Trans—moving across, beyond, through, changing thoroughly.
Isn’t this the life of the artist?
Moving across the country for that writing gig, or that acting job. Telling stories beyond what we had previously imagined. Getting through impossible circumstances—juggling day jobs, living in precarious financial circumstances, just getting through to the next time the art can be the thing. And always changing thoroughly—changing costumes, changing cities, the work itself changing us from the inside out.
Elkhart, London, Los Angeles, Orlando, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Chicago, DC, Boston.
Some cities I’ve called home. The journey towards the art has transported me around the world. Had I sat still, in one place, if I were still making home in Elkhart, Indiana, who would I be? What would New York City be if all the artists had stayed home? Or Chicago?
Art requires transitions from place to place. Maybe even transubstantiation—a good Catholic word, long on the tongue, you feel the change in the word even as you speak it—the bread and wine become embodied. So something about movement changes us, makes us more whole, more real, more inside our own bodies? Trans is action and wholeness.
I’m at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in the women’s restroom washing my hands. A woman walks in, “I must be in the wrong place,” she says and walks out. Then she walks back in, “No, you’re in the wrong place,” she says, seething with confidence. I walk out, not sure of my place.
The body has so often been compared to home. The body is my temple. But my temple betrays me. The trans body can feel like perpetual homelessness—no definitive bricks and mortar—homelessness inside the contours of your own shape.
At sea inside your own self. The sea in mythology is always a place of transition, a moving away from or toward home and it’s never clear in the Greeks if the sea will kill us or deliver us.
I’ve never been sure if my body would kill me or deliver me.
And sometimes the combinations of homelessness—which city am I in now? Which body will be seen now?—can feel like too much. Will I be in New York seeing a show when they call me sir, will I be dramaturging in Los Angeles when it decides to “yes ma’m” me? Please Chicago, don’t call me lady. And oh my, the looks I got in North Dakota—I would have begged that state to pick any pronoun.
And we feel the pressure to settle down right? Don’t your parents ask your artist self things like: when are you going to buy a house? When are you going to get a real job? When are you planning to get serious? And living trans for me begs that question every morning: Which body will I settle down in today? Should I become something unambiguous? Should I make everyone else comfortable today and skip the tie? Should I transition in the fullest sense of that word, change thoroughly? And then will I suddenly become unambiguous? Will that be home?
It seems politically incorrect to suggest homelessness as a path, or to lobby for home as ambiguous. As a profession we’ve become pretty obsessed with the concrete. We like to build new theaters because it suggests stability—that we’re here to stay. But can art ever be so sure of itself? And we know the body is a crapshoot when it comes right down to it. My good friend in her early forties just got breast cancer. Some days the body, in a philosophical sense, just pisses me off so much in all its trans-ness—I only have so much control over its journey toward home.
Home turns in on itself. Remember the mortgage crisis when homes and everyone inside went under water? We’re at sea as a nation, and as a few people start to float to the surface to rebuild, will Wall Street sink us again? I don’t even know how to begin to talk globally about home and displacement. What do we do with our own border crisis? We’re all living on the edge. I know I’m not alone.
My trans body lives on the edge of home. My artistic body does too—so many cities over time. And it’s hard not to want to build foundations, to give in to the desire to pour concrete somewhere. But I’ve spent many years at the border of competing genders, learning to live without that sense of home—some days I thrive there, and other days I’m just flailing along. And it’s the imaginative home of theater where I rest most easily—where the stories we tell hold the possibility of reshaping the world, broadening the possibilities for how we can define ourselves and where we live.
This piece, "The Trans Artistic Body" by P. Carl was originally published on HowlRound, on 23 October 2014.
What does it mean to build a work inside a queer container? What does it mean to queer a rehearsal room or queer a directing practice? I am interested in the experiment of talking about directing from the perspective of my trans identity and seeing what happens when I do. I am certain it informs the way I work, but I’ve never tried to define how.
