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Plays in Performance Response #449

Skeleton Crew Response

So, I saw Skeleton Crew (at the Calderwood Pavilion produced by the Huntington Theatre Company). My first Dominique Morisseau play I have ever seen. As a black theatre artist, I am ashamed that this was the first play of hers I have ever heard after learning about her name in the past few years. I could shame myself even more for not being more proactive in researching her name or claiming her as part of my aesthetic just because she is a black female theatre artist…but I’ll let myself slide. I’ll be okay because no one had brought her my attention in a formal way. One day, people just talked about Morisseau as if I should know about her already. Understandable, she deserves this respect. I admire the secret and elegant way her work has plopped into my life. And, in fact, I am going to do an entire 180 degrees in this paragraph to say I am glad the first time I saw or heard her words, I heard them played in a dark room with bodies right beside me.

Skeleton Crew was loud. The first thing I clocked and responded to was the projection at which these characters spoke. As if they knew we were listening to them. As if they knew I was all the way up in the mezzanine, four rows from the back. But they never addressed us. The set was very realistic to a break room and they looked at each other because, duh, they were talking to each other and we were there to observe…? They played for us, but they spoke for each other. Because they knew if they played, the people would listen in the audience.

I appreciated that this piece was done on a huge proscenium stage, but it made me think what if the drama was done in an amphitheater. I wanted to surround them with the bodies beside me in a dark room because the world seemed flat. The set design made me think there was a greater world they’d constructed out there, but here was where we were meant to be. The break room was pushed forward, taking up one-third of the stage. In back of the break room was space covered in a blue-ish or purple-ish wash of light. And when characters would exit through doors they would go back to space. How peculiar. My belief was not suspended in regards to the space the team had built for me. We all knew they were going nowhere. We all knew they were not going back to work. We all knew they weren’t going to the bathroom, but we humored them. These characters stood their ground and their intentions so fiercely that I knew they were going somewhere. Just not where the text told me they were going.

My mind further expands on this idea of these workers in Detroit who are part of this cycle/progression, a stall and stop, if you will. And no, not Dominique Morisseau’s cycle, a grandeur one that I can infer she is commenting on. The cycle of the lower class black person. Not necessarily a cycle of poverty, but pretty darn close. Work is where we, black people go, where we, the black people, need the money. If we miss a day, we’re $70 short of rent. Short of supporting ourselves and our families. And in that work day, maybe in that break room, we, black people, eat our lunch to devise a way to get through the stinging feet, devise a way to survive out in a less safe world (maybe it is less safe, we can never be too sure when you think about where black people work). So, as we, black people, sit in that break room, we breathe, we are really seen in a place where we can air our grievances or nap or whatever. But when we exit into the space back…there…to that other side of us, black people, we cannot be diluted down to a mere break anymore. We’ve gone to a more spacious, less sure, deep world. An all consuming world. Where we, black people, have a conviction, you, other people, just aren’t privy to what dat isssssssss.

The director, Megan Sandberg-Zakian, confirmed my leaps and inferences and excitement. She knew what she was doing. And if I’m right or wrong or on the right track, I knew I was taken care of by this creative team. The transition lived in a dissonant place from the action of each scene. The machine working above the action of the characters with part of cars moving back and forth, dancing to contemporary, techno, “black?” Music — and these parts slowly faded away one by one in contrast to the fire between the characters sped up and blew up in their faces for better or for worse.

I’ll conclude with talking about the post-show discussion the Huntington held after the show. Between the audience members and the literary manager. They wanted to get the audience members to discuss with each other and unpack. I appreciated this moment mostly because I was excited to hear what all these older white people had to say. Aahhh millennials favorite phrase “old white people,” even young white people say it now! And well, yes, I was the only black person in there left. And yes, I responded to the man who claimed the play was not about race because none of these black people said “race” or “i’m black.” And yes, he heard me, and then, yes, this white man said, “and now I see! It’s more about class. you can plug any group of people in lower-middle class into this play and it would still ring true…” Hmm…how do we explain intersectionality without throwing around the term intersectionality willy nilly. I said, “people, all things can be true at the same time. do not put your poor white people in this play and say it’s by Dominique Morisseau because that is a completely different thing. BUT, write that play and I’m sure it will be in conversation with this beautiful text of action.”

**these quotes are actually paraphrased, but trust, how you are reading them is how it felt to listen to and posit back to**

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RE: Who Let John Patrick Shanley Have a Twitter

Hey Elena,

I was tickled with your recent blog post.

In response to your post :

“Who Let John Patrick Shanley Have a Twitter

I too am familiar with the Twitter of JPS and can’t help but feel similarly. I understand that Twitter is an informal platform in which people are free to express themselves in any way they see fit. However, if JPS is going to put this content on the public web, I’m going to feel free to discuss it.

For me, Shanley’s twitter is an immaculate, hyperbolic symbol of most straight-white-male art. It’s self-important, elitist, and empty.

I do not think it is a coincidence that I became familiar with JPS’s tweets through an avid follower and fan of his, Timothée Chalamet. I am a huge fan of straight, white male actor Chalamet and his work, but every time he retweets Shanely, the artist in me dies a little, or is maybe fired up; it’s hard to tell the difference sometimes. As a younger generation, of which Chamalet has a popular voice, I hope we can push towards art that is something other.

