16 17 December – February
Breaking the Gender Binary I.D. Festival at OBERON Unlocking Fingersmith
Sarah Waters’ Novel Onstage The Stories of
american repertory theater | expanding the boundaries of theater
C A M B R I D G E , MA $4,500,000
email@example.com / www.gailroberts.com / 617 245-4044
Building Community One Home at a Time Supporting: The Mt. Auburn Hospital, US Fund for UNICEF, The Guidance Center, Huntington Theatre Company, The Cambridge Jazz Festival, and Cambridge Community Foundation
2 2016/17 Season americanrepertorytheater.org
BOARD OF TRUSTEES Steve Johnson, Chair Amy Brakeman Laurie Burt Paul Buttenwieser RoAnn Costin Mike Dreese Zita Ezpeleta Michael Feinstein Provost Alan M. Garber Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Catherine Gellert Rebecca Grafstein Lori Gross Ann Gund Sarah Hancock Jonathan Hulbert Alan K. Jones Robin Kelsey Herman "Dutch" Leonard Serena Lese Dennis Masel Thomas B. McGrath Rebecca Milikowsky Ward Mooney Bob Murchison Dan Nova Andrew Ory Diane Paulus Diane Quinn Mike Sheehan Sid Yog BOARD OF ADVISORS Karen Mueller, Co-Chair Ann Gund, Co-Chair Paolo Abelli Frances Shtull Adams Yuriko Jane Anton Robert Bowie, Jr. Philip Burling* Greg Carr Antonia Handler Chayes* Lucy Chung Lizabeth Cohen Lisa Coleman Kathleen Connor Rohit Deshpande Susan Edgman-Levitan Shanti Fry Erin Gilligan Jonathan Glazer Candy Kosow Gold Rachael Goldfarb Barbara Wallace Grossman Peggy Hanratty Marcia Head James Higgins Horace H. Irvine II Brenda Jarrell Emma Torres Johnson Jerry Jordan Dean Huntington Lambert G. Barrie Landry Ursula Liff Tim McCarthy Travis McCready Irv Plotkin Martin Puchner Ellen Gordon Reeves Pat Romeo-Gilbert Linda U. Sanger Maggie Seelig Dina Selkoe John A. Shane Michael Shinagel Lisbeth Tarlow Sarasina Tuchen Susan Ware Michael Yogman Stephen H. Zinner, M.D. *Emeriti
Artistic Directorâ€™s Welcome DIANE PAULUS The Terrie and Bradley Bloom Artistic Director American Repertory Theater
WELCOME TO THE AMERICAN REPERTORY THEATER In light of the recent election, I am reminded of the ever more important role of the arts in a challenging political climate. At a time when we are experiencing a dismaying spike in hate crimes, theater holds a radical potential for empathy and connection, one that can carry us forward through this increasingly divisive time. This December and January, we continue our 2016/17 Season by featuring stories that ask us to engage with a wide range of experiences. In December, we present Fingersmith, adapted from the popular novel by Sarah Waters, whose feminist perspective brings a contemporary resonance to the classic form of the Victorian crime thriller. The show is directed by Bill Rauch (Artistic Director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Director of All the Way) and adapted by Alexa Junge (an award-winning television writer for shows including "Friends," "Grace and Frankie," and "The West Wingâ€?). Originally created at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Fingersmith continues its journey of development here at the A.R.T. Read on in this Guide for an article by Alexa Junge about the process of bringing Waters' novel to the stage, and an interview with director Bill Rauch. In January, the A.R.T. is proud to produce the US premiere of Trans Scripts, Part I: The Women. Humorous and poignant, Trans Scripts is woven from interviews with trans women from the United States, the UK, and Australia that were conducted by playwright Paul Lucas over the past 10 years. Trans Scripts is part of an ongoing initiative at A.R.T. to feature the work of transgender and gender non-conforming artists. During the run of Trans Scripts, OBERON will present the I.D. Festival, a curated selection of work that engages with themes of gender and identity. This Guide includes an interview with Becca Blackwell on their upcoming work They, Themself and Schmerm as well as an article written by Trans Scripts performer Bianca Leigh about the multiple voices represented in the production. Lastly, this December, the A.R.T. is thrilled to continue its tradition of holiday family programming with James and the Giant Peach. Celebrating the centenary of Roald Dahl's birth, this production features a cast from the A.R.T.'s Institute for Advanced Theater Training, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this season. Thank you for joining our community at the A.R.T.
The 2016/17 Season is supported in part by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, which receives support from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the National Endowment for the Arts.
COVER Erin Markey and Becca Blackwell. Photo: Allison Michael Orenstein.
FOUNDING DIRECTOR Robert Brustein
americanrepertorytheater.org 2016/17 Season 3
A.R.T. in the World Productions created in Cambridge have been seen around the world. Hereâ€™s a selection of work being experienced by audiences in the US and abroad. Learn more at: americanrepertorytheater.org/ART-InTheWorld 4 2016/17 Season americanrepertorytheater.org
Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 Broadway: Opened November 2016
Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education
2econd Stage: October – December 2016
Sleep No More
McKittrick Hotel: Opened March 2011 (ongoing)
Broadway: Opened April 2016 (ongoing)
On Screen All the Way HBO: May 2016
On the Road Finding Neverland
US Tour: October 2016 - August 2017
London Father Comes Home From The Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3)
Royal Court Theatre: September - October 2016
Finding Neverland West End: Opens May 2017
The Glass Menagerie West End: January - April 2017
West End: November 2016 - February 2017
US Tour: December 2016 - April 2017
2nd US Tour: January 2017 - June 2017
Sleep No More
US Tour: begins October 2017
americanrepertorytheater.org 2016/17 McKinnon Hotel: Opened December 2016 Season 5
A.R.T.’s 2015 production of Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, now on Broadway. Photo: Gretjen Helene Photography
DECEMBER 4, 2016 JANUARY 8, 2017
Written by Alexa Junge Based on the novel by Sarah Waters Directed by Bill Rauch
The job seems simple at first: all pickpocket Sue Trinder has to do is help a con man cheat a gullible young heiress out of her fortune. But nothing is quite what it seems in this mystery set in the shadows of Victorian England. Spiraling through London streets, madhouses, and a stifling mansion with a shocking secret, Sue finds herself in the most dangerous landscape of all: awakening sexuality, love, and betrayal. Oregon Shakespeare Festival Artistic Director Bill Rauch (All the Way) directs this adaptation of Sarah Waters’ bestselling novel, a finalist for the Man Booker Prize.
ASL Interpreted Jan. 4, 7:30PM Jan. 7, 2PM Audio Described Jan. 5, 7:30PM Jan. 8, 2PM Open Captioned Jan. 5, 7:30PM Jan. 8, 2PM LARGE PRINT
Director Bill Rauch (All the Way), Artistic Director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, discusses his production of Fingersmith.
