about her connecting 9/11 with the landscape of theater today.

Theater in its roots wanted to make people think about their lives and consider emotions and interpersonal connections, but in this postmodern world where theater isn’t the only way to tell stories to a public, shouldn’t we be rethinking these notions? Shouldn’t it be the artists choice to not spell out their meaning within the show but just let it exist as a piece of performance?

The other side of this is that Dolan assumes audiences are not aware of their experiences unless they are theater makers like Dolan herself. Her entire thesis seems to be on the fact that for performance to affect people, the people need to know exactly why they are being affected by and what they should be thinking and feeling. Which simply is absurd as an idea, we as theater makers need to trust that audiences make the choices to see our materials because they want to feel something. Audiences are smarter than needing to be spoon fed information, they are capable of feeling and understanding all kinds of materials.

Utopian performatives should not have to exist outside of the theater, their effect of course continues after the performance is done, but this shouldn’t be a burden on the performance maker and especially not anything indicating the quality of the work created.

Process – Director’s Cut

I honestly did not know what to expect of this class and what we could do within the perimeters of our subject. When reading O, Earth, to be completely transparent, I wasn’t sure if I felt comfortable with the way it was written. It turns out that I just needed to hear those words spoken by a group of talented actors to awaken the need of working on this play in me. As the only person who identifies as QPOC in the class (and a passing one on all grounds at that) and a director passionate about bending the rules and creating spaces without boundaries I thought this would be a great challenge to take on.

At first I was afraid we wouldn’t be able to cast the play true to its ethical form, true to its nature of creating a space for those who aren’t necessarily heard in the performing arts world. I theoretically knew that these people existed, somewhere out there in the universe, but how would we find them? Dana did a terrific job of setting up our backstage and making sure people are seeing and responding to our ads and before we knew it our audition rooms filled up with so many personalities of so many different backgrounds. I panicked looking at the vast amount of headshots in front of me as I had to make a choice of casting. As life goes, some of these decisions were easily and the rest extremely hard. I don’t know if I could’ve made decisions that were any better, but somehow this bunch of people were able to click well and have the conversations this play requires its team to have.

I wanted the characters of the play to be created through the actors, using their personal experiences in the real world that we could then bring into the worlds of these characters. This meant many conversations, trust exercises, and attempts to bond over snacks. By a couple of weeks into rehearsal, most actors seemed extremely comfortable in their characters and they knew what direction we would take them. This was harder with others, finding the aesthetic of Marsha and Sylvia while staying true to themselves was a challenge for both actresses. It was an effort to find the balance between what they thought was caricature, and what “camp aesthetic” was as well as who they are and who Marsha and Sylvia were. I am so extremely grateful for these actresses who took on the ridiculous challenge of acting out extremely important figures who meant a lot to them. Their final performance was so beautiful and campy yet understated that I could not be happier for the work they put into it.

I think that handling most by myself throughout a large portion of the rehearsal process, although overwhelming was a great opportunity to figure out the lengths I personally would go to, to make sure my work is translated on to a stage. Including spending weeks trying to find an actor and recasting a part after losing an actor to an injury two rehearsals before the performance. (Shoutout to Danny Marin for learning the path in two run-throughs, could not have been a full production without him). This was a challenge coming from an environment working with three other extremely talented people on putting together shows, as I had never had to carry whole rehearsals by myself. But I think this process helped me find my directorial voice, my version of performance ethics, and my vision as to what impact my art should have on the world.

One of the actors, after one of our last rehearsals told me, “I am very thankful that you cast me, I was looking for a place that would accept me as who I am and let me explore myself through my acting. And I hope that I can show someone one day that people like me can take up space on stage”. This was a queer man, who wanted to find his place in the world, and answer the question “am I gay enough for the community”, which is something I struggle with as a bisexual/queer woman. And just like my actors, I felt like I had a space to find myself, explore how my personality, and how my unique quirks can help a space become something that is different, something that touches someone, and gives them the idea that they too can be a part of this and no matter what they are enough. Because I am enough.