The sentence structure of Shanley’s tweets is confusing and imagistic and once you parse out the thought, it truly makes no sense, yet something in it draws people in. It feels to me like a grand symbol of artists making work because it feels good to their own image or identity, with little to no point to the work itself. It feels to me like a grand symbol of the liberal elite who hide behind heightened vocabulary and three year long sentences. They are smarter than you; that’s why you don’t understand. When in actuality, if they had a real point to make, wouldn’t it be easier and certainly more successful to say it straight out? In contrast, I think of artists and academics like Junot Diaz who are actually doing the work to produce full, deep, and yet comprehensible work. (Junot Diaz does not use Twitter, but you can follow @JunotDiazDaily for an unofficial consortium of all things Diaz).

I digress.

But as Shanely so deeply puts it, “Don’t ask me what’s new. Are you a thief? When you reach out, are your hands offering dried flowers or just awakening blooms? If I throw you down and write on your breasts, be assured my lyric will have green shoots aplenty. My hands are not empty. Leave me with more, or leave me.”

We cannot qualify who or what makes an artist.
But I believe in art as a vehicle, as a medium towards something better.
We are consumers and creators, consciously.
And we can do better.
We can demand more from our community of developing, young artist.
As I write that sentence, I think of KIL Claps Back, and I feel a warmth and a smile emerging from inside me.
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Roy Loves America: Theatre, Dance, and Media in conversation

Lighting designed by classmate Kat Zhou, I was introduced to a new circle inside the Boston community making exciting and bold new work: the Harvard Theatre, Dance, and Media Center and their production of Roy Loves America. With Angels in America as a counter text, this play explores the conflict behind the public persona and personhood of lawyer Roy Cohn, who has gained fresh, potent relevance in today’s political climate with the election of mentee Donald Trump. Director Thomas Peterson’s notes in the program, “It appears that Trump today refers both to his specific memories of Cohn and simultaneously to a generic actor, now absent, who could perform a role for him. How does Trump’s invocation of this name, or character, communicate meaning?” 

The political questions and their relevance cannot be denied throughout the piece, which hardly ever mentions Trump at all. In fact, this piece has nothing to do with Donald Trump, and yet Cohn is a genius case study in which the theatrical canon meets a legacy that has paved the political path for Trump; as well as inciting questions about Trump’s public ‘character,’ the role of the media, and our modern search (or not) for truth. The Facebook page for the event even included a cheeky but poignant note: “Back again! The first time we tried to pub[lish] this show, facebook decided we were all robots and the show was spam and the ticket link was ‘harmful and malicious.’” We live in a society today, where internet news decides elections and computer programs scan for buzzwords as a form of truth-seeking censorship. And President Trump calls out in distress, “where’s my Roy Cohn?” 

The design of the performance successfully involves the audience while disorienting us, like a cat and mouse game. Collectively, we found ourselves asking questions from the moment we entered the space. Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed often cites confusion as a necessary dramatic instrument, and Roy Loves America carefully curated and utilized this technique. The space was organized into two main areas: a set of traditional bleacher seating in which one actor sat casually eating, and the “stage” which was an open space beautifully lit with theatrical lighting and containing benches in alley-style configuration. The audience entered and stared silently at each other, trying to decipher what was the set and what was audience seating. We watched each other for a good 15 minutes as people wandered the space, sat, and then moved and sat, and then asked each other, and then moved again. Finally, we settled on the benches, very well lit and staring across at one another. Zhou’s lighting and sound by Damian Liu complete the very strong physical environment, which almost symbolizes the role of the rest of the world in this story. The design elements alone conjure a sort of external, visceral, and necessary dramatic pressure in an otherwise episodic, documentary-esque piece. This physical pressure drove the spiral-like action of the play into the inevitable balloon pop climax. 

Throughout the performance, I found myself thinking a lot about Last Call’s offerings surrounding truth. In our world where truth seems almost fully absent, I was drawn to their ideas about interweaving real recordings of primary sources with theatre (an inherently fictional form), as a way to include the truth but also recognize the validity of the untruth in storytelling. Roy Loves America also seems to understand a similar method; the main structure of the performance includes recordings from both Roy Cohn himself as well as prominent actors playing Cohn in a plethora of movies and plays, notably Angels. Deliberately, the truth gets lost in the mix. Or is none of it the truth? Or is it all truth? In the interviews, the sound of the actual recordings played as the actors, wearing headphones of the same recordings, performed the speech on top of the sound. Coming back to Boal, I had truly never seen this done before and it made me listen and observe the performative nature of this character and political speech in a thought-provoking way. The episodic structure then juxtaposes the interview recordings against gestural based movement sequences and organized exercises or games, which seemingly represents capitalism or the political machine

In the true heritage of Angels in America, nothing is hidden from the audience. We saw all of the white apple headphone wires and the actors pressing play on each recording. Technology leads the performance. Phone flashlights are utilized as lighting. Media and technology are almost god in the piece, just as it created public figures and personas: Roy Cohn and Donald Trump. The spinning technology, loud interviews, and capitalistic starkly-lit fast pace broke in the 11th hour four one of the most striking images in the play: all technology faded away for one moment, the media symbolically looked away, and supported only by the company’s a cappella voice in song and a moving tableau of the Angelus Novus, Cohn danced with a male lover seemingly leaving everything behind for just a moment, before the world of sound and light and performance came rushing back in like a tidal wave. 