What attracted you to Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith and made you want to adapt it for the theater? That was all Alexa Junge, the playwright, who is an old and dear friend of mine. This is the first time we’ve ever worked together directly. Alexa has such a stunning way with words, and an extraordinary ear for surprising turns of phrase. When she told me that she had a dream of adapting this, her favorite novel, for the stage, I was so moved by her passion that we commissioned the project before I had even read it. And then I read the novel and became even more enthusiastic. Fingersmith is set in the murky criminal underworld of nineteenth century London, with period slang and costumes. But it is also an extremely modern production, centered on a queer love story that could never have been openly performed in the time that it is set. How do you approach historical projects with a twenty-first century mindset? I always look at period material through a contemporary lens. One of the things that I love about Sarah Waters’ novel and what Alexa has done with this play is how they reenvision history from a contemporary feminist and queer point of view. It gives this story agency and urgency in terms of why we are telling it right now. Hopefully I’m honoring the reality of people’s lives in that time and place by creating a work of art that is not only accessible, but also vital for contemporary audiences. This show has a large cast of idiosyncratic characters, from gentleman thieves to heiresses to lunatics. The last production you directed at the A.R.T. also featured a large cast: that was All the Way in 2013, which starred Bryan Cranston as Lyndon B. Johnson during the peak of the Civil Rights Movement. As a director, are you particularly interested in working with large casts? I often feel that American theater has really shrunk, because of economics. But the stories that I’m personally fascinated by are often epic in scale. It’s one thing to direct a play that takes place in a living room, with a single set and a small cast of
6 2016/17 Season americanrepertorytheater.org
Photo: Elijah Alexander, Ensemble. Jenny Graham.
Fingersmith, which premiered in 2015 at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (pictured above), immerses audiences in Victorian England, as reimagined by contemporary author Sarah Waters.
americanrepertorytheater.org 2016/17 Season 7
On that subject, this production, like the novel it is based on, takes place across an array of vivid settings. How does the set bring this diversity of locations to life? Onstage, there are two abstract building facades opposite each other, which represent our two primary settings: Lant Street, in London, and the Briar Mansion. The dichotomy of these two settings—impoverished and wealthy, urban and rural, Sue and Maud—is the main metaphor at work in the set. Our designer Christopher Acebo is a genius, and he has created a wonderful playground to stage this production on. Your production of Fingersmith premiered last year at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. What about this show are you looking forward to working on here at the A.R.T.? Fingersmith became an enormous success at OSF, which was thrilling. People came back to see it many, many, many times, and that felt wonderful. But it was also still a new and very challenging play. Having the opportunity to dig back in again with any new work is always exciting, and in the case of Fingersmith has really been invaluable. I think we’ve taken everything that was great about the first production at OSF and then just clarified, streamlined, heightened, and tightened it.
Fingersmith features a cast led by (Top-Botton) Kristine Nielsen (Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike, Hir, "Happyish"), Tracee Chimo (Noises Off, The Heidi Chronicles, Bad Jews, "Orange is the New Black," "The Good Wife"), Christina Bennett Lind (The Heart of Robin Hood, "House of Cards"), and Josiah Bania (Ironbound, "Leverage," "The Good Wife"). Right: set model designed by Christopher Acebo.
8 2016/17 Season americanrepertorytheater.org
This show is a kind of homecoming—you attended Harvard as an undergraduate. How did your experiences here shape your artistic perspective as a theater professional? I’m so excited to be back in the Loeb. When I first arrived at Harvard, I wanted to be an actor. But then freshman year I directed my first full-length play, Dürrenmatt’s The Visit, and had a complete epiphany. Directing was what I wanted to dedicate my life to, and so I dove in. I directed 26 shows as an undergrad in the Loeb, in the Agassiz, the basement of my dorm— Adams House—and in other site-specific locations all around campus. I learned by doing, and many of the people I made plays with in college went on to become founding members of Cornerstone Theatre Company with me. Why do you think audiences have responded so positively to Fingersmith? Fingersmith is such an extraordinary work of art, both the novel and hopefully this production of Alexa’s play, because it is a completely gripping story. Sarah Waters and Alexa have spun a breathtaking tale that allows us to explore some truly dark and hidden recesses of the human heart.
Interview by Leland Frankel, a second-year dramaturgy student at the A.R.T. Institute for Advanced Theater Training at Harvard University.
Photo: Johnathan Carr.
characters. That can be very challenging and wonderful work. But as an artist, and especially now that I am the Artistic Director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, I often tend to be much more attracted to projects where, between the design choices, the staging, and the acting, we engage with audience imaginations in a big way, telling them wide-ranging stories that visit several locations. Not always, but often.
give and receive Do both with a Charitable Gift Annuity (CGA) to help people live longer, healthier lives Current CGA Rates
Age 60: 4.9% Age 70: 6.0% Age 80: 7.7% Calculate your fixed income for life using our free online gift calculator at
hms.harvard.edu/art Or contact Karen S. Turpin or Carolyn Stone in confidence at 1-800-922-1782 or firstname.lastname@example.org
americanrepertorytheater.org 2016/17 Season 9
Photo: Blake Alcantara.
10 2016/17 Season americanrepertorytheater.org
A NOTE FROM PLAYWRIGHT ALEXA JUNGE
Photo: Elisabeth Caren.
Once in a while a work of art finds you, and embeds itself so deeply into your mind and heart it seems to travel with you as you go about your waking (and dreaming) life. I am, by no means, the first reader to have this mesmerizing experience with Sarah Waters’ celebrated literary works, but by the time I finished Fingersmith, I was so riveted by her gasp-inducing story turns and moved by her epic tale of love, betrayal, and redemption that I was already envisioning Sue and Maud on a stage. Bill Rauch and I had wanted to collaborate for many years. I am an avid fan of the extraordinary work coming out of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival under his direction. Over dolmas and coffee, I pitched my vision for transforming Fingersmith into a play. Once Bill read the novel, he was entranced by Sarah Waters’ complex consideration of class, gender, and sexuality in late nineteenth-century London and was captivated by the narrative thrill-ride and ripping yarn of the story. When I approached Sarah Waters about obtaining the rights to adapt her novel, she was graciously supportive and enthusiastic. Only sometime later when we both appeared on a panel did I learn of her initial reservation that an American might want to adapt a work so singularly British in nature. (Thank goodness I could reassure her it would not be a modern retelling with satiric references to Kardashians!) Sarah also sheepishly confessed to a generalized anxiety at the prospect of American actors grappling with cockney accents. Referring to the film Mary Poppins
(which apparently exemplifies how England regards the American capacity to reproduce an authentic cockney dialect) she said: “I have three words for you: Dick. Van. Dyke.” Once we had Sarah Waters’ blessing, I set to work immersing myself in Victorian fiction. Already a dedicated fan (I wrote my undergraduate thesis on Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper”), it was easy to lose myself in authors who had inspired Ms. Waters such as Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, Charles Kingsley, Lewis Carroll, Ellen (Mrs. Henry) Wood, Mary Elizabeth Braddon and Charles Reed. I am a writer who would rather research than write, so as much as I was enjoying The Lustful Turk, at a certain point I had to face the challenge of turning this 582-page book into a single evening of theater. While a book is a private pleasure, the demands of the theater are urgent and communal. In divining the needs for a play, I wanted to be true to the dramatic heart of the novel, but knew I had to be completely free to move away from it as well. It was daunting work, but the love story between Sue and Maud and their complex entanglements with Mrs. Sucksby kept pulling me back in. I remember on a particularly tough writing day, I let my mind wander about how to define Mrs. Sucksby’s worldview in a way that could persuade Sue to accept Gentleman’s shifty proposal. Having just pored through a book about Victorian-era hangings, I had a notion that Mrs. Sucksby might equate free will (or the lack of it) with the nature of gravity. I explored the gravity metaphor and found it
"...by the time I finished Fingersmith, I was so riveted by her gasp-inducing story turns and moved by her epic tale of love, betrayal, and redemption that I was already envisioning Sue and Maud on a stage."
provided a unifying structure—both visual and emotional. It also gave me a way to talk about love. The next day, I chanced upon a quote by the philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin that so embodied what I wanted the play to say, I felt I had a clear path and the real work could begin at last: “Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.” Making theater is about collaboration. At this point in the journey of the play, virtually hundreds of people have given their talents and shared their love to bring this epic production to life. I am indebted to Sarah Waters for trusting me to adapt her work and so grateful to A.R.T. for giving us the opportunity to make the play better and share it with you. Sarah Waters’ novel is a valentine to the gothic thriller, domestic drama, and Victorian sensation novel. It is historically accurate (with some intentional anachronisms) but could very well take its place alongside a novel by Dickens on the shelf in a Victorian library. But in centering the story around three active, assertive women, the novel flies in the face of traditional portrayals of what was considered appropriately “feminine” at the time. The result is that in addition to creating a sexy and delicious yarn, Waters has imaginatively created a history (and fiction) that never existed by exposing the blind spots of history and bringing marginalized women to the light. It is my fondest hope that we have done the same.
