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Mission Statement

“Universality through specificity.” This is a phrase I learned as a freshman at Boston University that has stuck with me throughout my training. It refers to the notion that the artist, through the telling of stories that are specific to the experience of one or few, are given the ability to uncover truths that are inherently human and therefore universal. For me this idea illuminates the power of diversity. Diversity is an inherent part of humanity. Everyone is different in some way, that’s what makes us who we are. This was such an important discovery for me because, before this point, I saw my personal differences as a hindrance to my work. As a queer actor of color, it was hard to see where I fit into the larger scheme of the theatre world. I didn’t see people like me being represented very often and so I figured I would have to adapt, and refine myself to fit the model of what I thought an actor should be. I didn’t realize that people like me are everywhere, fighting for a place to fit in just like I was. Over the course of my training I have come to realize that my uniqueness is my strength. No matter how “other” I feel on any given day, there will always be people out there who feel just as I do. Those are the people I want to connect to through my work.

My passion for specificity has driven me to utilize the four years of my undergraduate training as a chance to really discover who I am, as a human and an artist alike. Having been raised primarily by my white mother, being half black has always been apart of my identity that I felt removed from in some sense. I decided to become an African American Studies minor so that I could strengthen my connection to my black identity and enrich my knowledge of what it truly means to be black in America. I see my privilege now. I see that my own success, whatever that may look like, is only made possible by those who came before me and fought to make the world a place where it is

ok for me to be who I am. My very existence (which would have been deemed unlawful just about 50 years ago) is homage to them, and therefore my art can’t help but be an extension of the legacy they set forth.

As an actor I want to embody perspectives that are different from my own. I don’t want to be limited to playing roles that are written specifically for my race and gender. By doing so I hope challenge notions of race, gender and sexual identity in our society. I want my work to show others that difference and diversity in art is important because art is, and always will be, a reflection of the world we live in. Those who fall outside of societal norms have a voice, they exist, and they matter. By breaking the conventions we see in theatre today I hope to be a representative for those who feel limited by the binaries society expects us to fit into. I want to be part of the lineage of artist and activist who have used their work to challenge injustice, bigotry and ignorance. I pull my strength and inspiration from those who dared to be themselves at any cost. People like Marsha P. Johnson and the children of the Harlem ball scene of the 1970’s and 80’s, who were able to find the beauty and fierceness within themselves amidst pain, struggle and adversity. Rupaul Charles taught me that the key to loving others is loving yourself first.

Right now our country is filled to the brim with hate and opposition. Our power is lost; diffused by separation. I believe it is the responsibility of artist to spread the message of unity. The love and acceptance of our own specific differences is the way in which we will find love and acceptance for the differences of others. As a citizen of a country who’s president wants nothing more than to oppress the members of our community who are not CIS, straight and white, I want to be an actor that empowers

those who feel othered with the knowledge that sometimes the best form of protest is simply daring to be yourself.

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Being an Adult Artist

In our last dramaturgy class of the semester we discussed what it means to be an “adult artist”. For me this means the ability to be on top of your game, taking ownership over your work and being accountable for your actions. I don’t feel like I am an adult artist yet. I feel like there’s something in me that still wants to hide. It like that feeling you get when you first wake up and you don’t to get out of bed, and even though you know you have somewhere to be in an hour you consider for a good long minute whether or not you can sleep just a little while longer.  Why can’t I get out of bed? The time for sleep has passed, its time to WAKE UP. I’d like to think that school is my problem, and that once I graduate I’ll get to be the person I truly want to be and everything will resolve itself. But what if that’s not the case? I need to be more accountable for my actions. Instead of denying my faults I need to just confront them head on so that I can start to be proactive about how to get better. I need to stop procrastinating and playing it safe. I need to be bold. I need to finish my work on time. I need to stop judging myself. I need to stop judging others. I need to sit with myself and dig deep and figure out what my true goals are as an artist. Is being an actor enough? What impact does that make in the world around me? Does everything I do need to have an impact? Yes. But how? Is staying true to myself enough? What else is there?