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A look at Technique in “The Usual Suspects”

This weekend I watched “The Ususal Suspects” for the first time, and it was a truly fascinating film. I want to take a quick look at Form and Content through the lens of film. So i’m Going discuss the “Keaton Was Keyser Soze” Scene. I am picking this scene because in the context of the film in its entirety, Kujan’s confident and pre-mature declaration of Keaton’s identity and Kint’s dismay is quite comical. In the scene Agent Kujan uses several examples from Kint’s story to deduce that Keaton is Keyser Soze, and apparently convinces Kint of the same with the final reveal of Edie’s murder. This scene uses established expectations, patterns, and manipulation of both time and space to convey a sense of urgency and mounting tension.

The scene begins with a moving, low angle shot of Kujan as he starts to piece together the ‘information’ Kint has given him, this initial shot already lets the audience know that Kujan is once again in a position of power, and the motion of the shot adds a menacing almost predatory tint to his argument, using a voice-over Kujan continues his argument over the sequence of shots, but now the sequence is interspersed with close up shots of Kint’s face as he attempts to digest the realization of Keaton’s ‘betrayal’ as well as cuts back to scenes from his story, highlighting the most suspicious parts of Keaton’s behavior. This seems to clearly support Kujan’s argument, drawing from the expectation that one of the members of the lineup must be Soze. The shots alternating between Kujan and Kint form an interesting juxtaposition. Using continuous action and the previous low-angle placement of the camera, we are given the perspective of Kint. The resulting effect is that as more incriminating arguments of Keaton are drawn, Kujan is proudly circling Kint, lauding his ‘knowledge’ over him, a throwback to when Kujan states he is more intelligent than Kint. The shots on Kint however are still close-ups and tend to be longer as we are made to focus on how Kint is receiving the information, with each close-up the camera is more zoomed in, implying that Kint is feeling more intensely. Finally, the movement stops briefly with Kujan’s declaration that Keaton is Keyser Soze, and we see the first high angle shot of Kint in the scene. Here he is hit with the news that his friend might be responsible for horrible deeds. As Kint shakes his head in vehement denial, and the thematic score intensifies we cut to a rapid sequence of shots between Keaton and Kint culminating in a low-angle barely lit shot of Keaton’s face as he shoots a gun in the fashion of Soze and the knowledge of Edie’s death. This signifies a climax, as it negates the bad cop turned good by love idea of Keaton, that Kint believed was his redeeming factor, in a way confirming the supposed truth about Keaton.

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This Is America

*SPOILER ALERT* If you haven’t seen Childish Gambino’s new music video for his song, “THis is America”, then you need to stop what you’re doing and what it ASAP no Rocky. I shall be discussing the music video now. I haven’t been able to get the images of the song nor the song itself at of my head. The video and the song itself does an incredible job of reflecting how we as Americans distract ourselves from the brutality that exists along side us everyday. The video is packed with images of rioting, police brutality, and gun violence if you pay close enough attention. Most of the violent action takes place behind, Gambino and a group of school children who perform popular dances like the “Gwaragwara” and “Roy Purdy dance,”. But Gambino and the children remain the focal point, representing how social media blinds people from the true problems in America by feeding them entertainment and pointless trends. At the same time, it begs the question: where is the balance between numbing yourself, and protecting yourself? Though the violence rages in the background, the children are pure black child joy, when so often black children are depicted as being more dangerous and older than their white counterparts.

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A few weeks ago, I saw Brawler by Walk McGough at the BPT. I cringed in my seat through the whole thing, suffering as I often do from terrible second-hand embarrassment, but texted my friends the moment I was out of my theatre to tell them they had to see it.

I love stories about men, I really do. Perhaps this is why I was not content to remain a woman but normally stories about men don’t know they’re stories about men. They think they are stories about everyone or they thing they stories about a man and not about men. Stories about women always know they are stories about women.

Brawler has minimal design elements during the show, there were sound at the beginning and between the two scenes that made up the play, but other than that the fluorescent lights and silence remained constant.

The play asked the audience to sit with out anything to distract them and watch a play that is about the pain caused for white men by white men, and the havoc the wreck because of that pain. It shows you misogyny and racism and entitlement and it also shows you bruises and how players in pain are abandoned by the sports industry that created them. The play, and thus McGough knew what it was about.

I remembered watching that play thinking about every time I wished I could be athletic and a professional sports player, wished I could be one of the men, wished I could belong in a way I couldn’t and I cried for how I had turned my eyes away from the broken bodies that same institution that makes us want to belong creates.

I want more theatre like this. Please.

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A Manifesto



I We are looking for an answer but don’t need one.

Our art is living in the question.

We don’t know.

Contradiction is okay.

II Our art is…

In the moment.
Our truth.
Active dreaming.
Dark and light.
Trash and sometimes trash art.
Gory sometimes.
Dirty sometimes.
Loud sometimes.
Violent sometimes.
Soft sometimes.
Completed by the audience.(FOOTNOTE)
Not just Theatre (We wont be reduced to the popular ideas of what theatre is).
For anyone.

If it’s a thought that comes or a thing you see, it’s both (no or).

III Realism is not enough.

You/we/they don’t get to decide what is real.

Real things should be happening on stage.
(Contradiction is okay.)

The dirt and sweat on our faces is real.

IV We will be as honest as possible…

with our words and how we say them.
with our actions.
with the sounds we make.
with how we feel.

(We invite our audiences to do the same.)

V We are not alone.


(1) The audience’s history is just as much a part of the work as our own.
(2) It is okay the audience is confused.
(3) Have fun but don’t deliberately fuck with the audience’s head.