Alexa Junge is the playwright of Fingersmith. Her work for TV includes "Friends," “Grace and Frankie” (executive producer and writer), “The United States of Tara” (showrunner), “Big Love,” “The West Wing” (Emmy nomination for Outstanding Drama Series, WGA nomination for Best Episodic Drama), and “Sex and the City.”
americanrepertorytheater.org 2016/17 Season 11
UNCOVERING SECRETS by Judith Rosen
The centrality of lesbian relationships to Sarah Waters’ work—she cheerfully characterized her first novel, Tipping the Velvet, as a “lesboVictorian romp”—could have consigned her to the “gay fiction” niche. And her appropriation of earlier “lowbrow” genres, such as sensation fiction and the ghost tale, might have left critics cold. But Waters has a rare talent for engaging the mind and the emotions while keeping readers’ pulses racing. Her novels have been shortlisted multiple times for Britain’s prestigious Man Booker Prize, and her popular recognition includes a novel in development as a feature film, four well-received adaptations for British television and two more for the stage, including the dramatic adaptation of Fingersmith, her 2002 novel. Waters never dreamed of becoming a writer when she was young. Born in 1966 and raised in the small seaside town of Neyland, Wales, she most vividly remembers building models out of Meccano together with her father, an oil engineer. “I remember that more than I do reading,” she said in a 2009 interview in The Scotsman. “I think back on it when I look at my novels, because I see them as constructions, about getting the right thing in the right place.” Her early passion for precision and structure accompanied wilder imaginings.
12 2016/17 Season americanrepertorytheater.org
presented itself as a sort of psychological landscape,” she says. Its isolated spaces— madhouses, lonely mansions, locked rooms— hint at hidden transgressions, unorthodox identities suppressed. Waters believes that the modern fascination with the 19th century offers “a way of addressing issues that are still very, very current in British culture, like class and gender and submerged sexuality. Things that we think we’re pretty cool with, and actually we’re not at all.” Her books further that process by making explicit the hidden and hintedat. Women’s dissatisfaction with the roles assigned them, class inequality, and lesbian desire all become visible. If Waters’ Victorian novels delve into closed and secret places, her later works examine the wreckage and newly opened spaces left by worlds blown apart. Her 2006 novel The Night Watch explores four lives intertwined during the London Blitz in the 1940s. The Little Stranger (2009) unfolds just after the War’s end, and The Paying Guests (2014) takes place in the period of dislocation following World War I. These novels note that both world wars gave many women the chance to explore unconventional roles and identities, sexual identity being one among many. Both wars also disrupted the class system, laying bare social discontents and offering new scope for middle- and working-class ambitions. In both her Victorian and other novels, Waters investigates the ways that people in turbulent times struggle to find purpose—and love. She is particularly inspired by contemporary culture’s complicated, constantly-shifting relationship to the past. “We get attached to cultural and social systems in a very negative kind of way,” Waters says. But “these things are always in process; they’re not fixed, and gender’s never fixed, and how we feel about women changes all the time. How we feel about sex and sexuality and class, these things change all the time.” History is a process, she says. “A good historical novel is a celebration of that."
Judith Rosen was research dramaturg for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival production of Fingersmith. This article was originally published in Illuminations, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's season guide.
Photo: Pal Hansen.
Sarah Waters' novels reclaim historical genres from a feminist, queer perspective.
She watched Gothic horror stories endlessly on TV and replicated their ghosts and grisly plotlines in poems and stories of her own. Waters began to discover who she was both sexually and creatively when she left for university. There, she fell passionately in love with a woman and with the heady world of mid-1980s lesbian feminism. She received her MA from Lancaster University then went on to complete a PhD in gay and lesbian literature at the University of London. Studying for her graduate degrees, she says, spurred her to try fiction-writing as an adult. The topic of Waters’ first book grew out of her academic research. The late 19th century was a time when a modern gay subculture was just gaining visibility; what, she wondered, might have existed for lesbians of the time? The resulting “romp” through London’s demimonde, Tipping the Velvet, follows the fortunes of an oyster-girl-turned-male-impersonatorturned-socialist-activist. The story combines rich period detail with deliberate anachronism as Waters imagines spaces where lesbian desire, invisible in public fin de siècle culture, might have been experienced and expressed. The novel was rejected by every publisher she approached, until Virago Press finally reconsidered the work and published it in 1998 to wide acclaim. Waters would set her first three novels in the Victorian period. Affinity (1999), darker and stranger than Tipping the Velvet, pulls its readers into the unsettling spaces of séances and female prisons. Fingersmith examines dreams and desires that connect London’s underclass and the rural upper class, spinning through a series of twists and turns as it illuminates the intersecting worlds of ladies, servants and thieves. Waters’ previous academic research had made these worlds familiar; she found them easy to conjure up on the page. But she was also attracted to Victorian era-writing’s basic pleasure in plot. In her own stories, Waters called up the Victorian past by adopting its novels’ extravagant investments in detail, in exciting surprises, and in multiple layers of narrative. Waters also delighted in the period’s Gothic tradition; she adopted its pattern of secrets and revelations for her own ends. “The 19th century, as we’ve understood it, has often
REAL FOOD every night TILL ' CLOSE 9 2 H A MP S HIR E S T, CA M B R ID G E , M A | 6 1 7-2 5 0 - 8 4 5 4 | L O R D H O B O.C O M americanrepertorytheater.org 2016/17 Season 13
DECEMBER 17 - 31, 2016
JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH Adapted for the stage by David Wood from the book by Roald Dahl Directed by Dmitry Troyanovsky Featuring actors from the A.R.T. Institute class of 2017
James Trotter, an orphan, lives with his two abominable aunts in a house by the sea. James’ life is lonely and sad until, one day, he receives a mysterious gift. His aunts’ old peach tree starts to creak and groan, and a peach grows bigger and bigger and bigger. James finds his way inside, where he meets a troupe of chatty (and enormous) bugs. When the peach rolls down the hill and out to sea, James and his new friends find themselves on a fantastic transatlantic adventure. A.R.T.’s family programming continues with this adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved tale directed by A.R.T. Institute alumnus Dmitry Troyanovsky (‘00). Sensory Friendly Performance Dec. 30, 2PM
THE GIANT PEACH
Gaphic: Courtney Russo.
by Yan Chen
Fifty-five years after Roald Dahl landed James Henry Trotter and his gigantic insect friends on top of the Empire State Building, James and the Giant Peach has become a classic, loved around the world. As fans celebrate Dahl’s expanding legacy in the hundredth anniversary of the author's birth this year, the giant peach is flying towards Cambridge, soon due for arrival at the A.R.T. At the helm of the A.R.T’s production is director Dmitry Troyanovsky (A.R.T. Institute ’00), whose work has been seen around the US as well as in Russia and China. Troyanovsky admires Dahl's “ability to take tradition and transform it in his own wry, ironic, fantastic ways." Even in James and the Giant Peach, his first children’s novel, Dahl already displayed the signature style—marvelous and malevolent, delightful and darkish—which would make his writing so enduringly popular. James’ parents are eaten by a rhinoceros in the middle of London. Thin Aunt Spiker and fat Aunt Sponge meet a cartoonish demise, crushed by the giant peach. Oversized insects, not fluffy animals, keep James company. Dahl’s penchant for the grotesque draws Troyanovsky to the work. “‘The grotesque’ is difficult to define as a word, and it provokes very complex reactions," he explains. "We don’t know whether to laugh or cry, whether to be scared or to be fascinated, and I think much of Dahl’s world walks that very fine line.