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Life is… Cabaret

Last week I saw Cabaret at BU. Although I know the musical I was surprised by the performance. I was surprised by how much it affected me. What I think is so profound about the musical itself is the fact that it starts by drawing you in, setting an atmosphere of laughter, dance music, and fun. This is something I thought this production was sucessful at. The Kit Kat dancers began the show walking through the audience, talking to guests as though we were really patrons of a Berlin cabaret. The entire first act had this same sense of play. I felt myself smiling the entire time. Then, as intermission rolls in we see stagehands, dressed as Nazi soldiers with slicked-back hair and swastikas on their arms. This instantly made the play more real for me. I noticed, while the play featured many people of color (including a woman of color as the Emcee), all of the Nazi boys were cis white males, which sent a clear message. I knew why this musical was being produced at this moment and time. Our country is, like pre-WWII Germany, on the brink of madness. We see Sally Bowles who, like so many people I know refuses to see the impending doom of this society and opt to stay in Berlin. This got me thinking about all the ways I might be like Sally. Am I doing enough to combat the evils that are running rampant in our country. Are we naive to think that there can be some sort of resolution? In what ways and I am shielding myself from the truth. This piece made me think about the importance of art, now more than ever. Art can no longer afford not to be political. Everything we do as artists must serve a purpose and help awaken our audiences to the truths they refuse to see on their own.

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Another one.

Over the past few weeks I have been working on a dramaturgy project that focuses on the work of playwright Derek Walcott. I’ve become quite interested in his writing. I’m interested in his perspective as a Caribbean artist and his ability to rework western classics in a way new, interesting and potent. He was also a Boston University and the founder of the Boston Playwrights Theatre, meaning that he has created a positive impact on the School of Theatre. For this, I would like to say that I respect the late playwright but the other day I heard some unsettling news…. One of my peers informed me that the only reason why he came to work at BU in the first place was the fact that he was asked to give up his position as a professor at Harvard due to cases of sexual assult. At first,  I didn’t know what to believe. I never doubted that my peer was telling the truth, but with all the false information going around I just didn’t want to assume that this information was completely true. Then I found this article: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/21/opinion/derek-walcotts-acts-of-sexual-harassment.html

“This was not a victimless offense. As the reporter who covered the story for the student newspaper, I saw firsthand the anguish and disruption that Mr. Walcott’s actions caused to a young woman who had come to Harvard to study poetry and did not expect to be preyed upon in this way. Mr. Walcott would later be accused of similar actions by a student at Boston University.” This phrase made my heart drop. I instantly felt for this girl (and the other possible victims from BU) who had come to learn from a writer they admired and respected, only to be sexualized and exploited by the very same person. I thought about how I felt about Derek Walcott before this point and how I would have had the same initial hopes and joys if I was ever given the opportunity to take a class from such a profound writer. I go to BU, I’m in the very same program he taught at. I a not a female and I don’t know what its like to be sexually assaulted or exploited in this way, but if this happened to me I would have been devastated.

In the wake of the #metoocampaign and the Harvey Weinstein allegations, I have been awakened to the fact that sexual assault happens WAY TOO OFTEN. It is a serious issue in this country and the world at large. When looking at artists like Derek Walcott, and Kevin Spacey for that matter, who have created a body of work for themselves that is truly remarkable, is it possible to enjoy their work in light of the acts that they have committed. In this way are we able to separate the work from the artist in order to appreciate to work for what is it? Or do the heinous acts of the artist make it impossible to experience their work in the same way again. These are questions I still don’t have answers to. It just saddens me to know that yet another artist I once respected has been exposed as a causer of sexual assault/explotation.

 

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A Reaction to Richard III

I sat on my hands for a while to avoid writing about this. I do not want to hurt feelings, offend anyone who was a part of this production, or burn any bridges in terms of the people I collaborate with in the future. But I want to be candid and constructive about my thoughts regarding this project, in order to start honest conversation.

To start simply, I think that the parallel between Richard and Trump doesn’t work. As part of the royal family, Richard has grown up within the system of government; he has been surrounded by it his whole life and knows it intimately. Trump is someone who made his way into Washington specifically because of his status as an outsider. Richard hides behind a mask of friendship; he must be charismatic and extremely likeable for the top of the play to make any sense, as Clarence believes in Richard’s love even as Richard’s murderers prepare to kill him. The victims of Trump’s oppressive rhetoric know that he hates them; he is the opposite of subtle in talking about his friends and enemies. His brazenness and “telling it like it is” is the opposite of Richard’s cunning, behind the scenes plotting. Richard only gets to the throne because he is extremely clever; he knows exactly which strings to pull and which people to manipulate in order to get what he wants. The act of murder becomes a simple chess move under his skillful hand, one that is part of a much larger game, and the audience should be both morally repulsed and strangely exhilarated by his every move. Otherwise why would we watch the play? If the current White House were a chess board, Trump would be moving the rooks diagonally and then tweeting obscenities at anyone that told him that wasn’t in the rules.