I am a transperson in the American theatre. Sometimes I joke that I think there are maybe eight to ten of us in the field and we all seem to know each other. But the point is, I am a queer body in a predominantly straight space and it’s part of my job to navigate issues of gender and identity alongside the work I do in rehearsal. I went through a phase in which I outed myself right away to a new group of collaborators. I’d say, “Hello, my name is Will Davis and I use he and him pronouns. If this is confusing to you feel free to grab me at a break and we can check in.”
I went through a phase where I said, “Hello, my name is Will Davis. I use he and him pronouns so take a crack at that and if you have trouble, just go ahead and try again.” These days I am experimenting with not outing myself as trans at all. I say, “Hello, I am Will Davis and I’m directing this show.”
I’ve had a lot of practice walking into a room of people who have never known a transperson before, and a lot of practice with the moment where what Will Davis looks like on paper and what Will Davis looks like standing in the doorway come crashing together. I have practice owning myself in a room that may not have the language or context to see me as I see myself. And so the internal compass that makes it possible to maintain my sense of Will Davis when no one on the outside can see it is constantly getting a workout—that same compass is also very useful for making theatre.
“Part of queering the rehearsal requires that I get interested in the taste and style of my collaborators. It feels like my job to find unique ways that the
material can be transmitted through the artist instead of projected onto them, and my aim is to build a rehearsal room where there is a rigorous invitation to show up inside the work.”
The four ideas I want to explore in this piece fall under the larger umbrella of building the culture of a rehearsal room. By culture, I am talking about the values and aesthetics and modes of our working relationships with each other and the material. Though I begin each process differently, I carry a handful of practices with me show-to-show to design a unique working frame for what we’re going to accomplish in that room. As directors, we use our own curiosity, taste, style, and artistic impulses to build the particular mode of inquiry for the work. So, in service of building culture with a queered center, here are four core values of my directing process I carry with me:
1. Making Work from the Center of Your Desire
The idea of working from the center of your desire has been a big part of my coming out. The very idea that there was a center to find was a radical thought for me for a long time. In my life and in my art, I’d lived a long time at the periphery, waiting for the gravitational pull of someone else’s desire or someone else’s vision to pull me into action. As I have come to own my identity and pieced together the core values of what it means for me to be a queer person redefining my relationship to gender, I’ve been able to inch closer and closer to center, and to building a home for my artistic vision.
A great friend of mine once said: our work should look like the people who make it. I often think of that when I stand in a room of new collaborators. In one way, how can the piece not look like the people who make it? But in another way, rehearsal is a unique invitation to lift up the particular alchemy of the bodies and minds assembled to build the work. We should encourage the visions of the artists we work with, and make space for their impulses with the work. Part of queering the rehearsal requires that I get interested in the taste and style of my collaborators. It feels like my job to find unique ways that the material can be transmitted through the artist instead of projected onto them, and my aim is to build a rehearsal room where there is a rigorous invitation to show up inside the work.
2. The Best Idea in the Room Does Not Need to Be Mine
When I talk about directing, I talk about inviting the expertise in the room. We often forget that one of the unique principals of coming together to make theatre is that we are coming together. We’re placing our individual visions in the same space. To my mind, that means we ought to let those visions sharpen each other and make us all better.
My job is to frame rehearsal with very, very good ideas so that perhaps the best idea might come from a collaborator inside the process. The greatest success to me is when I put a good idea in the room, and an actor’s eyes light up and they say, “I know!” and then make a choice that refines it into a better idea.
This feels like part of a queer aesthetic because it is an integral part of turning a generative hierarchy on its side—a very queer thing to me. Just because I am on the outside watching does not mean I am always right. I want to cultivate agency and ownership in the performers I work with. They should feel invited to generate material and treated like authentic collaborators. This ups the potential for disagreement, which I think is exciting and valuable. I’m interested in open collaborative relationships and how our varied perspectives can
help to sharpen our decision-making.
I am not at all interested in the right choice in rehearsal. How could there be such a thing? Instead, I am interested in making a series of choices and seeing where that leads. If you grow up knowing that there are right and wrong ways to be and somewhere inside you it is alarmingly apparent that you are an example of the wrong thing, then the moment you can let go of that right and wrong binary is the moment you are free. I want to stay curious about how we might best activate the narrative vision, and that means I’m interested in other people’s ideas.