The enchanting and the threatening always live side by side.” Dahl’s relish for the grotesque defined his career. For two decades before James and the Giant Peach was published, his troubling tales had fascinated adults. The transition to writing for children came in the late 1950s, when he decided to write down bedtime stories he had been telling his daughters, Olivia and Tessa. Dahl also cited the real apple trees growing outside his house as an inspiration for James and the Giant Peach. Asking himself, “What would happen if apples didn’t stop growing?,” Dahl considered apples, pears, plums, and cherries before settling on the peach as the centerpiece of his first children's novel. As it does in the story, Dahl's Peach has grown steadily in the years since the book was published. Besides selling over two million copies worldwide, the book has inspired plays, musicals, and movies. David Wood’s 2001 dramatic adaptation, immensely popular in the UK, is the script used in the A.R.T. production. Prior to Wood, Richard R. George had adapted the book into a play in 1982. A musical with book by Timothy Allen McDonald and songs by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul premiered in 2010. Disney, which produced the 1996 movie, has just announced plans for a new live-action film. For Troyanovsky, imagination is crucial to bringing the peach to life onstage. “To represent the peach too literally could take
away the magic," he says. "What you come up with is never going to be as good as what you can imagine. We want to use simple theatrical devices to create a marvelous world.” To do that, the production will use techniques including shadow puppetry to create everything from rhinos to sharks to the peach itself. “The aim is to activate the audience’s imagination,” Troyanovsky says. “Inviting the audience to become co-creators through their imagination is to treat them with respect. Dahl treated his young readers with respect through his sophistication, his irony, his use of dark humor and his love of the grotesque. Onstage, we want to try to do the same thing." In Dahl’s world, Troyanovsky explains, “Children are exposed to the challenges they have to face when they grow up, like James does when he’s left on his own.” Yet for Dahl’s readers as well as his heroes, great rewards can lie in store. The same can be said for the audiences of the A.R.T. production, and perhaps no reward can be greater than what Troyanovsky describes as “Dahl's sense of tremendous freedom and adventure—that can be liberating and delightful.”
Yan Chen is a first-year dramaturgy student at the A.R.T. Institute for Advanced Theater Training at Harvard University.
americanrepertorytheater.org 2016/17 Season 15
JANUARY 19 FEBRUARY 5, 2017
TRANS SCRIPTS, PART I: THE WOMEN
CHANGING THE LIGHTBULB
Written by Paul Lucas
Or, How to Get Beyond Trans Tropes
Directed by Jo Bonney
by Bianca Leigh
Drawn from dozens of interviews conducted around the world, Trans Scripts uses the real words of women to shed light on the rich and diverse experiences within the transgender community. Jo Bonney (Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3)) directs a cast of seven in the US premiere of this moving, humorous, and timely work that received a Fringe First Award for new writing at the 2015 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
ASL Interpreted Feb. 1, 7:30PM Feb. 4, 2PM Audio Described Feb. 2, 7:30PM Feb. 5, 2PM Open Captioned Feb. 2, 7:30PM Feb. 5, 2PM
Q: How many trans people does it take to change a lightbulb? A: As many as possible. Two years ago, Paul Lucas called me to check if a certain passage in Trans Scripts might cause offense. I said, “Darling, you are going to offend someone. I know my sisters. Buckle your seatbelt.” I’d never seen an author try so hard to get it right: conducting over 75 interviews with trans women on several continents, painstakingly trying to create as inclusive a picture of trans life as possible. But opinions within the trans community are varied and passionate. Someone was sure to get pissed off. Yet, surprisingly, during our run at the Edinburgh Fringe, there wasn’t an angry placard in sight; not a single post-show debate in the pub. How could this be? We trans people are a cantankerous lot. And for good reason: the experience of being trans, and how trans people define ourselves to the world, has changed rapidly with each generation. Being "a woman trapped in the body of a man" seems quaint now, but it summed things up perfectly for Christine Jorgensen in 1952. We have gone from afflicted patients seeking sympathy and treatment to proud activists demanding our place at society’s table, all within a span of only 60 or so years. In addition, trans lives are deeply affected by race,
16 2016/17 Season americanrepertorytheater.org
class, and age, as well as the political climate of the times. There are lingering resentments between young transitioners (with beauty, endless admirers, and the ability to pass), and older transitioners (with successful careers, health insurance, and social connections). We are a diverse, opinionated, and, occasionally, contentious group. We are rarely happy with dramatic depictions of us (we won’t discuss comic representations). So why has this piece been so well-received? Perhaps it’s because, despite our differences, trans women have a lot in common. Our individual stories resonate across class and racial divides, across oceans and generations. Ironically, the broader the picture, the louder and clearer that shared resonance becomes. Virtually all trans women know discomfort during childhood, a nebulous feeling that something is wrong, a sense of being at odds with the world. As we grow, we experience the pain of rejection, of feeling unique and alone, of causing embarrassment, anger, and sometimes violence. And while we may react to our ‘dysphoria’ in different ways—fighting it tooth-and-nail or transitioning as quickly as possible—most of us eventually find ourselves. For many of us, there is profound joy in our new lives. Different roads, same destination. This shared experience within diversity is the strength and the beauty of Trans Scripts. It is the reason for its positive reception. Trans Scripts is not a typical trans story shoehorned into a play. These stories are the play. Characters cover the gamut: the successful British doctor who transitioned within the mainstream medical establishment at sixty-eight; the young, black beauty queen transitioning on her own terms, without apology; the ex-dominatrix who uses humor as both shield and weapon; the no-nonsense Aussie yearning for anonymity; the Afro-Latina runaway ready to remake the world; the elegant Staten Island mechanic with Bergdorf dreams; and the lonely survivor of childhood abuse longing for connection—all brilliant trans women who share, learn, disagree, and find precious commonality. Assumptions are challenged—sometimes sharply—and shaped by others. These characters grow. Their minds open. Hopefully yours will, too.
Bianca Leigh plays Tatiana in Trans Scripts and has been with the piece since its inception. Leigh is an actress and writer based in New York City. She recently co-starred with Bianca Del Rio in the film Hurricane Bianca.
A.R.T. Artistic Director Diane Paulus in conversation with Trans Scripts writer Paul Lucas.
NO SINGLE STORY A.R.T. Artistic Director Diane Paulus interviews Trans Scripts writer Paul Lucas
At an A.R.T. Season Preview event in July 2016, Artistic Director Diane Paulus shared a conversation with Paul Lucas, the writer of Trans Scripts, Part I: The Women. In this transcript of that conversation, the two discuss the origins of the play and its relevance today.