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A Brief Recomendation

I want to make a brief show recommendation. If you aren’t following Legion on FX, which just started its second season, I would suggest you start. There are a lot of reasons, from its obsessively constructed aesthetic to its engaging acting to its minor details.

But really why I keep watching it’s a show about mental illness that doesn’t make me feel crazy. Reality is malleable, and delusions abound jumping between the characters. Paranoia writhes in the dark corners of these characters lives, and yet they soldier on. Their memoires are suspect but they are not. They fall in love, and get better but they also get worse.

No one is ever cured.

No one is driven off the show or out of rooms because they aren’t cured.

There is a perpetuity to the series’ treatment of mental illness that feels right. It’s not something that goes away.

Of course, there’s something problematic in the portrayal of mental illness coming from super powers. But there’s two things that make me look the other way in this case.

For one, it’s not the super powers themselves that cause the exclusion the characters experience. No, it’s the social markers. It Syd’s dependence on gloves and icy independence that mark her out not her powers, and when she finds people who can see past that then she becomes, not normal, but integrated.

But secondly, and more importantly, they use the language of X-men to express some deeper truth about mental illness. It’s not one thing or another. The mind can become diseased and bear the outcome of rearing and a hard world, but mental illness is “of the genes, of the body”. Like trauma it lives there.

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Hope Deferred

After reading “Hope Deferred” by Alice Dunbar-Nelson I felt both enlightened and enraged. Although I do believe that some of the points being made by the story itself were a little obvious, I realize that I also have to be cognizant of the fact that it was written for an audience much different from me. For someone in the early 20thcentury with little knowledge of the struggle of the African American community I can imagine that this story would be deeply revealing. First off, appreciated the use of Edwards’ relationship with his wife. The fact that this man was unable to catch a break and find a decent job was one thing, but to discover that he was doing it as means of supporting the one he loves made his character even more sympathetic. It was made clear that Edwards was a decent, hardworking man who was willing to whatever it takes, including walking in the hot streets all day, in order to make a living. His wife’s dedication to her husband was also moving. Her willingness to do whatever she could to lighten her husband’s burden made it clear that their partnership stemmed from a place of love.

Although Edwards came to this town as a civil engineer under the impression that he would be able to find work, he is unable to do so. After a year of searching he exhausts all of his options. Dunbar-Nelson makes this characters struggle clear. He has done everything he can but the world around him refuses to give him a chance to succeed. His story is not unique. In fact, it is clearly representative of all African Americans struggling to make a life for themselves in this time. To further this point, that to be black in America during this time is to be disenfranchised, Edwards’ almost doesn’t get a job as a waiter at a restaurant even though he is extremely over qualified. No matter how qualified he is, or will ever be, a white person will always win over him because of the color of their skin. This was the moment when the story began to make me angry.  Even as a person who knew completely well that this was the reality of the time, to read it in print struck me viscerally.

Despite being underappreciated Edwards does his best to do his job as a waiter, in order to maintain a life for him and his wife. He tells his wife that it’s only a temporary job, but the insidious reality is that it probably isn’t. Then, just when the reader is lead to believe that his fate is sealed, Edwards ends up serving the very man that denied him a position in the type of work he was qualified for. In order to cement the point that whites will always see themselves a superior to blacks, Dunbar-Nelson writes the man to say, “I’m glad you found a place to work…which you would be more fitted than engineering”. This was the moment that my anger aligned with the Edwards’, which I think is a testamate to the effective storytelling of the piece. I felt a sense of relief when Edwards decides to attack the man. However this leads to his getting arrested, which is rooted in the reality of what would actually happen (if not worse).

From beginning to end Edwards’ actions are completely justified in my opinion, which gives the story validity. Even if Black people do everything right, their fate is destined for failure. In a final act of defeat, Edwards’ wife visits him in prison and tells him she’ll wait for him, however long it takes for him to go free. Although the characters speak as though there might be hope for them in the future, the truth in that assumption is left purposefully ambiguous. Although I found the story as a whole to be deeply upsetting, I was enthralled all the way through. This story instructed the reader on the truths of the African American experience in a way that was well constructed and effortlessly heartbreaking.

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On Mental Ilness in Art, one example

The Southern Reach Books by Jeff Vandermeer gave me the word terroir. I’m sure I would have eventually stumbled upon it on my own, but they can claim the small honor of having given it to me.

I have been thinking about my personal terroir, the things inherent to me and to my environment that have turned me into this and why they have done so, for a long time with out having a word for it. Except, perhaps, “nature vs. nurture” which isn’t really accurate and far too stark a dichotomy for my tastes. The thing I have become, the person I am, is not separable from either my genetics or my environment; through me they are bound to each other. Terroir to me means talking about the massive web of things that effect me as interdependent and strange rather than clearly distinct. Not that I didn’t do that already, but naming things always makes it easier.

The word also has the implication that my particular god-given grab-bag of disorders and learning disabilities are a desirable and robust vintage rather than a random collection of circumstances and base pairs. An Implication that I am embracing, have been attempting to embrace for a long time, but now have the language for.

I recognized in the novels something familiar. I have severe Attention Deficit Disorder and severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I get obsessed for days or weeks with one thing or another, but I cannot hold onto it. Focus slips away like something with slimy scales. I fill up with words on one thing or another but I don’t have the executive function to do anything about them. In the Southern Reach Trilogy, I found a semblance of my experiences. The obsessive questions with out answers and well springs of ideas without action, without the the ability to act, with out even the ability to to understand what action would entail. The way words and images in the books disappear only to come back again, more precise, more unrecognizable, like Area X is a grindstone.