Director Will Davis (center) leading a rehearsal of Evita at the Olney Theatre Center. Photo courtesy of Olney Theatre Center.
3. Invite Being Seen
This phrase, Invite Being Seen is borrowed from the great choreographer Deborah Hay and was first described to me by my mentor Kirk Lynn. To me, the phrase is about practicing presence. It describes an invitation to generate your performance from where you are and invite people to join you there. The best performances are the ones where I am seeing both the character and the actor in action. I’m interested in the moments where both ways of being onstage are activated and I’m invited to live with the performer in that complex moment of identity.
When I talk to actors during a moment in rehearsal when they’re not feeling successful, I sometimes say, “I picked you because you were you. I want the you in you to perform this role.” This feels totally tied into my experience as a queer person moving through the world. The space between who we are and how we perform identity is now a joyful and playful space for me. There was a time when it was harrowing, and I felt helpless trying to navigate the huge chasm between the internal unknown and what I thought was a required external performance of who I was.
It seems to me that it is more interesting to be many things at once. My life has been enriched by the concept that I can get up in the morning and put my gender on. I can choose how I want to perform my gender and my identity as my internal concept of myself shifts. I want to invite the same practice in performance, open up the space for the actor to be more than one thing and attempt to be present for their selves and for the performance in the same moment.
4. Let a thing be wrong as long as possible: cultivate a fierce love for imperfect things. The greatest skill a director has is the tolerance for “I don’t know.”
The number of times I’ve said to myself, you can’t just sit here and not make decisions, you have to get up and walk straight into I don’t know, is the number of times that I have seen my life revolutionized.
The great thing about walking into the unknown is that you have little to no control of the outcome. That’s where tolerance comes in, and I have found in my life and in rehearsal that tolerance is the most important value. If I try not to react with fear when I don’t know what you are doing, but instead tolerate that it won’t go well for a while, I have found that eventually something happens that feels good.
It can be the smallest thing: a cross up left, a line landing right, the beat it took to make the decision to speak, and then suddenly you’re in business. Something tells you, okay, that seems useful, let’s follow that—let’s make a series of decisions based on that little detail and through those decisions we’ll arrive at a plan.
“As I have learned to do with myself, I sit in rehearsal and fiercely love what isn’t working. I try to find the joy in it. It’s an exciting moment.”
This method of working through the unknown and working with a bit of grace with the imperfect is the only way I have managed to arrive at a sense of self in my life. I’ve had to learn to listen to the impulse inside me that says, “just cross the threshold, I have no idea why or what will happen but just do it and we’ll sort it out on the other side.” That was true when I changed my name, it was true when I started making physical changes to my body, and it is true today.
Working with I don’t know is all about having a conversation with your limit. It is not a soft or easy place, or a space of giving up. I don’t know is a call to arms. It says we’ve taken this idea to its limit, and now we have to get in there and grapple with I don’t know until the next move becomes clear. It’s a place for quickening and a space for new visions and creativity.
As I have learned to do with myself, I sit in rehearsal and fiercely love what isn’t working. I try to find the joy
in it. It’s an exciting moment. Here we are sitting in what feels like a disaster, so let’s ask: What is useful here? Is there something to salvage? Is this the information we need to totally abandon this moment or this concept? It can be an incredible thing to “break” the play and see what it looks like in pieces. We don’t need to be precious; we just need to keep working.
Perhaps this is just what I think good directing is, but it seems to correlate with ideas I encounter in queer spaces. On a basic level, I’m talking about dismantling a binary between the director and the actor, approaching the creative process with a more holistic, come-as-you-are attitude, and activating a less hierarchical frame for good ideas.
Because I spend more of my hours on the planet in rehearsal than I do anywhere else, I am curious about how to operate and animate my values in the work and in the process. It seems to me that trying to talk about a queered rehearsal room results in talking about good collaboration, or at the very least inviting collaborative dialogue. It also seems to be about inviting authentic expression, showing up inside the work, asking others to do the same, and letting the creative process complicate as a result.