I don’t think I will ever forget the first time a playwright of a play said “This gave me a lot to think about, and I will rewrite a bunch. Thank you”. This was Casey, the night of May 11th. Applause and praise by audiences and peers is amazing but I don’t think anything can beat a playwright liking my work with their play in terms of fulfillment. I am grateful for the process, hardships, people, and experience.

Blog Post: Literature Response

In reading “Utopia in Performance” by Jill Dolan, I found it very easy to remind myself that the original work Utopia, by Thomas More, was a satire – the term entered our common consciousness to describe a perfect world but, like many things, it originated as a folly. Dolan’s writing strangely reminded me of Brecht’s own theories of drama in a way – a consideration of how the audience may intake a work and how that affects the work outside. Thankfully, the utopia we potentially devised in O, Earth was far from The Good Person of Szechwan. Dolan seems, at least to me, to emphasize the creation of space, such as one of Paula Vogel’s playworlds.

However, what struck me as possibly subjective was that the ideas of utopian performance suggested seemed, well, subjective. They struck me as suggesting that there was some sort of way to create an ultimate utopic theatrical/performative space, which ultimately is a fantasy in my mind – every space created is active fight against a pre-existing space, eternally in conflict. It’s a fight to create new spaces for people who do not normally receive them (women, POC, LGTBQ+) and to assume utopia feels like a form of whitewashing. Even assuming utopia existing feels like a form of whitewashing, as we tend to see a created utopia – all utopias are created, and those creators are the ones who assume a power distinction by virtue of creating. It’s the ability to forge a personal utopia, in my opinion, that speaks to the personal while remaining universal that changes the balance of power.

However, is this possible? Perceiving a space such as this as a utopia is inherently, like More’s original utopia, an exercise in folly. The director Bartlett Sher, in directing South Pacific, once described how a work can feel “middle-class” – in that it barely hits a stride that is unfamiliar, choosing to coast on the audience’s comforts while using very bare unfamiliarities to titillate rather than challenge. Utopic performance is a folly in thought because performances should be challenging, attacking perception by recreating worlds. Brecht sought something like this in his “distancing effect”, the forcing of an audience to step back in order to analyze. Something similar must be initiated in order to create powerful performatice spaces, as not everyone is a theatrical and literary analyst in the making at the theater.

To challenge is to attack the norms of society – theatre is a dark mirror by which we can exaggerate or put a lens on humanity. The way to create new spaces is to directly attack what makes these spaces unsafe, and why those spaces were such in the first place. Works that come to mind that do something along those lines are Two Boys, the opera by Craig Lucas, Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive and Sarah Ruhl’s Orlando. The familiar must become unfamiliar, not perfect – perfection suggests a state of eternal lack-of-lacking, which is unreal and an insult on all those who are lacking in space, safety, and artistic power.

Blog Post: Process

As the production’s dramaturge, I felt as if my role in O, Earth was one based on clarity. My job was to do what research I could in order to provide historical and thematic senses of scope, scale, and temporality in a play that skews the expectations of traditional dramatic structure in those regards. In a way, this was a benefit as it made the connections to Our Town much more dramaturgically palpable. In terms of what it means to be “dramaturgically palpable”, I sought to illuminate the connections “text-to-text”, seeking out whatever forms of thematic senses that might be visible in all the works provided, which was also part of my reasoning for adding an addendum of other other works in the dramaturgy packet for our production to peruse and consider.

Part of the role of the dramaturge, in my mind, is a mix of researcher and literary critic. The forthcoming thoughts are a mix of research-based discovery and literary analysis of all texts involved, ranging from O, Earth to Our Town to examples used throughout in order to illuminate guiding concepts I used in creation of the dramaturgy packet.