Photos (L-R): Ted Ely; Liza Voll.
Diane Paulus: Could you tell us how this work started? Paul Lucas: Around five years ago, I was having a conversation with an acquaintance who was a liberal, progressive-minded HIV-positive gay man. And I mentioned a transgender gospel singer friend named Our Lady J, whom I represented as a booking agent at the time (and who has since become a writer on the TV show “Transparent"). And this guy effectively said to me, “You know, I don’t really believe in transgender people.” Since that time, the visibility of trans people has increased tremendously, but even at that point, I just thought, "Wow. This is a really important issue that is not being addressed, even within my own community.” This “LGBT umbrella” is a concept that we talk about, but when it comes down to it, transgender people have really not been embraced by the gay community on a day-to-day basis.
So I thought, “I want to educate myself. And I’m going to start by just talking to people.” I didn’t know at the time quite what it was going to become. But I began by interviewing two trans friends, and then I used my network of friends and colleagues to meet more trans people around the country and around the world. I’ve done over 75 interviews now in the US, the UK, Australia, India, Cuba, and Germany. And then, about two years ago, I started turning the interviews into a play, which became Trans Scripts. After a few workshop productions, I brought the show to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2015, where it did incredibly well, winning a Fringe First Award and a High Commendation from Amnesty International. And then, thanks to Eve Ensler, who has been a huge supporter of the project, it came to the attention of the A.R.T. Did you find that people were eager to share their stories? Generally, I was really fortunate. There were a couple of people who showed up to the interview asking “Why should I talk to you? Tell me why I should tell this cisgender gay guy about my experience.” And so I told them why I began the project, why I felt it was so important, and what I
hoped to achieve. So far, no one has ever said no to an interview after meeting me. I began each session by saying, "Tell me where your story begins, because only you know where it begins.” And then I kind of shut up and let them tell their stories—stories that proved to be very, very different from one another. That difference between individual stories is a key theme of the show. You've spoken about the false notion of a singular “trans narrative.” How do you define that? As someone who is not an academic per se, when I’ve heard the term “narrative" in the past, I always thought that it was kind of a precious term for “story.” But when it comes to trans people, talking about “owning their personal narrative” is incredibly fitting. Because what existed for so long was a singular story that was repeated, and reinforced, by the medical and psychiatric communities, especially in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. For years, individuals within these medical communities, who are referred to as the “gatekeepers," were charged with assessing patients who came to them and determining whether or not to grant them access to hormone treatment and any number of surgical treatments. And individuals who told stories that
americanrepertorytheater.org 2016/17 Season 17
didn’t jive with the “accepted medical narrative” were denied access to treatment and care. So, if you and I were both born male and both felt that we were in fact female, you might go to a doctor, usually a gender therapist or maybe a medical doctor, and tell your story. And then I would also go to a doctor, and tell my story. And if you were diagnosed with what was termed "gender dysphoria" and given access to hormones and surgery, and I was not, then I would ask you to tell me what you told the doctor. And then I would find a new doctor and tell that doctor your story in order to gain access to treatment. So people—looking for treatment, for resources—would tell the same stories over and over and over again: “When I was a little boy, I used to think I was a princess, and I would tuck myself between my legs, and I would wear my mommy’s shoes, and I always wanted to marry a prince..." So, in the process of seeking treatment, many people were robbed of their genuine, individual stories.
What has the casting process been like for this production? Casting is a complicated issue. You’re talking about a community that has not been represented on stage or film very often, or very well. And then, even when they have been represented, they have not been allowed to portray themselves. When you look at The Danish Girl, or Trans America, or Transparent, the central character is not played by a trans actor. So there’s a disenfranchisement issue. So we would all like to have as many trans people in the show as possible, but it’s also been extremely interesting having an audience walk into early readings knowing that the cast is mixed. If the audience knows ahead of time that the actors are all cisgender (someone whose gender identity is in line with the sex they were assigned at birth), they might think, “Well, I could tell. I could tell none of those people were trans.” Or if we announced that the entire cast was trans, people might say, “I could tell.” And when I did the show in London and Edinburgh, I had some people who came to the show in both cities, and their reaction was, “Oh
18 2016/17 Season americanrepertorytheater.org
you had more trans people in London; that was more authentic.” And I said, “No. No, I didn’t. You just didn’t know.” And I think that can be powerful. I think there’s value in reinforcing the idea that gender presentation can be a performance of sorts, and that our limited notions of what it means to be male or female should be challenged. But one of my goals with this project has always been to create more roles for trans actresses. When we did a one-night reading of this play at OBERON last year, we felt that there was a necessity to do this work. Tickets sold out within three hours of announcing the reading. As the writer, was there anything in particular that resonated with you at that performance? There were vastly different levels of familiarity with the topic in the room. Some people in the audience were living these experiences; some people had read about them, and for others, this was completely new. So I took it as a challenge to make sure that this production would really provide new information for some, but provide the basics for others.
Photo: Jay Knowles and Bianca Leigh in Trans Scripts. Edinburgh Pleasance Picture Show.
Trans Scripts premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where it won a prestigious Fringe First Award.
When I began the show five years ago, I had characters stop the action to define terms like “cisgender" or “intersex.” But I no longer have to do that. People are also more familiar now than they were five years ago with the challenges facing trans people. People are talking about trans identity at work, talking about the issues facing bathroom use, for instance. HR departments are addressing it. People are talking about it with their kids. So the show has to keep upping its game. What do you imagine a person who doesn’t identify as transgender might be in a position to learn from this production? I think that there is—and I can look at myself for this—there is an idea of “otherness” when it comes to this experience. The idea that “This doesn’t have anything to do with me really.” As a gay man, I have to say that, while I had a couple of trans friends five years ago, I didn’t feel as though this experience really related to me that deeply. And thinking back to the conversation that sparked the project for me, I thought, “Well if
I’m criticizing this guy, I’ve got to look right back at myself and say, "why don’t you learn a bit more before you criticize somebody else.” And what I discovered through that process was that the stories that I heard were incredibly universal, and human, and truthful. It is a very, very universal show—a very human show. And it’s also an opportunity to get questions answered, an opportunity most people wouldn’t normally have. Right now, in this country, we are in the same pattern of representation with the trans community that we’ve seen with other disenfranchised groups: first they’re the butt of a joke, then they’re tragic, and so on. So, even now, there aren’t that many stories about real people living their lives. And people need to understand the full breadth of this experience. As many of my interview subjects said, “I spend about 15 minutes a day being trans. I get up. I take a shower. I drink my coffee. I go to work. I go home. I pay my bills. And yet people still focus on this ridiculous idea that I’m some kind of sexual deviant, or that my goal is trying to trick straight men into bed, or that I’m a predator, or even a pedophile. And that’s just not so."
So I think the show is an opportunity to learn something. And it’s an opportunity to become an ambassador afterwards, because you will be more enlightened than your friends, and you will be able to talk intelligently on this subject. There’s a lot of information packed into a very short amount of time. And it’s funny. And it’s interesting. And it’s surprising. It’s not the stereotypical “tragic tranny” narrative. The characters are fully rounded, interesting, compassionate, confrontational, unique, and most important, human. And if you don’t see the show, I can guarantee you’ll be sorry that you missed the chance to spend an evening in the company of these extraordinary women.