I have been thinking of my mind like a grindstone for a long time. I pick at things, turn phrases over and over until they erode within me leaving only their dust. I’m filled with it. I’m full of bits of words and granular phrases who have lost all meaning but that which I give them. Just like Area x takes all meaning but its own. It makes communication frustrating, to say the least.

When I first started to recognize those familiar forms of frustration in the Trilogy I thought, extremely briefly, that I would have to put it down because it was too close to home. However, reading about it was practically therapeutic. It was terrifyingly refreshing to read a book in which brains like my brain could exist (and later when queer characters arrived on the stage, where sexualities like my sexuality are evident).

It was terrifying because had foci of our obsessions not been different I would have said that the author had been in my head. It was terrifying because it was a horror that played to my experiences, that took them to extremes. It was terrifying because in Control and in The Director and in Ghostbird and in Saul and even in poor Whitby I could see what I might become if my brain ever decides that the little respectability I have managed to maintain is not worth the effort.

(This is not my decision to make, one day I will simply wake up and find that it has been made for me.)

Ghostbird in particular rang true to me, because for her there is no separation between her self and the transforming agent. There is no separation between her self and the horror she experiences. She cannot draw a line and say this is where I end and my opponent begins. She exists as a person within the continuum of her environment and her fundamental makeup, she exists as a person only within the disaster that is Area X.

Of course, the impulse for self dissection is compelling; I sometimes catch myself thinking that if only I can peel always all those parts of me that have been tainted by brain chemistry and a discrete series of crises, only then I can be real. I think sometimes that I am not a real person at all. I think sometimes that I will only be okay if can shove my hand through my chest, through the clutter of constructs and compulsions that nestle there, and pull out from somewhere deep within me a bloody core of something that is nothing but me.

Of course this is stupid because I cannot shave away the parts of me that have been transformed. I, like Ghostbird, exist as I am now only in the context of my own ongoing disaster.

She is the futile desire for self-definition given a voice. She is the fear of personal unreality given hands and the ability to act. I think we are not so different, she and I. (Though if she is a ghost bird then I am the ghost something else; something full of teeth.)

This is about my mental illness and my trauma because that is the lens though which I understand horror – the feeling or the genre. To me The Southern Reach Trilogy was an incredible work of horror not because I can so easily imagine something growing inside me but because something already is. The thing inside my chest is hard and crystalline not soft and fungal, but a parasitical family resemblance exists between it and The Brightness. Some days it is nothing but a slight obsession with religious paraphernalia and spinal trauma. Some days it is something that I am absolutely sure is just about to burst through my skin, that granite scales and marble fangs are about to grow from me.

I wanted answers at the end of The Trilogy not just because I was curious but also because I thought that maybe it would be like someone was reaching though words to tell me what was wrong with me, why it was wrong with me. I thought that maybe once I could understand what grew inside the characters, I could name what grew inside of me.

But that would have been untrue. Not least because the thing that is wrong with me is most decidedly not an alien ecological disaster. Not least because the author is not me. It would have been untrue because the thing that has transformed me is not something that has a why and it is not something that has internal logic. It is senseless. It does not work within whys or in any way that is going to be comprehensible toanybody. I cannot tell you why spinal trauma haunts me or why reliquaries call to me. They did not choose to do so. My OCD did not choose them. I certainly had no say in the matter. These things are just things that happen. Mental illness is just a thing that is.

I was desperately grateful for the lack of answers in the book and for the way it portrayed a search for those answers as both sympathetic and fruitless. That’s how my search for answers is, and that’s how I want to be seen. I have spent a large portion of my life scraping and scrambling for answers on the edges of the unfathomable, as desperate as a wild animal. I most likely will continue to do so. This is okay. Its is only natural to need resolution. But I will never have answers that are satisfactory. This is okay too. These two realities do not deny each other’s validity. The balance between being sympathetic and pointing out the pointless is a hard one to strike, and one I am more than glad to see here.

The books reminded me that I am still okay if I cannot trace the lines of obsession and compulsion that spiral through me to their origin. It reminded me that it’s okay if I don’t have a clear cut why within me, like so many characters in so many books that feature mental illness do.

Instead of a why, I can have a terroir.

It also reminded me why I wanted to become a horror writer in the first place. The way that horror lets you come at things sideways but also face on. When done well the normal can become horrible and the horrible normal, and almost comforting. Just as it is for me. The way horror lets the general you and the specific me escape from the confines of the dichotomous and shows all the ways people like me, and people, or not-people, like Ghostbird can exist in, around, and through the margins. We can exist there because horror breaks the prohibition on the ugly and the incomprehensible. And neither Ghostbird nor I ever claimed to be easy people.

I started writing seriously because I wanted to write the words that I needed when I was younger, so that maybe some other scared kid can find them. I started writing horror because that was where I could find my self, because that is where I could grow and expand, because that is where I found things about myself being discussed honestly with all their fuzzy edges and horribleness intact.

My life and brain are not perfect, pretty things. I would not wish them on anyone, but that does not mean I want my reality treated with anything other than honesty and sympathy.