This piece, "Queering The Room: Some Beginning Notions for A Queer Directing Practice" by Will Davis was originally published on HowlRound, on 24 October 2014.
A recent production of Tim Price's The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning, produced by Inis Nua Theatre Company, prompted many private conversations, an open letter, and a robust conversation in our close-knit theater community about how transgender people are represented in theater both locally and nationally. This piece of writing is a summary and next-steps aspirational document, meant to help cisgender artists who are working with trans artists. Please share it widely.
We decided to try to create some basic guidelines for future theater (and dance) productions that work with trans themes or trans people. This is by no means meant to represent the full scope of beliefs held by the advocates and artists who signed the original open letter. It is a manifesto of sorts, written by MJ Kaufman and Amy Smith. MJ is a trans playwright and performer based in Philadelphia, whose work often involves trans themes. Amy is a Co-Director of Headlong Dance Theater, which has collaborated several times with trans people as creator/performers in their work, and has had many trans and genderqueer students at their Headlong Performance Institute.
1) Nothing about us without us. (This phrase was coined by the disability rights movement)
Please don’t produce a play about a trans person without any trans people involved. A post-show panel does not count. Trans people need to be involved in the creation of work about trans people. You shouldn’t produce a play about a trans person written by a cis playwright, directed by a cis director and with an all-cis cast, without any trans presence. If you are producing work about trans people, please also produce work by trans people. Telling our stories without us risks falling into harmful stereotypes that have material effects on people’s lives. In our current political moment cis writers’ stories about trans people are privileged over trans writers writing their own stories, and this needs to change.
2) Please don’t exploit trans stories to be “edgy” and only show tragic trans characters.
There are trans parents, trans accountants, trans teens, trans bus drivers in our city and there should be as many plays about them as there are about Chelsea Manning. Tragedy and ordinariness are all possible. Why not just take a character in a play that’s not about trans people, hire a trans actor, and make that role a trans person?
3) We are in a state of emergency.
In this country, trans lives are constantly in danger. This year saw a record number of murders of trans people, in particular trans women of color. We live in a culture of violence, and theater can actually help raise awareness of trans stories and trans lives, but only if it’s done with sensitivity and awareness. Perpetrating harmful stereotypes has huge consequences on people's lives.
4) Need help “finding” the trans artists in our community?
Put out a casting call or open call for new plays. There are many trans theater and dance artists in our city who would love to be offered an opportunity to direct, act, dance, workshop, or have their play produced. Spend time building meaningful relationships with trans artists and audiences.
5) Don’t assume gender.
At auditions, workshops, or rehearsals, when people introduce themselves, ask everyone to say what gender pronoun they use, and then use it.
6) Be thoughtful about costuming.
Of course theater often involves “dressing up” and playing characters that are far away from who we really are. But for trans people it can be difficult when they feel pressure from directors or costume designers to wear clothing based on their gender at birth, if it has no impact on the meaning of the piece. The same goes for dressing rooms, or costume fittings. Be sensitive and mindful of their feelings; ask all artists involved in a project what dressing room they would be most comfortable in.
7) Don’t assume. Do research; educate yourself and your co-workers.
There are answers to all of your questions readily available on the internet. There are educators who you can pay to train your staff on trans awareness. Ask your questions of the internet and educators rather than requiring trans artists to educate you. This is exhausting work, and not all trans people are comfortable answering your questions.
This is meant as an initial offering and we hope that trans artists will continue to add to and develop these guidelines.
MJ Kaufman and Amy Smith, from their manifesto
To Whom It May Concern,
Hi! I'm Taylor, a genderqueer theatremaker based in New York City. I'm writing in regards to your recent complete casting announcement for Southern Comfort, the new musical you’re producing which will open in March 2016. As you know, the musical is inspired by a documentary of the same name, which follows a transgender couple in rural Georgia as they battle disease, stigma, and poverty.