Interview by Diane Paulus and Paul Lucas. Diane Paulus is the Terrie and Bradley Bloom Artistic Director of the American Repertory Theater. Paul Lucas is the playwright of Trans Scripts.
americanrepertorytheater.org 2016/17 Season 19
SOCIETY IN TRANSITION A History of the Trans Movement by James Montaño
There have always been individuals who challenged gendered social norms. But Western social, medical, and political recognition of people who cross the boundaries of gender only truly began in the 20th century. The stories of Trans Scripts are interwoven into this history—a history that is still being written and re-defined today. One of the earliest attempts to medically define the trans experience came in the early 20th century with the research of Berlin-based physician/sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld. In 1919, Hirschfeld published The Transvestites, outlining his research and treatments for transgender people—then referred to as transvestites. Hirschfeld’s study and advocacy for trans people was rooted in the belief that sex characteristics and erotic desire were among a variety of biological traits, and that society needed to adapt, not the individual. In 1931, he arranged the first male-to-female genital transformation for Dora Richter. The connection of “sex-hormones”—estrogen and testosterone—to physical sexual identifiers was discovered by his Austrian colleague Eugen Steinach. After Adolf Hitler called Hirschfeld “the most dangerous Jew in Germany,” Nazi vigilantes destroyed his Institute in May 1933, burning his entire library. In the 1940s and 50s, medical and
political discourse around transgender lives collided in the US, thanks to the sexuality studies of Karl Bowman of the Langley Porter Psychiatric Clinic at the University of California San Francisco, sexologist Alfred Kinsey, and German-born American sexologist/ endocrinologist Harry Benjamin, a friend of Hirschfeld. These researchers together fought for medical access for transgender people in a court case in California. The state ruled against offering access, essentially making sex-change operations illegal for doctors to perform. Despite this ruling, the UCSF Clinic helped connect trans people and planted the seeds of a movement. Largely ignored by the general public, trans representation in the US abruptly came to the fore in 1952 with the very public sexual reassignment of Christine Jorgensen in Copenhagen. A Bronx-raised former soldier in the US Army, Jorgenson’s dramatic transformation made the December 1, 1952 cover of the New York Daily News with the headline “Ex-GI Becomes Blond Bombshell,” which raised immediate awareness of the lives of transgender people. Jorgensen became a celebrity of sorts, and, though she was rarely political, she became an example for many who had no reference point or way of defining their identity, including some of the women
20 2016/17 Season americanrepertorytheater.org
portrayed in Trans Scripts. This identity also began to evolve as the media struggled to define Jorgensen; some still referred to her as a "hermaphrodite." It was Harry Benjamin who began to use the term "transsexual" to differentiate between the act of cross-dressing and the medical transformation of gender. The lack of legal protections for transgender and gay people led to a climate of continued police harassment in public spaces in the US. In several instances, this harassment exploded into acts of resistance. Three specific riots are noted for propelling the modern trans rights movement, as well as the gay rights movement. The first riot was in Los Angeles, at Cooper's Donuts in May 1959, where gay, trans, and cross-dressing people (mostly Latina/Latino and African American) began to push back at unfair arrests by police. In 1966, a second riot broke out in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco at Compton’s Cafeteria following police harassment. The third riot became the most famous. In June 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, trans people, gay men and women, and drag queens tussled with police into the early morning hours. Trans activist Sylvia Rivera tells of throwing a beer bottle at police, setting off the melee. ) Activism flourished following the Stonewall riots, establishing an early political voice for
THE TRANSGENDER MOVEMENT A Timeline 1910
The term “transvestite” is created by Magnus Hirschfeld, originally a catch-all for any person who expresses gender differently than their physical sex characteristics.
Hirschfeld publishes The Transvestites and opens his Institute for Sexology in Berlin.
The first documented sexual reassignment surgery is performed in Germany on Dora Richter. Lili Elbe, artist and subject of the 2015 film The Danish Girl, dies three months after her final sexual reassignment surgery.
Hirschfeld’s Institute is vandalized by Nazi youth and his library is burned.
Photo: Sylvia Rivera of STAR (Street Transvestites Action Revolution), 1970. Richard Wandel.
Nazis begin to use the Pink Triangle as an identifier of “homosexuals” (meaning anyone who expressed sexuality or gender differently). Many of those badged with triangles are murdered along with millions of Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Romani Gypsies, and Nazi resisters in concentration camps.
Alfred Kinsey publishes Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, the first of his "Kinsey Reports" focusing on the variations of human sexual experience, including homosexuality and bisexuality. Sexual Behavior in the Human Female is published in 1953.
The first female-to-male sexual reassignment surgery is performed on Michael Dillon in London.
Christine Jorgensen becomes a public face of male-to-female sexual reassignment when the New York Daily News publishes a sensationalist article, headlined “Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Beauty: Operations Transform Bronx Youth.” Jorgensen becomes a public advocate for trans people.
The Cooper’s Donuts Riot occurs in Los Angeles, in which young gay and trans people push back at police harassment.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III) classifies cross-dressing and transgender experience as “Gender Identity Disorder,” prescribing treatment and care of trans people.
Rita Hester, a transgender African American woman, is murdered in Allston, Massachusetts.
Virginia Prince publishes Transvestia magazine, a journal by and for transvestites.
The first Gender Identity Clinic is opened at Johns Hopkins Medical Center, providing research and support for transgender and intersex people. The Transsexual Phenomenon is published by Dr. Harry Benjamin. An endocrinologist and sexologist, Dr. Benjamin’s studies in San Francisco create foundational scientific understandings of trans people. He writes the preface to Christine Jorgensen’s autobiography in 1967. In August of this year, a riot breaks out at Compton's Cafeteria in San Francisco. Young African American, Latina/Latino, and white gay and trans people resist police.
Chromosomal testing of female athletes begins by the International Olympic Committee, in an attempt to weed out trans or intersex athletes.
The Stonewall riots occur in New York. Trans, gay, and bisexual people clash with police over increased harassment. The riots continue for many days.
STAR, the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, form under Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. The organization is focused on helping gay and trans youth living in poverty.
Sweden becomes the first country to legally recognize sexual reassignment.
The first Transgender Day of Remembrance is observed in response to the murder of Rita Hester in 1998 and the continued violence against trans people.
The Gender Recognition Act of 2004 in the UK provides legal recognition of change of gender.
Stu Rasmussen becomes the first elected transgender mayor in Silverton, Oregon.
The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act is signed into law by President Barack Obama.
Discrimination of transgender people in hiring practices is considered a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.
The 2013 update to the DSM (DSM-V) renames “gender identity disorder” as “gender dysphoria,” removing some of the stigma attached to “disorder” and essentially altering the classification from a pathology to an identity.
Trans actress Laverne Cox is featured on the cover of TIME magazine and included in their "100 Most Influential People List."