Firstly, in regards to O, Earth – what struck me immediately about the work was the atemporality of the piece. This is distinct from anachronism, which suggests a time-displaced “object”, a term I shall be using to refer to elements in a playworld, in a pre-existing “object” already present in the playworld. So, for example, if Iago from Othello showed up in modern military uniform while the rest were in Venetian garb, this would be an anachronism because the “object” (Iago’s modern uniform) is a sore thumb in the pre-existing “object” (Othello’s 17th-century Venice, gondolas and all). Atemporality suggests a sense of time that does not exist, as the references made in O, Earth most certainly did not exist in Wilder’s time of writing Our Town. One of the most significant “objects” I can imagine is Emily referring to “rape culture”, a sociological concept not quite crystallized in the 1890s – but the rest of the playworld of O, Earth assimilates the concept as a part of the world.

There are also certain aspects that led me down bizarre research-related rabbit holes, including the whale that Wilder uncovers in O, Earth, leading to comparisons like Jonah and the whale that swallows him (though there is no such swallowing in the play) and astrological perceptions of animals that hold up the cosmic fabric of the universe. This might be a thematic explanation as to the closeness of the breaking of the world of the dead (enter Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera) – the barriers of the worlds have begun to disintegrate, playworld and all.

In regards to Marsha and Sylvia – my greatest regret was the lack of archival resources in order to properly do them justice. While I thought Z did an excellent job shaping the characters in her direction, their existence in the historical record felt like it was made up of several composite sketches into one much clearer, yet still scratchy, image. My ultimate hopes for the dramaturgy packet was for a new light on the subject matter, but sometimes it felt as if I simply cast more shadows where there needn’t be, nor should there be.

Off-Campus Event: A Chip on Her Shoulder – Honest Accomplice Theater

I had the absolute pleasure of joining Honest Accomplice Theater (HAT) as a team member this semester through the Student Arts Ambassador Program. My first task was to assist their latest production in rehearsal, A Chip on Her Shoulder, written and directed by Kristin Kelly. This was the first piece of work that HAT did not devise with their team but rather worked with a written script of collected and edited interviews of women and trans people in the engineering field from Virginia and New York City. It was an exciting idea to be a part of as Kristin’s mom who’s an engineer was the inspiration for the entire project, and it all came from her need to understand her mom’s life and work in this climate where we constantly talk about female and LGBTQ+ erasure in our society it was important to understand those who are working in fields that are dominated by white males.

When I first signed on to help I thought I would be assistant director/assistant stage manager however time constraints and the needs of the production dictated that I would serve more as a production assistant coming in and out, helping with filling in spots and all that jazz. But this worked out perfectly as my course load got heavier over the course of the semester.

In the rehearsal room most of the focus was on getting the voices right as the actors were each acting out about at least 3 characters each who were all real people. The reading included excerpts from their interviews so a lot of documentary theater work went into the first few weeks of rehearsal. The staging of it was really more to make the words shine and get some comedic moments across, but for the most part actors were going to be standing by music stands and reading their monologues.

At the time of the performance, I had not seen a full run of the play so I did not know what to expect, or how much blocking was added since I hadn’t been to the last few rehearsals. When the actors came on stage and one of the actors, Jordan, started xe’s monologue I had butterflies in my stomach, I was nervous and excited for everything that was about to happen. And all of the stories; the actual chip in Vivian’s hand, the metaphoric chip on Rosemary’s shoulder, the situation of queer people in the field, women who are silenced at work and in classes, the sexual assault narratives, and finally “woman in tech” as a power statement, all seamlessly flew from one into the other, it was extremely funny, sad, and over all exciting to see these narratives that are so often overlooked told on a stage full of amazing actors, who were as diverse as a performance could get.

This performance really made me think about the place of diversity in theater and “color/gender blind casting”, and if it’s ethical to do so. “Blind” casting has a connotation of anyone being able to take part in a project, but shouldn’t we focus more on color/gender conscious casting? This is what we did for  O, Earth and it felt so much better to be conscious of the choices being made. This also would address the POC acting the part of a white person conundrum. What do I mean by that? It’s when a director casts a POC to cast a POC but none of the POC culture, personality, political meaning, etc. is implemented into the play. Kind of what casting one the gay men in the Ellen show portion of O, Earth as a POC does. This has been my conundrum for a while, and I think seeing Chip and working on O, Earth has answered it in some ways but it feels like there is still more to explore on this topic in relation to Ethical Performance Producing.