In all honesty, it seems the only similarity between Trump and Richard is that they’re “bad guys” in government. And it’s my understanding that that’s exactly the kind of wash of judgement that femina shakes set out to avoid.

Perhaps the strongest issue I have with comparing Richard to Trump is the plain fact that Richard is disabled. Trump famously mocked a disabled journalist. The women playing Richard walked with a cane, but used it to their physical advantage, swaggering around and taking up space with it. This doesn’t fit with the text, as in Richard’s first monologue he clearly explains how his disability has affected him: “Why I in this weak piping time of peace / have no delight to pass away the time / unless to spy my shadow in the sun / and descant on mine own deformity”. Yes, he chooses to play the villain, but the entire reason he does so is because the able bodied world in which he lives actively leaves him out.

This production seemed to sort of want to lessen the direct comparison to Trump, because they split the character of Richard up and had three different actors playing him. However, any attempt to separate the character of Richard from a direct Trump analogy was negated by the fact that after every scene, a relevant Trump tweet that mirrored a Richard line was sent to the audience’s phones. The original concept of splitting up Richard into multiple bodies was explained by the director in the following words: “multiple actors will take on the role of Richard as well as other roles, as we are looking to deliberately decentralize a comfortable single focus on one idiosyncratic individual, and to reflect and refract his identity in multiple diverse bodies”. Though that works as a concept, it is not actually the way that the play was cast. The role of Richard was played by three white women, in a cast with six people of color and nine cast members total. I therefore feel comfortable in assuming that the choice to give the role of Richard to the only three white actors in the room was a deliberate choice. Was this done to highlight the role of white women in modern day oppression? That again works as a concept, but it doesn’t work in conjunction with the concept of splitting the role of Richard into diverse bodies, or the concept of comparing Richard directly to Trump. All these ideas seemed to be strangely conflated, in a way that actually resulted in a two hour show of three white actors with all the lines and power performing Trump-esque rhetoric, and six actors of color getting beheaded, smothered, and killed in various other ways.

At the end of the play when Richard is finally killed, a series of texts were sent to the audience’s phones which were quotes about resistance through artmaking. Here is one of them that particularly stood out to me:

“As we continue to shatter ceilings and break through invisible barriers, we pave a way.” – Ashley Abercrombie

The “glass ceiling” metaphor is familiar to many, but for any that are unfamiliar it is an analogy for the barrier in this society that keeps women from positions of power, that remains largely unseen and unbreakable. With this quote, femina shakes seems to be claiming that their production of Richard was an act of breaking through the glass ceiling for women. Did they cast women and non binary people in parts that otherwise would only be available to men? Yes. But the race of the actors still stands. The black, asian, and latina women and non binary people in the room were cast only as supporting roles, which is not breaking through any glass in my book. In addition to this, femina shakes made the decision to cast a cis man in the part of Lady Anne. There are many women at this school who are never given the opportunity to play women throughout their entire time at BU. Since there is much more material in the canon that is written by male playwrights and that features male characters, the women to men ratio of characters is often not equal to the women to men ratio of students. I personally have only ever been cast as children at this school, ranging from 6 to 14, and would love the opportunity to one day play a woman. Though I appreciate that an attempt is being made to include non binary and trans individuals by including all genders, my current stance is that I do not agree with the choice to cast a man in a female role with depth and an arc, as many women here will not ever get to play a female role with depth and an arc.

The fact that the play then ended with Alice, a black actor who had played only supporting roles, punching through a ceiling of pink string accompanied by the sound of glass breaking, was frankly upsetting.

Again, I put these opinions and thoughts forward as a means of starting conversation, not as a way to cast blame. Not having been involved in the process of building the show, I of course may have overlooked or misconstrued things. I would be happy to engage with anyone who has thoughts about the production.

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Gender On Stage

I’m thinking about gender-bending for plays that do not call for it.

I am specifically thinking about a situation where one of my cis-female friends is looking for a play to mount with several other collaborators. She, along with two of the other collaborators has grown an interest in Annie Baker’s “The Aliens”- a play that features three male characters and focuses on the theme of male mentorship.

The final collaborator feels that putting women in these roles puts a lens on the story that changes the meaning and, therefore, wants to find a play that was written with female characters.