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Politics and art

There is a very interesting dichotomy happening for black artist in popular culture. On one side we have Kanye West who supports Donald Trump and believes that slavery was a choice and on the other hand we have artists like Janelle Monae and Childish Gambino who a tacking complex and poignant questions and issues within their artistry, such as police brutality, gun violence and queer identity. I have come to realize that I hold artist of color more accountable than I do white artist and so does society I believe. I think that I have taken for granted that every POC artist in the mainstream is culturally conscious and politically minded. If their art doesnt make a statement it’s not worth the time and effort. And yet white artist are help to a lower standard. Their work doesn’t need to be political in order to be accepted, in fact, if it is political they risk doing the wrong thing and putting their foot in their mouth. I truth I have no idea what its like to navigate this world as someone who is of color and also famous, having all your action and ideas studied with a magnifying glass. I have lost respect in Kanye West as a person but does that mean I should discount his artistry as well? In today’s society we have mention ideas of people being “cancelled” but what does that really mean? If someone has ideas that are wrong or differing from ours do we have an obligation not to support their work as well? I have no strong opinion or argument for either side of the arguement, I’m still trying to figure it out for myself. But I do think if Kanye West was white the narrative would be completely different. But I guess that’s the point.

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Commercial Enterprise

As I enter the entertainment industry I can’t help but wonder what direction my career as an actor will take me. I am and will always be interested in theatre but I have found that a lot of the opportunities I have been offered lately want to steer me away from it. After signing with an agency and sending out a number of self-tapes I have found that I am mostly being put out for film, television and commercials. As an actor does the true “art: of the craft lie solely in theatre. What does it mean to “sell out” when you are a struggling actor just trying to make a name for themselves? As of now I know that I will take whatever I can get, but I am afraid that if I move too far in one direction i might be pulled away from other opportunities that might be more aligned with what I want to do artistically. Only time will tell I guess.

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Big Freedia

Big Freedia is a performer, musician and icon to the lgbtq community. She is a transgender artist who help cultivate a hip-hop style that we now call New Orleans bounce. She has a very distinctive presence and personality. Artist such as Drake and Beyonce have used sound bytes of her voice in their music. Her voice can be heard in some of the most iconic and popular songs of out time, including Beyonce’s Formation, and yet most people still don’t know who she is. This is because, while artist love to capitalize on her bold words and vocal presence, they do not ever feature her in their videos and have her make any appearances in their performances. As a large, black, trans woman she is not part of what popular culture today deems as worthy. Arists have not yet come to recognize her for the artist that she is because she does not fit the most of what a mainstream artist should be. Trans people of color are still struggling to be represented in our society. Even Rupauls Drag Race has made it explicitly clear that trans women do not belong on the show. I think this also play into a larger issue of the appropriation of black, queer culture as a whole. People love to mimmick black queer attitudes, dances, style and catchphrases. All I hear nowadays are people saying “slay, gagged, tea, wig, living!, etc” and yet the very people who say these things have no relationship to the community in which they are drawing from. Queer people fo color are influencing every facet of popular culture today and yet, for the most part, they remain invisible and underrepresented.

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I am currently in a production of Wig Out! by Terell Alvin McCraney. In the play I am playing the role of Nina/Wilson. My character who Identifies as a girl and yet, in when confronted with the interest of pursuing a boy she likes, she takes off her wig and becomes Wilson. Wilson is masculine, and cocky and aggressive, everything that Nina isn’t. Wilson is that name Nina was given at birth because she was born a bay. She hasn’t yet decided if she wasnt to fully transition into becoming a woman and I still am trying to figure out if she identifies as transgender or not. What playing this character has taught me is to accept the fluidity of gender. I am not able to label this character as cis or trans, masculine or feminine, Wilson or  Nina and thats ok. Not everything has to be labeled and fit neatly into the boxed society expects us to fit into. Nina descrbes herself as “non-conforming” which I think is a powerful lesson I can take to heart in my own life.  I too do not know exactly where I fall on the gender spectrum. As of now i identify as a boy and am pretty comfortable with it being that way. However, I also love to play with makeup and girls clothes and want to delve deeper into the art of drag. Just because I do those things doesn’t make me a girl but if I wanted them to that would be ok too. I don;t know yet if I would ever want to consider myself as non-binary but the experiece of playing Wilson/Nina as taught me the true value and importance of such an identity. Gender is fluid, its something to discover and to play with. I realize that now.

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Chosen family

A few weeks ago Last Call Theatre Company came to our contemporary drama class and showed us the work that they do. One piece of the exercise they worked with us on involved us thinking about the communities we belong to and why. This got me thinking about my own friends and family and whether or not I had a community of people I felt I could really trust. I realized that there are very few people in my life that I  feel I  can rely on no matter what the circumstance is. Being a queer person of color I have come to realize that the spaces I have existed in most of my life do not have a lot of people like me. I don’t even have a lot of queer friends. Growing up I went to a predominantly white school. I stuck to a very small group of freinds, all of whom I saw as different from me in terms of race, class, and life experience. Now that i’m in college I have been lucky enough to be immersed in a community full of artist who think similarly to me. However, I have found that a lot of the people I spend time with on a daily basis are Cis and predominantly white. I’ve never thought much about this fact, or at least I didn’t until now.  After

After a performance of Wig Out!, which a production I am a part of, there was a post show discussion about chosen family. The conversation focused primarly on ball culture and families/houses of queer people of color. People often choose to find family outside of their blood relatives because they are not supported by their own family or need some extra support. I have been fortunate to have a family that loves and supportes everything I am and everything that I do. However, now that i am about to graduate college and start living my life I can’t help but think what it would be like to be a part of a community of people that I could truly relate to, fully. As I go out into the world i think it is important that I go out and seek friends that are queer and of color. There is something missing in my life; a true sense of community and chosen family.