Blog Post #3 – Reflections on O, Earth

As I entered into this Independent Study of Queer Persons of Color Critiques in an Ethical Producing process I was deeply intrigued and curious about what this experience would be. I wondered what practices and from where would we draw from as ethical producing practices or resources, established or otherwise, and how to best develop, support and manage a staged reading of play written featuring persons of color and LGBTQ+ individuals. Knowing that it would be unlike anything I had encountered before, I felt a combination of trepidation and excitement, to be sure, I definitely had my apprehensions. Notably, what if anything would I have to bring as relational to this project as a white, pan sexual female, with limited experience in staging a play reading or being able to present full-fledged theater performance with actors. It felt important to deeply listen, and remain open to the varying interpretations, situations and individual stories present at any moment in the room. There were some challenging themes written in this play we were going to stage as this is a piece of writing that features and highlights a community, in past and present times, of queer, transgendered and QPOC individual elements and stories. I felt it was important to approach this work with an open heart and compassionate sensitivity the the unknown, that was all I knew how to do and that I was not going to be alone when and if there were questions, concerns and challenges that we had to work through.

And then there was the play itself, which to me initially on paper, read as somewhat shallow and potentially disconnected.  As I expect with most plays, they are meant to be in active verbal representation, alive on the stage. In this work, both time periods and narrative cohesion switched at times which made it seem to be almost without reason or logic. But, once we had with our characters in the room, interacting together, the humor, nuance and reality began to show. I feel this was mainly because of the brilliance, dedication and commitment given by our beautifully diverse and supremely talented cast and my director, Zeynep. They rescued my hope over and over again, especially in that we could make sense of it both for ourselves and for our audience. There are multiple layers of important, untold and fascinating stories not given a place in the wider circles of creative expression, cultural communications, performance, and acceptable content outside what sells as the norm or the standard. But in this journey with this play, we had a taste of what that can be like.

I know that enjoyed the responsibility of success, in part only, for this final project. And, if given a second time to try again, I would have preferred to have a larger number of persons able to be with us, especially in the areas of assisting in the responsibilities, that Zeynep and I had to manage. The commitment level at times was quite involving and included various tasks that, were more time consuming than I had predicted. Specifically, I think I could have managed my ongoing awareness of personal scarcity, in learning to actively speak up, to ask for what is needed and, is a practice that I am working on continually in my professional life. I am also aware of my shortcomings, from my absence for some of the rehearsal process, and in clearly communicating my boundaries. In the end, the cost was my deep level of fatigue and emotional uncertainty.  However, the shared joy of watching the actors develop, and experiencing an opportunity for investigation, understanding, and growth were absolutely worth the effort.

I have tried to reveal most of my reflections on this journey, it has been challenging and quite rewarding and I believe we worked very well together, especially that we all collectively were coming to this project with both time and availability constraints. It was a deep pleasure to be assisting Zeynep in some of the directing, development of actors and character work, in providing feedback during and after rehearsals and, building cohesive scene transitions. I also worked with Z and Ruthie for sourcing and making some of our props, costumes, accessories and, in organizing the continuity for scene and actor transitions.  In general, I felt it was important that my focus be as present and available for numerous essential preparations for the cast and production components leading up to and on performance day. All of which built up to a heavily involved scenario which I had not imagined a stage reading process would involve. In conclusion, I personally feel that this staged reading was a successful journey of discovery, awareness and growth for our actors. I believe that it was a success also for the team that worked on it, for the playwright, and our audience because of the positive responses I witnessed from friends, colleagues and mentors.

Blog Post #2 – Literature Response

It’s hard for me not to fall for the writings of Don Shewey, he is an eloquent, easy to follow writer whose vocabulary is filled with passion, reason, and well-balanced keen observations delivered with sublime moments of import.  He brings the reader right up against the historic past of queer theater and nudges us along into the near present, circa 2002. We ride alongside its players, writers, producers, director, cultural makers, and extraneous doers that are and were. As we journey along with them in their shaky, messy, lusty – sweaty, dusty, parched, tormented stagecoach it feels and reads like jostle of the traveling circus troupe of the not so distant past.