A few months ago, you put out a casting call for Southern Comfort, specifically seeking transgender actors. When I saw this casting call, I was thrilled! It gave me such joy to see that The Public was not only investing in a story about the experiences of trans folk, but was doing the legwork to make sure this story was cast accurately, with transgender performers. Even when I discovered that you were only seeking trans performers for two roles in the piece, I felt confident that The Public was casting the piece so that both trans stories AND trans actors would be at its center.
However, the complete casting announcement that you released this past Thursday, December 17, proves that I was mistaken. Yes, you did cast two transgender performers in those two roles. I am thrilled that you did this, and want to publicly congratulate Donnie Cianciotto and Aneesh Sheth. I'm so excited for the beautiful work they are sure to do in this piece.
But the protagonists of the story, the trans couple that form the emotional crux of Southern Comfort, have both been cast with cisgender, i.e. not transgender, actors. So has every other performance role in the piece, from the band to the acting ensemble. The writers and director are also cisgender. In fact, based on this announcement, the only two transgender people involved with this production, a musical that is entirely focused on trans experiences, are the two performers I mentioned earlier.
This announcement caused me to ask several questions which I'd like to put to you now.
Why did The Public choose to cast and staff a musical that overwhelmingly focused on trans narratives with an almost entirely cisgender cast and creative team? I have a hard time imagining it was due to a lack of appropriate or skilled trans talent for any of the roles or positions in the piece - there are now entire agencies dedicated to trans performance talent. And any trans theatre artist in this city - and indeed, many cisgender ones - can give you a list of talented, professional, transgender peformers, choreographers, directors, and musicians.
Did The Public seek out any trans theatre artists for advice of this kind? If not, why not? Certainly The Public knows of the city's vibrant trans and queer theatre community, and knew that members of that community would be interested in the development of this piece. Why not consult them, then? Why not include trans folk in the process for a piece about trans experiences?
Is this production meant to serve NYC's trans communities? How can it, when those in charge of it only felt the need to cast two roles in it with trans actors? The past couple of years have been incredibly difficult for American trans communities on many levels. On a cultural level, more and more trans narratives are being highlighted in plays, movies, and television shows every year, but only a small fraction of the roles in those narratives are being given to trans performers. A quick Google search or, again, a conversation with almost any trans person or artist will give you an idea of how deeply insulting and disheartening this practice is. Every day, trans people the world over are told that their identities are not real, are invalid, are just a show. But our identities are not negotiable, and our collective ability to tell stories based in trans experiences and history shouldn't be either. Why would The Public further fuel this damaging notion that trans people aren't competent enough to tell their own community's stories?
Is The Public doing anything to support the potential trans audience base for Southern Comfort? Is it providing discounted or cheaper tickets to local trans organizations? Is it making sure that trans patrons will feel safe and well taken care of in the theatre space? Then again, how many trans people will want to devote time and energy to yet another story where trans narratives are put on display, but actual trans people are pushed to the side?
Perhaps contracts or arrangements were already in place that would make it impossible for The Public to produce Southern Comfort without hiring such a large number of cis collaborators. Why, then, did The Public choose to produce it in the first place? If The Public's aim was to create a theatrical experience that celebrated trans lives, why not commission a new piece about trans experiences and then cast and staff it with local trans artists? We already know that the Public is capable of conducting a nationwide search for trans actors. If it's capable of doing such big and important casting work, why artificially limit it to two roles? Why not create a piece in which every cast and team member can be trans? Then again, was The Public's aim to create a trans musical for the benefit of trans people? Is The Public really trying to do right by trans folk with this piece, or is it just jumping on the trans story bandwagon, producing Southern Comfort in an effort to stay relevant or on-trend, and not in an effort to empower or centralize trans experiences?
If you're going to produce a story at the expense of the community whose history its meant to focus on, why produce it at all?
Lastly, I question why The Public didn't follow the leads of other artistic production teams who have already, successfully, cast all the trans roles available to them with trans performers. The casting process for Taylor Mac's HIR, which is now in its third extension at Playwrights Horizons, recently created some wonderful protocols for finding and casting trans performers, all within the last year. That casting process was almost certainly more difficult than most, but it clearly wasn't impossible. Why would The Public not follow Playwrights' lead? Was it not willing to take on that added difficulty in casting? Why was it easy enough to seek out and cast two trans actors, but not five or six? Who made that call? Who drew that line between "enough effort put into equitable casting" and "too much effort put into equitable casting", a line that, as far as I can tell, is inherently arbitrary and unjust? Why cut corners when it comes to representative storytelling in Southern Comfort?