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Who Let John Patrick Shanley Have a Twitter

John Patrick Shanley is undoubtedly a prolific playwright. I knew his name before I knew the names of a lot of other playwrights (not that that means his work is any more deserving of my attention than the work of other playwrights who have been out there, but less publicized.) I follow a lot of artists on Twitter, including JPS. And, my roommates can attest, frequently I audibly gasp or scream or make some weird noise because I cannot believe the strange things that come out of this man’s mouth… or fingers.

His “good morning”  and “goodnight” messages leave me wondering – does he wake up and scroll through a generic google images search until he finds a photo that he thinks is “inspirational?” And why does he feel the need to send his followers these messages with ,more often than not, the image of a woman, sensually posed? Posed with swans, at that??

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Then there are the cryptic, loftily-written tweets that read more like an excerpt from a diary than something that should be shared with the public.

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Now, I’m not one to knock the ways in which artists express themselves publicly – I’ve published many a *V Personal* blog post on this site, myself – but I have learned that part of the responsibility of having a platform is to use it for more than one’s own personal gain. JPS is not one to follow if one wants to stay connected and in tune with the American theatre community, but here are some artists to follow if you do!








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A Lucky Grouping

At last week’s Monday Meet Up, Brendan, Dev and I all read in Stevens play. At ten am we trickled in one by one and sat in a circle waiting for the thing to start, whooping and laughing as we caught up. Kirstin looked up from her grading for a moment to say “Looks like all the trans playwrights are here.”

“Damn right we are,” Dev responded.

We joke about this all the time, about how Kirstin is raising a cadre of trans playwrights in this program, and how we hope that one day people will look at us as the beginning of a movement in and of our selves. Because that’s the dream right, for somebody in the future to write about the connection in you and your friends work? But most of the time it’s just jokes.

It didn’t feel like a joke that morning, and I’m guessing it hasn’t actually been a joke for a while. We’re serious about becoming something, not as a group but each on our own. But more than that, our little family, is committed to each other’s success and that means where one of us go the others follow dragged along behind. Perhaps the best word for us is cadre.

There’s a line in a book that is not at all about trans-ness but a lot about history, Eoin Coilfer’s Airman, that reads along the lines of “History is laden with coincidental groupings of people, who by some chance encounter ended up where it mattered and with people who made them better”. I feel like that all the time now, and am incredibly grateful. I don’t know if the three of us are really going to change history, I’m not ­quite egotistical enough to count that a sure thing, but I do know that I’m luckier than ever.

I write about this as a piece of an art blog because it’s important to my art. I never used to have artistic peers, the closest I came was a young woman in my theatre class whose big spectacle aesthetic was so foreign to me as to be another planet. The move here and the discovery that I could have friends who pushed my art forward and onward, is still two years on mind boggling. For the first time I understand how some of the art I grew up reading actually happened, not in isolation in a tower, but on the ground in conversations between people.

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Ellen Craft

Although her story does not relate to theatre directly, Ellen Craft plays an important role in Boston’s history and the history of slavery in America.

Ellen Craft was born a slave in Clinton, Georgia in 1829. She was the daughter of white slave master Major James P. Smith and his house slave, Maria. Ellen was extremely light in complexion and was often mistaken for one of Major Smith’s legitimate (and fully white) children. From a young age, she experienced the hypocrisy and absurdity of American slavery. She was often favored and given special treatment because she was the master’s daughter, and yet she was still a slave and therefore considered a piece of property. At the age of 11 she was given to her half-sister as a wedding gift. She was moved to a plantation in Macon, Georgia where she became a “ladies maid” to her sister. Here she met William Craft, another slave on the plantation who would soon become her husband.

As slaves, Ellen and William were able to marry and Ellen was give her own living quarters in a cabin behind the main house. However, Ellen was eager to escape her life as a slave. She did not want to give birth to children knowing that they would be owned and sold by a white man. During the Christmas season of 1848, William and Ellen decided to make their escape.Unlike other fugitive slaves who made their escape in obscurity through the systems of The Underground Railroad, The Crafts made their escape out in the open for everyone to see. Ellen knew her light complexion allowed her to pass as white. In order to make their escape possible, Ellen decided to pose as a wealthy, white, male plantation owner while her husband posed as her slave. Being an excellent seamstress, she fashioned herself a suite, wore spectacles, top hat and cut her hair. Because she couldn’t read or write she also wore a sling and pretended to be injured in order to avoid having to sign anything herself. The two traveled from Georgia to the north by train and steamships, sitting in first-class cabins among other white travelers and even stayed in hotels along the way. Ellen not only disguised herself physically but also assumed the role of a white gentleman completely, often conversing with white travelers who remained completely unaware of her true identity.

