I wrote a few things on my personal Facebook page recently about Seagullmachine, the show that, at the time of this post, closed two days ago. I want to share them here, in a post I will surely edit and add to, as this process, the show itself, and the source materials for it are all spinning in my heart, soul, and mind still, and will likely continue to spin as I form words around the concepts that have been whipped up. For now, though- a copy/paste job of my personal musings:
Here's a somewhat-coherent rant about what makes it so emotionally hard to close this show:
As a trans artist who works mostly in the interpretive theater setting, as well as TV and film, it is extremely difficult and rare beyond belief that roles come up which I can play. 99% of the time those roles are trans and queer characters. When I say it is rare, I mean it's nearly impossible, that I would be called in for, much less cast in, a role that is not about being trans. Playing Konstantin and Hamlet, two roles that were not written for trans people, for whom transness is not only *not* a defining part of their story, but simply not even mentioned, is wildly unlikely, and yet here I am.
In this rendition of the Seagull, because of the intrusion of hamletmachine, I get a chance to play with the classic role and make it my own, and not because of my transness, but because of the concept of the piece. What this means is, in this case, is that I am a trans actor, playing a role of someone suicidal (problematic for reasons I won't outline here), and each night at the moment when the character is supposed to kill himself, I get to reach down and grab that moment and throw it as far away from me as possible, put my foot down, and say no. I'm not doing that. I'm not dying. I'm not killing myself. Too many of us have gone that way, and I'm not going to add to the numbers. Trans people will live, trans people will survive, trans people will thrive. I will thrive. We transform the expectation, and, without it being about my transness, it is entirely about my transness. But only for me. And nobody else. The moment's trans reference is subtle, so much so that it belongs to me and the other trans and queer people in the room. It is our own, and that is a gift.
Too often my transness is co-opted on stage, used to tell some other person's story, used as some kind of metaphor, or as a way of tacking on an extra diversity gold star. None of this is true of this piece. I was not cast because I am trans, I was cast because I fit the world The Assembly was building. Because this Konstantin so desperately wants to transform the world of art, and so do I. Because I share his passion for revolutionary forms and processes. And because I know what it is to love unwaveringly what can't love you back, so much so that you feel the disappointment may kill you.
Is this Konstantin trans? Maybe, and if he is, nobody, not his family, not the people he lives with, not his lover, friends, or anyone in the play, makes a big deal, or any deal of it. It is unquestioned and he is a boy. It is not the central conflict, it is not any conflict, it was simply that there is a trans actor playing the role of Konstantin, and if that makes him trans too, then what a world we created by that. A world where trans people are taken for who they are, and judged and treated, for better or worse, the way all the characters would be judged and treated in Chekhovian Russia, based on the merits of his behavior, not his identity.
Is this Hamlet trans? Absolutely. In Hamletmachine the absence of my own gender is in sharp focus several times throughout the piece, not as a focus of the piece itself, but due to the track but my Hamlet runs along, wavering between Ophelia and Hamlet. Again however, other than some shifting costumes, the performance of both these roles is consistently me, I'm not shifting from one personality to the next, I simply shed a layer to reveal another layer. No, it wasn't intended to be a trans role, but by casting me, it became one.
And what blows my mind is that throughout the process, even though there have been many opportunities to exploit my transness, or to invasively poke and prod at me to get some kind of inspiration for a more explicit trans reference to force this piece to be queer arbitrarily, no one has ever once brought up the fact that I am trans in such a way. I have rarely felt less exploited in my life. Other than works by and with other trans artists, some cis-led projects have called upon me to educate, to do basically free work of training the staff or other artists around me in the how to be a decent person to trans people, and this has never been the case in this show. I have been surrounded by simple, elegant allyship from the get go. Without the ego of performative cookie-grabbing "allies", and without me having to beg for people to be nice to me.
I will grieve the closing of this show, because I have very little faith in the theatre world to allow me these opportunities to be an agender transsexual and play with inner material other than transition and queerness. I will cry. I will process loss. But only so far as to realize that I now have to move past the belief that something like this is only possible once in a lifetime. I know now that it's possible, to feel affirmed, challenged, giddy with excitement over a project, and not to feel like my transness has to lead the way into that project, but my whole self can be appreciated and allowed to shine through.
The devastation of theatre is ephemerality.The Assembly's SEAGULLMACHINE, being in concept and execution site- and time-specific, spanning 400+ years of theatrical history, with its huge wall and many many pieces of furniture, with its dozens of extravagant costumes and its several television sets and its sound and its projection and its music and its dancing, and with at least 40 people involved in its making from start to finish, is one of those shows whose enormity usually would earn it the label "unproducible". The fact that The Assembly made it is a miracle beyond my imagination, like actually winning the lottery after dreaming about it for years.
Fascinated though our audiences have been by the thoughtful, grotesque and playful lenses through which we present our sumptuously varied angles on humanity, this weekend's extension was our final flight at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club.