These are not rhetorical questions. In fact, I would love for this letter to serve as the starting point for a conversation between The Public and the NYC trans artist community, and the trans community at large, one in which The Public can answer all of these questions and more. I'd love to hear how The Public plans on collaborating and interacting with these trans communities. And, more than anything else, I would love to hear how The Public plans on being an ally to these communities, both inside and outside of the theatre.
I love The Public. It's been crucial to my growth as an artist and person for many years now, and I can't wait for the next Under the Radar Festival to kick off.
But when someone asks me if The Public is an ally to trans people, I want to be able to answer with a resounding 'Yes!'
And right now, I can only answer that question with a cautious "Yes. Occasionally. Only if it's easy enough."
What are you going to do about that?
Taylor Edelhart, Co-sign the letter here.
I believe belief is for assholes.
I believe irony is useful and fun at the beginning of a performance but tedious if held on to.
I believe that truth, in the theater, is often confused with a clearing away of theatricality. I believe the clearing away of theatricality is as much of a glorious lie as the theatrical. I believe homophobia, racism, and sexism (in the theater) often manifests itself through the championing of “Realism” and or “Quiet” plays.
I believe people who use quotation marks with their fingers are assholes.
I believe, as a theater artist, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. Because I believe, as a theater artist, I’m not a teacher; I’m a reminder. I’m just trying to remind you of things you’ve dismissed, forgotten, or buried.
I believe self-consciousness kills creativity. So we must work together to create environments where we can kill self-consciousness first. Make your rehearsal room a place that kills self-consciousness. Ask yourself, “Will these florescent lights kill self-consciousness?” No? Then light the rehearsal room with pleasant lighting already.
I believe designers should be in the room everyday, playing, not just sitting and taking notes. I believe we must give our designers things to play with in the room. I believe designers and even stage managers should do warm ups with the company.
I believe love when used as a verb is true and when used as a noun is a lie.
I believe you can make a living as a theater artist but in order to do so, without making work you don’t like, you might need to think about falling in love with verbs more than nouns.
I believe money is never really the reason but often the excuse. So when you say you can’t do my play because it will cost too much, I know what you really mean is, “I’d rather spend the money that I have on something else”. I believe that’s fair.
I believe if you set a financial goal, you will reach it and if that financial goal is small, your budget will be small, artists will barely get paid, and everyone will be a little grumpy.
I believe if NYC had no art and only Wall Street, nobody would want to live here. And so I believe 10% of all Wall Street salaries should go to artists.
I believe administration is an art form but if you’re an administrator who really wants to do a different form of art, you should quit your administration job, do that other art, and make room for administrators to take your job who actually love what they do. Because I believe there is nothing better than working with someone who loves what they do.
I recognize that sometimes I hate what I do and that the grumpy people around me may be just going through one of the those hate-phases as well and to give them a break.
I believe sometimes it’s good to shut up and keep swimming but sometimes it’s good to say what you’re feeling when you’re feeling it.
I believe theater is a service industry. It’s like being a plumber and theater artists are blue-collar workers who wear better clothes, for the most part.
I believe theater artists should be students of humanity.
I believe, to learn what your audience needs, is the job but caution that sometimes we confuse need with want. Giving our audiences what they want is not the job. Sometimes giving them what they want is a fringe benefit or happy accident but it is not the job. I believe you may be saying to yourself, “That’s very presumptuous of him to think he knows what the audience needs” but I believe if I were a plumber you wouldn’t think it was presumptuous of me to say my job is to learn what your plumbing needs. You would say I was a good plumber.
I believe sometimes we confuse what the audience needs with what the artist wants. That makes crappy art. But I believe there is room for it all. Including crappy art.
I believe authentic failure on stage is one of the great art forms.