By January of 1849 the couple arrived in Boston, settling down in Beacon Hill. At this time Boston was the center of the anti-slavery movement. Within weeks of their arrival their story got out and began to catch the attention of many prominent members of the anti-slavery movement. Abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, Lewis Hayden and Theodore Parker supported the young couple and welcomed them into the Anti-slavery community.William Wells Brown, a well known fugitive slave and agent in the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society invited the couple to join him on an anti-slavery lecture tour. With Brown they traveled around New England and told their story. Due to Victorian-era taboos against female public speakers, William Craft did most of the speaking during these lectures. However, Ellen Craft resisted the role of the subservient wife and used her silence to her advantage. As her husband recounted the events of their escape from slavery, Ellen remained stern and motionless on stage. Crowds heard stories of her struggle and pain, yet the figure they saw before them was unwaveringly strong. William and Ellen Craft successfully cultivated a sort of performance when they came to the stage that both challenged and enticed their audiences. At the Massachusetts Anti-Slave Society’s annual meeting at Faneuil Hall on January 23, 1849 William Wells Brown brought The Crafts to the stage to tell their story. This event sparked mass interest in the couple, leaving them to be commented on by reporters for months to come. Commentators were particularly interested in Ellen Craft and her unique presence, one going on to say “firmness, intelligence and perseverance are distinctly and impressively marked on her countenance”. The Crafts and their story became talked about around the country, as well as in the UK, catapulting them into the realm of celebrity. They became an Abolitionist symbol for Anti-slavery sympathy.

Together the Crafts challenged the narrative of what fugitive slaves were supposed to be. In a time when slaves were seen as wild savages or docile livestock, William and Ellen were refined and intelligent. Their youth, resourcefulness and love for one another forced white audiences to see their humanity. Rather than begging for sympathy, The Crafts were portrayed as confident, bold and independent which garnered adoration and respect from abolitionists. By assuming a presence of immovable silence and strength Ellen Craft asserted her own independence on abolitionist stages. She portrayed a sense of self-ownership that set her apart from her husband and William Wells Brown alike. Ellen Craft was one of the first women to be put on the stage at Anti-slavery gatherings. As a mixed race, white-passing woman Ellen challenged both images of the suffering slave and ideas of a post-racial society. She accepted her blackness and womanhood, yet her story highlighted the performative nature of race, class and gender in the society around her. In a country where race, class and gender were seen as fixed things, Ellen’s story of escape challenged this notion by showing the ways in which a black slave women could convincingly assume the role of a wealthy, white man. Ellen Craft subverted stereotypes and revealed the paradoxical nature of the race and class structures set in place at the time.

Ellen Craft in Disguise. Credit: www.georgiaencyclopedia.org

Ellen Craft utilized the technology of her time to capitalized on her ability to challenge stereotypes. She posed for a Daguerreotype (image is formed on a highly polished silver surface) dressed in her male disguise. The Daguerreotype, which was distributed around the country, conveyed an image of masculinity and whiteness. However, the person was the photo is a black woman in disguise. This photo forced people to confront the binaries that dictated the order of their society and realize that they weren’t as fixed as they had previously thought.Ellen Craft revealed that masculinity, privilege and whiteness aren’t just inherent pieces of one’s identity but rather something that can be put on by those who society deems as unfit to navigate the world in such a way. Ellen Craft became an icon for the Abolitionist movement because she challenged ideas of race, class and gender through her ability to escape a life of slavery. She helped change the national perception (at least in the north) of what a fugitive slave woman could be. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 forced The Craft family to leave the US and immigrate to London, where they lived for over 20 years. They continued to fight against slavery while abroad and in 1860 they published a narrative of their escape from slavery entitled Running A Thousand Miles for Freedom, which is hailed as one of the most well know fugitive slave narratives to this day.

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mission statement

If I were to create a theatre company this would be my mission statement:

“As a theatre company we are designed to represent the underrepresented, include the un-included, and give opportunities to those who fail to see a place for themselves in the current theatre community. We want to start conversation, and show our audiences that what they know to be theatre is just the surface of what can truly be explored. More specifically we want to explore the American experience through the lease of what it means to be in the center of the intersection between race, gender and sexual identity. What does it mean to be a queer person of color in this country? What does it mean not to fall into the dominating force that drives this country and it’s theatre climate alike, which is straight, cis, whiteness. These are the questions that lie at the core of our programming, casting and collaboration with burgeoning playwrights, directors and other theatre makers.”

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Last night I had the honor of being immersed into the theatrical experience that was Kil Clap Back, written by Bella Pelz and directed by Linda Perla. From the moment I stepped into the space I was instantly transported into another dimension. I was so impressed by the way in which a tiny black box theatre space was transformed into a grungy, eclectic, hectic, exciting concert venue. I literally felt as though I was at the Paradise Rock Club or Brighton Music Hall. I have seen countless productions take place in the exact same place, but I had never been transported in quite the same way before. The energy and excitement in the room was palpable. As Monica Bang, a band lead by vocalist and actress Kyra Tantao, began to play the crowd went wild. What I love about punk music in live performance is the fact that it brings its audience members together. Which is exactly what happened last night. Together we rocked out and lost our mind to the wonderfully chaotic and passionate music.

The show itself took me on a complete journey. There were moments when I felt angry, moment when I felt shocked and moment when i felt like I wanted to cry. What interested me most about the play was its ability to seamlessly identify I explore a number of seemingly different cultural experiences. I enjoyed the use of spanish and the exploration of latinx culture, particularly within the punk scene, juxtoposed with drag and ball culture. I also noticed elements of African symbolism as well. At any given moment there were different things going on a at every corner of the space. I felt like I was frozen in time while a whole world moved past me. The experince was instantly put to a halt when one of the characters was arrested. I was left breathless, grasping for air but also hungry for more. I will continues thinking about this experience for weeks to come, i know it.