Timeline Prepared by James Montaño. Sources: Susan Stryker, Transgender History (New York: Perseus, 2008); Leile J. Rupp and Susan K. Freeman (Eds.), Understanding and Teaching US Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2014); Michael Bronski, A Queer History of the United States (ReVisioning American History) (Boston: Beacon, 2014); Genny Beemy, "Transgender History in the United States" in Trans Bodies, Trans Selves, ed. Laura Erickson-Schroth (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2014); Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, glaad.org.
trans communities into a politically-driven movement. The scourge of HIV/AIDS pushed many in these communities to speak out, with numerous rallies and new organizations rising to confront the challenges of the disease. ACT UP and Transgender Nation made waves in the fight for improved medical access for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and, eventually, social acceptance. Medically, 1980 also brought the addition of “Gender Identity Disorder” to the third edition of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III). This addition has since proved highly controversial, as it described cross-dressing and transgender experiences
as “disordered.” However, the classification as a medical condition also allowed governments and the medical community to view genderreassignment therapy as a needed medical practice, rather than solely cosmetic. The 2013 update to the DSM (DSM-V) renamed “gender identity disorder” as “gender dysphoria,” removing some of the stigma attached to “disorder” and essentially altering the classification from a pathology to an identity. The 90s and beyond have been a struggle for social awareness and legal identity. The assaults and murders of trans people in cities across the US, including Rita Hester, murdered in Allston, MA in 1998, caused an outcry for political attention. The first Transgender Day of Remembrance was declared in 1999 following Hester's murder, and in 2002 the Transgender Law Center began its work pushing for legal protections of trans people. Films, including The Crying Game (1992) and Boys Don’t Cry (1999) helped further the social narrative of the victimization of trans bodies. Much of the legal recognition and protections for trans individuals have come in the last two decades. The Gender Recognition Act of 2004 in the UK provided legal recognition of change of gender. In 2007, Spain allowed for the documented change of sex with only two years of medical treatment and a doctor’s diagnosis of gender dysphoria. This law is considered one of the most progressive of its kind. In the US that same year, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, an anti-hatecrimes bill, was blocked in the Senate, though it was eventually passed in 2009. In 2010, the US federal government extended employment protections to transgender people, and in 2012 the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission found discrimination against trans people to be in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The US military has announced that, starting in 2017, it will open its doors to trans individuals. More than ever, contemporary media is highlighting a variety of trans stories, from Fox’s "Glee," to Amazon’s "Transparent," and Netflix’s "Orange Is the New Black." But those stories reflect only a small sliver of the myriad experiences of transgender people. Like the women in Trans Scripts, every story is unique and challenges any preconceived notion of a singular “trans experience.” Through its continuing evolutions, the trans movement has fought for the individual dignity of trans lives within a society itself in a state of transition.
James Montaño is a second-year dramaturgy student at the A.R.T. Institute for Advanced Theater Training at Harvard University. Christine Jorgensen, a former US soldier, became one of the first publicly recognized trans individuals following her gender reassignment surgery in Denmark in 1952.
22 2016/17 Season americanrepertorytheater.org
Photo: Make It Old/Flickr.
sexual minorities. The activist organization STAR, the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, formed under Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, an African American trans activist, focusing on the plight of gay and trans youth in New York. The Queer Liberation Front (QLF) was also founded around this time to focus on the visibility of drag queens and trans people in gay events. Socially, the second-wave feminism of the 1960s and 70s, as well as the pop aesthetic of glam rock and the avant-garde theatricality of artists including the Cockettes and John Waters, challenged traditional social norms. However, it was the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s which united the gay, lesbian, and
Erin Markey and Becca Blackwell in A Ride on The Irish Cream. Photo: Maria Baranova
“The show's passionate soul sweeps us into its headlong, crazy gallop.” – TIME OUT, New York
N O E D I H R S I A R I AD E TH EAM R C February 28 - March 4, 2017 Written and Created by Erin Markey Music by Erin Markey, Emily Bate, and Kenny Mellman Lyrics by Erin Markey Directed by Jordan Fein
This coming-of-age musical explores the relationship between a girl and her family's pontoon boat/horse.
TICKETS FROM $25 americanrepertorytheater.org 2016/17 Season 23
. D . I E TH L A V I T FES ersation v n o c in d te Presen oduction of r p 7 1 / 6 1 0 2 Festival with A.R.T.’s . D I. ’s N O R E , OB Trans Scripts iences of r e p x e e s r e e div celebrates th lores issues p x e , y it n u m the trans com tinues n o c d n a , ty enti of gender id ith trans w t n e m e g a g OBERON’s en ries. artists and sto
JANUARY 20 FEBRUARY 4, 2017
I.D. FESTIVAL at OBERON
ARTIST LINE UP INCLUDES ALISON YOUNG & THE SWINGING STEAKS BECCA BLACKWELL
Transactivist performer and downtown New York theater star Becca Blackwell discusses They, Themself and Schmerm, a fiercely vulnerable solo piece about tragic-comic transitions in life, family, sex, and gender.
OUR LADY J
Could you tell me about the show and what inspired it? And what exactly does “schmerm" mean?
“Schmerm” is the sound people make when they don’t know what gender I am. They’ll go “sh-he-rmmmm.” I kept being asked to write a solo show by a lot of different people over the years, and I’d always say, “That sounds awful.” And my partner Erin Markey thought I should investigate that, because all the good art is in our deepest fears. So I went online and into a rabbit hole trying to decide what I was interested in and what I wanted to say to a bunch of people. I thought I didn’t want to say anything. And then I found this terrible PR film from 1989 called Me, Myself and I, by 1980s teen idol Corey Haim. I think his PR company made him do it when he was struggling with drug addiction. It’s just 36 minutes of him being like, “Look at me! I’m normal!,” and he so obviously is not normal. So I used that as a platform.
SHAKINA NAYFACK CALPERNIA ADDAMS In addition to the performances listed above, several of OBERON’s regular offerings including The Moth will offer special events to complement this series.
Photo: Daniel Jack Lyons.
An Interview with They, Themself and Schmerm Creator & Performer Becca Blackwell
They, Themself and Schmerm seems the antithesis of Me, Myself and I. You tell some very honest stories, instead of trying to present a false version of yourself. Right. The only way that They, Themself and Schmerm worked and I work as a performer was for me to be grounded and really take the audience in—really look at everyone and let them see me. I do it in a stand-up comedy kind of way. If I didn’t, I probably would “perform” it more instead of just talking to people, which is what seems to be the most effective: when I really talk with people. The show is basically the stories of my life, in terms of being resilient and being authentic to who I am. Which I think is really hard for humans. What has the audience response been like?
straight men say thank you. So I think it reaches past some restrictions we assume about each other. It's just stories, and they hopefully transcend labels. And when it comes down to it, we are all in a unique meat carcass zooming along on this planet together. There aren’t many shows that feature performers who challenge the gender binary. Even as we have trans artists who are becoming more visible, why do you think this specific representation is so lacking? Theater is way behind, and always has been. I’ve been in the business twenty-some years, and I never got work by the traditional ways. I’ve had tons of people say to me, “God, you’re so talented, I don’t know what to do with you!” No one is willing to take risks, except, like, experimental artists in downtown New York. I also think a lot of trans people have pretty deep body dysmorphia, which I think every human does. For example, if you’re born with a vagina, and you’re told your whole life you’re fat when you’re not, the mantra of that affects you. So there’s a lot of dysmorphia, and when that happens it’s really hard to be present and engaging on a huge spectrum, which is what really great actors do. Also, sexuality really triggers people. Gender stuff triggers people. We’re really conditioned to believe our position in the world is based on gender and sexuality. Capitalism’s ruled around it; patriarchy’s ruled around it. Because we are all equal, but we figure out ways to make each other unequal by—what? The flesh between our thighs, or the chemical melanin in our skin. I like to play this game: let’s talk to aliens and explain humans: HUMAN: We judge people by the flesh between their thighs! ALIEN: Why? HUMAN: ...I don’t know.
Interview by Rebecca Curran, a first-year dramaturgy student at the A.R.T. Institute for Advanced Theater Training at Harvard University.