The author also recognizes the plentiful histories and losses of queer theater and of theater as a whole of which collectively, are parts numerous. From the raging health crisis of AIDS that was and is, to the lack thereof or delayed recognition to its formidable contributions to both the mainstream theater and Off-Off Broadway productions. All the while plugging along with its partner, known with familiarity as vast machinations of underwhelming funding sources that choke its existence. Nothing much has changed here.

The ambitions of Charles Ludlam being of particular significance to the article, here we find a certainly palpable sense of deep respect and tragic loss of this formidable artist, a man, who made numerous works, shared incredible ambitions, writings and inspired a timeless legacy of the Ridiculous Theatrical Company. He and his amalgam finding refuge for themselves in the arts, a type of religious practice, with sacred ritual and particulars of the most methodical assembly of various elements that make theater. Queer theater, is birthed from a raw belief in the power of truth, honesty, and allowing the best parts of anyone have the opportunity to exist freely and with abandon. Guided by passion into a place of full exposure, chance, connection, challenge and little if any monetary remuneration but a wealth of possibility. Born from the promise of, if you can conceive it you can achieve it.  As Shewey contends,  “…the pioneers adhered to no coherent aesthetic, form, style, or content. They made theater that was outrageous and artistically ambitious…nowadays virtually all pop culture quotes other pop culture. Then it was a subversive strategy, cultural critique, and identity formation disguised as child’s play” (p. 129).

The ways of queer culture seem to be existing and constantly changing, as does everything, in relation not necessarily as a reaction to the world.  The art of theater making as important, respected, and accepted as means of understanding our journey here as humans in a place we must share, like it not. Shewey mentions that great queer theater has at times been known to be antagonistic, opposing, but that it does can exist as harmonious and even consensual. And that when it is all over, just like any journey, we are deeply engaged in and transformed by its truths. Yet the author remains true to his wish of being sensitively aware of tendencies to romanticize or idealize queer theater as but he also succeeds in not portraying exclusivity in practice.

This is evidenced for me personally by the way I was transported into a familiar and comforting world that is the art of theater and more. To a place that feels somewhere along the lines of longing for what childhood is, now long passed. A kind of nostalgia, and sense of belonging, yet for some of us, just on the periphery. It feels, sounds and smells of that longed affirmation of near totality in experiencing life. Mired in a universe of emotion, physicality, guiding in part by our mind heart engines, and in part by our desires, sexual and otherwise in a raging, stretching, seeking, pulsating rhythm that drives us onwards and upwards into the vast galaxies of imagination. Practicing a craft, of any kind but especially theater, of any genre, hurtles us constantly towards meaning, self-expression, acceptance, family, community and, at times serenity and escape from the blundering pain of life in the normal grind of everydayness.

It is for me about acceptance and community.  Queer theater is that too, without consciously attempting to make itself other than that, an alive presence. Not only a political tool, antagonist to the norms, or as some would like to justify, an outlier of any human spirit and sociopolitical statement or situation. More to exist as an utopia performative, and to captivate and empower, as Jill Dolan contends, “…through the power of the performers’ presence, not to insist on authentic experience, or pre-modern primitivism, but to see, for a moment, how we might engage one anothers differences, and our mutual human-ness, constructed as it is in these brief moments together” (p.31).  The queer theater and the essence of humanity comes out of a raw belief in the power of truth, honesty and allowing the best of anyone to shine through. Leaving room for the spaces between what is seen and not. Making places where the light can come through.

References:

Dolan, J. (2005),”Introduction: Feeling the Potential of Everywhere.” Utopia In Performance. University of Michigan Press: p. 1-34.

Shewey, D. (2002),“Be True to Yearning”, The Queerest Art: Essays on Lesbian and Gay Theater. NY: p. 124 – 34.

Blog Post 3: Reading Reflection

In Against the Romance of Community, author Miranda Joseph explores the notion of community and what it means to create a community space. Joseph primarily argues that while communities seek to create an all-inclusive, safe space for a group of people who identify similarly with one another, they also inherently exclude others. In essence, Joseph says that to develop a sense of “us,” one must also create a counterweight of “them.”