I believe I sometimes fail at my job and I sometimes succeed and that humanity exists in both. I believe if I want my audiences to experience the range of their humanity, and I do, then I must reflect back at them, authentic success and authentic failure.
I believe I did not move from the suburbs to the city to see work about the suburbs. I believe if we model our theater after a suburban mentality we will perpetuate the status quo. I believe the great American middle class is not great. I believe the Greeks and Shakespeare wrote about successful people falling from grace, in their tragedies, and they wrote about down and out people rising and falling in and out of doldrums, in their comedies, but didn’t bother with the middle class because the middle class is boring.
Middle class stories are neither tragic nor wildly comedic simply because, when it comes to the middle class, the stakes aren’t high enough. Take that, Willy Loman.
But I believe most plays nowadays are sadly about the middle class.
As a result, I believe it is hard to find works of consequence. I believe in works of consequence and hope to make all of my plays and performances works of consequence. I believe if something doesn’t happen in your play that changes all the characters, players, and audience then it isn’t worth doing.
I believe if you’re a theater artist you are not cool so stop acting like you are.
I believe whole-heartedly in craft. I believe craft is essentially a commitment to learning the past, living in the present, and dreaming the culture forward. But I believe establishing standards for craft will not create great art but will foster the patriarchy. I believe contradictions and inspiring questions make great theater but sometimes wish I and other theater artists would just decide already.
I believe if you don’t see your story on stage… that is a good thing. Have a little curiosity already. I believe the call for Universality in the theater is a way of telling minorities they should act like the Majority. I believe minority theater artists are often asked to create work that the Majority can see themselves in. I believe if you’re a semi-wealthy white woman and you work for a fancy theater and you go to the Humana Festival and see The Universes, a hip-hop theater company that is made up of minority theater artists, and you don’t like it because you wonder, “Where the middle aged white woman’s story was in all of that?” The answer is, “In all the other plays at the Humana Festival”.
Having said that, I believe the audience matters. I believe the audience should matter so much that without them the play and players could never reach the stories end. I believe each performance of a play or performance piece should be different from the previous performance of said piece. And not in simple ways but in giant brave adventurous ways. I believe the audience deserves to alter the outcome of the events. I believe that it is essential for performing artists, each night they go on stage, despite the author and directors intentions, to not know whether the performance will be a tragedy or a comedy.
I believe all plays are flawed except the extremely boring ones so stop trying to make my play perfect.
I believe perfection is for assholes.
I love assholes, but I don’t want them to run the theater.
It’s okay if they make some theater but they shouldn’t act like they run it.
I believe being an asshole is often a good thing but sometimes it’s, just being an asshole.
I believe we should say sorry ever so often when our passions get the better of us.
I believe Artistic Directors should say hello to the performers that come to work in their theaters and that, in my experience, more than half of you do not. I believe this is unbelievably rude, hurtful, and counterproductive. I believe if you don’t want to meet me, you shouldn’t book me at your theater.
I believe Richard Foreman is commercial theater. I believe my work and all “experimental work”, is commercial theater. I believe the non-profit sector is and has been incredible but that it’s taught audiences that theater is something most people won’t want to see. I believe, like the fashion world does with experimental work, where they market it as the best of what they have and as a result Alexander McQueen is the most successful selling show in the history of the Met, that if we stopped telling a vast majority of the people that they won’t like what we do, they would actually make space in their lives to consider what we do.
I believe someone reading this should give me lots of money to start my repertory theater. I believe a culture of repertory is the answer to most of our industry problems.
I believe if you freeze a play you kill it. I believe theater artists need long runs and need to tour in order to truly learn what their work can do.
I believe your lattzi, monologue, scene, play, manifesto, is not long enough.
I believe ten-minute play festivals should be excommunicated from our industry.
Because I believe we almost always stop before we’ve truly finished.
Most importantly I believe in surprise and that if you want to remind your audiences of the things they have dismissed, forgotten, or buried, then you need to surprise them.
I believe, in the theater, something surprising should happen every ten seconds.
And that, that surprise does not have to be big; it can be a breath.
Taylor Mac, I Believe