This is not such an easy request. So many female characters are written with a weak arc, and so many female characters with a strong arc are found in plays that requires more actors than this group is working with.

I have an outside eye in this situation and do not know the full details, but hearing about it got me thinking about gender on stage and casting people who do not identify in life with the gender of a character as a concept on the whole.

Every time we cast someone, we are casting their gender. It’s a casting done on top of the everyday gender casting that we do. Putting a body onstage that conflicts with an audience’s idea of what gender that character is based on their behavior or the clothes that they wear calls into question what gender is, in the first place. It asks us to examine the binary of male/female and the rules we associate with those roles. Traditional casting does not ask these questions but, instead, uses established rules of gender to communicate a story that audiences can recognize as familiar. Either way, it’s a choice. There is no way to cast a play without putting a lens of gender on it. One lens is familiar, while the countless other options are not.

I would be wildly interested to see a play performed by people who do not fit the label of man perform this play while upholding the essence of the story. I would be interested to see what meaning gets changed, what seems different or funny or impossible or easier or strange in a way that it would not if it were played by people that looked like men. I would also be interested to see what the essential story is- what part of the story is completely unchanged by which body acts out the roles.

 

 

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This minute

First I was going to write about some me examples of productions that I’m thinking about in relationship to gender bending:

FemShakes

Lord of the Flies (Directed by Jeremy at the CFA)

Men on Boats

David Mamet shutting down a production of Oleanna – https://ravishly.com/2014/06/24/david-mamet-shuts-down-gender-bender-production-oleanna

CABARET

Cloud 9

And in the middle of thinking about how I was going to structure what I wanted to say, how each play raises different questions, and how I need to get this post in, and how I just wish I could talk about it instead of having to write it out, and how arduous it is to have to explain myself, and I have to get this done and I better get working and it better be good, how long are these supposed to be I don’t know if I’ve done them right, I think they’ve all been stupid, I don’t think I’m cut out for this. I want to go home and I never want to think about theatre again. Then Miles walked in and spoke about a conversation he had with Ilana that put his mind at ease about deadlines and stress, and I thought about why I’m deciding to be so stressed out as opposed to delving into something creative and then I thought why do I have so much resistance and then I thought what if I didn’t do that and then I thought what would Ilana say and then I thought

“What do I want to write about?”

I just had a dramaturgy class- the last dramaturgy class- where we spoke about what we’ve learned this semester. I didn’t say anything because I didn’t have anything to say until the very end. I had something to say at the end because my classmates really hit on something- the way dramaturgical thinking applies to any creative process. They spoke about how it’s a way of making choices that takes as much information into account as possible. It’s a way of looking out for your audience. What struck me about that is that it’s invisible. It can be difficult to trace it back to its source.

How do we honor something that’s invisible, something that is successful when it throws focus away from itself? How do we acknowledge it, completely and fully?

It’s telling that this is what struck me about that conversation. I need to acknowledge more generously all the specific acts of successful dramaturgy that I have provided for my class, my friends, the CFA, and all of the rooms I have ever walked into. All those thoughtful moments where I took the entirety of the situation- the full feelings of an individual, the lack of communication occurring, the failure of one party to see through their own pain- and transformed that moment into something useful have actually been quite extensive. I have seen the effects of those actions ripple out and I have received a lot of positive feedback and appreciation for it. That is really cool.

Lately, those moment of successful dramaturgy have been fewer. Often, in fact, I find myself blatently and directly refusing to take the useful route and instead stuck in self-pity and despair. I feel self conscious and lost. I feel concerned about where I am, where I’m going, if I’m doing alright, if I’m good enough, if people like me, if I’ve been too much, if my time here has been wasted, why I can’t be best friends with everyone, etc.

I think there was an extremely harsh pattern that I established early on in this program where I refused to acknowledge good work done. I refused to say “wow, chloe, you nailed that one and a lot of people felt you explode that room. you did it.” I decided to make it never enough. So then that part of me that does great work, that engages, that is strong and powerful and infinitely interested in this world, turned around and walked in the other direction. Because I refused to see it. So now it’s hard for me to see it and find it when I need it. The more i start saying “you did that well” the more I’m going to have access to all the things I do well. Which, at the root of it, “doing things well” is just that deep ability to listen and respond to each moment.

I feel like I have a choice to step back into the stream of my life, and self love and acknowledgement are my handholds. Whateverrrrrrrrr it’s cheasy. It’s true.