I've had trans people say thank you, and I've also had
americanrepertorytheater.org 2016/17 Season 25
1/4 1/5 1/6 2PM * 7:30PM 7:30PM 7:30PM OC
1/7 2PM *
12/28 12/29 12/30 12/31 2PM 7:30PM 7:30PM 2PM 7:30PM 7:30PM
12/20 11AM 2PM
12/27 11AM 2PM
12/26 11AM 2PM
12/19 11AM 2PM
12/29 11AM 2PM
12/30 11AM 2PM SF
2/5 2PM OC
1/22 2PM 7:30PM
2/1 2/2 2/3 11AM * 7:30PM 7:30PM 7:30PM OC
2/4 2PM *
1/28 2PM * 7:30PM
1/19 1/20 1/21 7:30PM 7:30PM 7:30PM
1/24 1/25 1/26 1/27 7:30PM 7:30PM 7:30PM 7:30PM
TRANS SCRIPTS, PART I: THE WOMEN Loeb Drama Center - Starts January 19, 2017
JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH Loeb Drama Center - Starts December 17, 2016
SOUND SOCIETY — THE SWEETBACK SISTERS OBERON - Thursday, December 15, 2016 at 8PM
1/8 2PM OC
12/26 12/27 7:30PM 7:30PM
12/18 12/20 12/21 12/19 12/22 2PM 7:30PM 7:30PM 2PM 2PM 7:30PM 7:30PM 7:30PM
12/10 2PM 7:30PM
12/13 12/14 12/15 12/16 12/17 7:30PM 7:30PM 7:30PM 7:30PM 2PM * PRESS 7:30PM
12/11 2PM 7:30PM
12/6 12/7 12/8 12/9 7:30PM 7:30PM 7:30PM 7:30PM
3/8 3/9 3/10 3/11 11AM * 7:30PM 7:30PM 2PM * 7:30PM 7:30PM
3/1 3/2 3/3 3/4 2PM 7:30PM 7:30PM 2PM * 7:30PM 7:30PM
2/25 2PM 7:30PM
2/28 3/1 3/2 3/3 3/4 7:30PM 7:30PM 7:30PM 7:30PM 7:30PM
3/17 3/18 3/14 3/15 3/16 2PM 2PM * 7:30PM 7:30PM 7:30PM 7:30PM OC OC 7:30PM
2/21 2/22 2/23 2/24 7:30PM 7:30PM 7:30PM 7:30PM
OBERON - Starts February 28, 2017
A RIDE ON THE IRISH CREAM
2/26 2PM 7:30PM
THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA Loeb Drama Center - Starts February 18, 2017
I.D. FESTIVAL — SHAKINA NAYFACK OBERON - February 3 & 4, 2017
I.D. FESTIVAL — KIT YAN OBERON - February 2, 2017 at 8PM
I.D. FESTIVAL — OUR LADY J OBERON - Saturday, January 28, 2017 at 7:30PM
I.D. FESTIVAL — RAE SPOON OBERON - Friday, January 27, 2017 at 7:30PM
I.D. FESTIVAL — BECCA BLACKWELL OBERON - Monday, January 23, 2017 at 7:30PM
I.D. FESTIVAL — ALISON YOUNG OBERON - Sunday, January 22, 2017 at 8PM
I.D. FESTIVAL — CALPERNIA ADDAMS OBERON - Friday, January 20, 2017 at 7:30PM
FINGERSMITH Loeb Drama Center - Starts December 4, 2016
GLOWBERON — JOHNNY BLAZES & BRIAN KING OBERON - Friday, January 13, 2017 at 8PM
THE DONKEY SHOW OBERON - Every Saturday Night
6/6 7:30PM 6/13 7:30PM
6/4 2PM 6/11 2PM
5/20 2PM * 7:30PM
CARMEN The Ex - May 20 - 27, 2017
6/14 6/15 6/16 6/17 2PM 7:30PM 7:30PM 2PM 7:30PM 7:30PM
6/7 6/8 6/9 6/10 2PM 7:30PM 7:30PM 2PM 7:30PM 7:30PM
5/31 6/1 6/2 6/3 2PM 7:30PM 7:30PM 2PM 7:30PM 7:30PM
5/24 5/25 5/26 5/27 11AM * 7:30PM 7:30PM 2PM * 7:30PM 7:30PM
5/12 5/13 7:30PM 7:30PM
5/21 2PM 7:30PM
5/16 5/17 5/18 5/19 7:30PM 7:30PM 7:30PM 7:30PM
ARRABAL Loeb Drama Center- Starts May 12, 2017
OBERON - April 27 & 28, 2017 at 8PM
MINI SERIES — VIOLET Harvard Square - April 4 - 15, 2017
OBERON - Thursday, March 9, 2017 at 8PM
GLOWBERON — LADY RIZO
MINI SERIES — TEMPING Harvard Square - March 7 -19, 2017
Get your tickets today.
As of 11/17/16
OBERON 2 Arrow Street, Cambridge Our flexible club theater offers our artists freedom to explore the relationship between audiences and performers. OBERON has been arranged as a seated cabaret, a dance floor, a runway, and many more configurations.
LOEB DRAMA CENTER 64 Brattle Street, Cambridge From a more traditional fully-seated proscenium to a roving promenade for actors and audience, the Loeb’s mainstage provides an intimate experience in any configuration.
Arrabal is a dance/theater piece with English surtitles. There will be no designated Open Captioned, Audio Described, or ASL interpreted performances.
- POST-SHOW TALKBACKS
SF - SENSORY FRIENDLY
- AUDIO DESCRIBED
- ASL INTERPRETED
OC - OPEN CAPTIONED
1 Bennett St. charleshotel.com
The Charles Hotel
For current promotions and discounts: americanrepertorytheater.org/discounts
1 Bennett St. noir-bar.com
1 Bennett St. henriettastable.com
52 Brattle St. toscanoboston.com
44 Brattle St. harvestcambridge.com
52 Church St. sinclaircambridge.com
1 Bennett St. regattabarjazz.com
91 Winthrop St. parsniprestaurant.com
1230 Massachusetts Ave. graftonstreetcambridge.com
27 Church St. cambridge1.us
13 Brattle St. beatbrasserie.com
Enjoy discounts from our local partners
Learn more about A.R.T. accessibility services at: americanrepertorytheater.org/access
A.R.T. OFFERS OPEN CAPTIONING, AUDIO DESCRIPTION, ASL INTERPRETED, & SENSORY FRIENDLY PROGRAMMING AT DESIGNATED PERFORMANCES THROUGHOUT THE YEAR. EMAIL: TICKETSERVICES@AMREP.ORG / CALL: 617.547.8300
ASSISTIVE LISTENING DEVICES ARE AVAILABLE FOR ALL A.R.T. PERFORMANCES.
617.547.8300 TUE. - SUN. 12 - 5PM
LARGE PRINT AND BRAILLE PROGRAMS ARE AVAILABLE AT SELECT PERFORMANCES.
ALL VENUES ARE FULLY ACCESSIBLE.
The A.R.T. is dedicated to providing quality arts experiences for everyone.
THERE IS A FULL BAR IN THE PERFORMANCE SPACE AT OBERON.
REFRESHMENTS AND SNACKS ARE AVAILABLE BEFORE ALL PERFORMANCES & DURING INTERMISSIONS AT THE LOEB DRAMA CENTER.
FOR DISCOUNTED PARKING OPPORTUNITIES VISIT: AMERICANREPERTORYTHEATER.ORG/PARKING
A.R.T. IS ON THE MBTA RED LINE — HARVARD SQUARE STATION.
PLAN YOUR VISIT
americanrepertorytheater.org 2016/17 Season 27