By examining the concept of community, Joseph also looks at how people identify and categorize themselves into social and cultural groups. Her main takeaway implies that people ultimately navigate through the multi-dimensional facets of their identity such that they call forward what is most relevant and makes them feel the most safe. She identifies that a community could be formed on the basis of identity, unity, or communion.

Joseph incorporates the idea of ethical producing of queer/POC works by first examining the mission statement of a theater group who tries to establish who their market, or “community” is and how to best serve them. The group struggles to be inclusive without pandering to every possible emotion of every audience member, though ultimately settle on a problematic exclusion of a key group of the community they tried to represent.

Joseph goes on to look at how different cultural institutions define their community, and how some communities are not nearly as different from others structurally despite how different their people may be. She argues that, at their cores, all communities are a byproduct of capitalism because of an unequal distribution of wealth and power.

Reading this piece in the context of the class made the idea of ethically producing both more and less daunting. While it seemed almost comforting to know that all you can do in producing a work is pick your audience and strive to support them in the best way you can, it also felt disappointing to realize that you will never satisfy everyone. Joseph seems to discourage people from trying to achieve an unattainable utopia so I would have liked some more suggestions of what to do instead.

At the very least, I feel like the introduction of the notion of “us” and “them” regarding communities created a thoughtful framework for me to examine future productions. For example, if I am working on a show that is representing an “us” when I am part of a “them,” I need to constantly remember to create space for the community regardless of my other-ness.

An example I could relate this to is what I imagine the experience of being a hearing performer in Deaf West’s Spring Awakening might have been like. While hearing actor Alex Boniello technically shared the role of Moritz with Deaf actor Daniel Durant, Boniello had to consciously give Durant the room to perform without drawing too much attention to himself. Although the community of this show was meant to be deaf and hearing audiences together, Boniello’s upstaging of Durant would have compromised that mission by interrupting the experiences of deaf viewers.

Blog Post 2: Event Reflection

I also attended the staged reading of A Chip on Her Shoulder by Honest Accomplice Theatre with Dana and Zeynep on March 27th. The reading was brought to the audience as a workshop during which the small crowd was encouraged to fill out feedback forms before the production went to its next iteration. The piece was a devised work that began with interviews with women in the STEM field from Virginia Tech. Through minimal staging and low, yet compelling light design, the cast weaved together the similar but different experiences of several women.

I think that this reading was as successful as it was unsuccessful in several regards. The way each actor personified the wide range of characters delighted me. In particular, I was happy to see trans actors playing characters whose stories were not completely contingent on their trans-ness. At the same time, I definitely feel like the script and staging could have used more work. The stories the women were telling, at times, were awkwardly paired and way too long or otherwise just not very interesting. The staging, while logical, also sometimes strayed towards boring.

Nevertheless, the story made me think about the seven years that I was a STEM student. Listening to the women express their grievances about being underrepresented and underestimated made me reconsider my experiences. Was I a “bad” engineering student, or was I just led to believe I was because my teachers didn’t take my work seriously? Was I drawn to studying the arts because it is where my talents lie or because it’s a field “for women”? If I had continued to pursue a career as an engineer or a doctor, would I be as trusted as my male counterparts? Even now: am I as incompetent as I feel, or am I suffering from imposter syndrome because our culture normalizes and encourages women to be insecure? Why is it that, at work, my words hold less value than my male coworkers? Is it my gender or my work experience?

The insight I was most delighted to take away from this show was how a reading works and what the right questions are to ask from an audience when seeking feedback. As I was preparing for O, Earth and Faust, I thought back to this production as a reference for the general structure of the way things “should be.” The simple yet efficient staging, suggestive costuming and thorough feedback form felt like the perfect baseline example of the essential elements a staged reading should include.

As an example of queer/POC theater, this felt ethically produced as actors were given the opportunity to represent the voices of others like them without being reduced to a stereotype. I am interested to see how this piece develops into its next form as a “docu-musical.”