April 30, 2010

Budgeting, fundraising, and other money matters

So Crossroads is now at a . . . crossroads.

We've decided what we're going to do. We picked a place (or at least a price range). We have an idea of when (between mid-June and mid-July).

Now all we have to do is pay for space, actors, and props without coming out of our pockets. Given our needs, $1,000 is pretty much all we need (it's pretty generous, in fact). With $1,000, we can ask Fractured Atlas for fiscal sponsorship, so people can get tax breaks by giving us more money.

That means fundraising.

Waitwaitwait! I'm not asking you for money. I'm just brainstorming.

See, rather than trying a fundraising campaign that may or may not work based on ideas that may or may not be based in reality, I'm directly asking you, dear theatre blogosphere: 

What it would take for you to part with $1-$99?

You read that right. I'm accepting at most double-digit donations from individuals. More than that, without official non-profit status, just makes me antsy.

Really, what needs to happen to get you to help put this show on stage?
  • You need tickets? You do realize I was going to set some of those aside for you anyway, right?
  • Want your name on something? We can put it on the playbill.
  • The good seats? C'mon. You'll more than likely be sitting on a folding chair. But if it means that much to you, we can put you in the front row.
  • Early bird or latecomer specials? There's only one night - 4 hours of theatre - so there's only one chance to see it.
  • Advertise your stuff at our show - but that almost goes without saying.
So, let's do it. What would it take for you to help make this happen?

April 27, 2010

Food for thought

On the heels of reading bell hooks' Black Looks: Race and Representation, I came across this speech by Theresa Rebeck.
I have been told so many times over the years that theaters and foundations are interested in “diversity” but that doesn’t mean women.
At the time, I couldn't figure out why I winced when I read that. Then I remembered something I'd read in "The Oppositional Gaze" in Black Looks:
Feminist film theory rooted in an ahistorical psychoanalytic framework that privileges sexual difference actively suppresses recognition of race, reenacting and mirroring the erasure of black womanhood [. . . ] many feminist film critics continue to structure their discourse as though it speaks about "women" when in actuality it speaks only about white women.
To be fair, Rebeck herself outright states that she was not deliberately pushing a feminist agenda, so critiquing her comment along the lines of a theory she plainly says she isn't pursuing would be problematic to say the least. However, I do find her comment illuminating simply because of the things I've been addressing with intersectionality.

Native Star comments that:
I would throw into the discussion that as dismal as these stats are for ‘women’, what happens when we address the silence of women of color?
While we are often expected to root for team womanhood in unison, far too often the diversity of what it means to walk this planet as a woman is lost when all are expected to gather and worship beneath the great white tent.
I have no firmly held opinions on the matter, only my own observations from what life has taught me so far. Without turning this into a thesis project, the idea I'm considering is that the commonplace association of Blackness with masculinity and femininity with Whiteness almost guarantees the erasure of Black women from the mainstream theatrical landscape unless cultural gatekeepers actively resist that tendency through learning more intersectionality.

I'm not sure I can really investigate this more fully. To be honest, I hope someone else can see where it goes.

First a reading, then the world!

Great news! Anne&Me is getting a full reading at the Blackboard Play Reading Series. It's really awesome that I managed to get a reading due to all the changes that Blackboard Plays and The Cell are going through. I couldn't have asked for a better place to midwife my piece, although if they could get some ninjas that would be great.

April 25, 2010

Gendered narrative and shifting(?) paradigms

Over at Parabasis, Ben Owen gives a few "Notes on Closure and Quality." Isaac posted a comment that contained a statement that I wanted to explore in more depth and coming from a different direction. It suggests the core of what I've been thinking about lately about the personal being politically radical. I'm responding to it directly here not because I have a personal thing against him or what he's saying, but because it's the clearest way for me to align the content of his comment with the larger point I want to make. It sucks that I have to say this, but since this is the Internet, I should state this as plainly as I can.

Isaac states that:
I'm not sure i totally understand the idea that a desire for closure is (a) gendered and (b) specifically masculine. I get that the traditional narrative structure makes a rather nice metaphor for the male experience of sexual pleasure (and vice versa) but I'm not sure I really get it beyond that, particularly since I don't see much evidence that female artists or audiences are more willing to go for non-closure narratives (I'm not including Soap Operas here simply because I think there's a difference between Finite Narratives that end without closure and Endless Narratives like Soaps-- which traditionally appeal to a female audience-- or mainstream comix franchises-- which traditionally appeal to a male one) . If anything, I see a lot of art that frustrates the desire for closure as being full of masculine posturing, i.e. "Are you MAN enough to deal with my lack of wrapping things up for you, or are you a wuss?!"
I recall reading on an anti-racist blog about someone describing a friend of theirs having a tough time of acclimating to university life, and that friend had talked about feeling as though as people were speaking in a secret code that allows them access to resources and opportunities. At the time, the narrator said that they didn't feel that was the case. The friend countered with the idea that perhaps the narrator spoke that code without realizing it.

It may be hard for you to fully understanding the distinction because, well, you're a cisgender man*, and your own style of communicating - at least in writing - is firmly within that masculine paradigm. In addition, from what I've seen, you engage most fully with a manner of communicating that also fits that style - even if you disagree with the content of what you're responding to. Not to mention, a lot of these ideas are very nuanced and can only be fully grasped through experience. As a result, it's not surprising that what you talk about as closure in general is actually a very specific type of closure**, one rooted in a paradigm dominated by men.

As I hinted at in "The Visibility of Whiteness," part of how dominance works - at least in cultural terms - is that it takes a subjective perspective and renders it neutral. It takes the visible and makes it invisible. So what you get is a very particular way of looking at things and making it simply "the way things are."

Is it really any wonder that you don't have the tools to recognize or analyze narratives that don't fit that model?

Of course, this naturally leads to a question I find incredibly interesting, if only for the fact that it increases possibilities instead of reduces them. That question being . . .

Where and how do you find these tools?

You might want to start with Helene Cixous (in the original French if you want to grasp the full richness of her ideas - which I cannot do yet). After getting a grounding in Cixous, I would suggest examining narratives that have traditionally been handed down by women. Namely, fairy tales. Try to focus on collections from the Italian, Germanic, and French traditions because those are closest to the original oral sources (aka women). I would avoid the ones created by Charles Perrault and Hans Christian Anderson. If you can get your hands on it, Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber is a must-read.

Outside of fairy tales, literature by Black women is a good place to go because that non-linear narrative is presented so clearly. Toni Morrison, naturally. Gayl Jones' Corregidora also. Octavia Butler's Kindred. Ntozake Shange's For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuff. Toni Cade Bambara.

Manga is a very interesting place to look as well. The entire shoujo-ai genre (not the same as yuri!) is heavily female-centric. Revolutionary Girl Utena (the series) is a great example of  feminine narrative. You might also want to check out Strawberry Panic and Maria-sama ga Miteru. The Inuyasha manga is also a good source to explore.

Why do I focus on literature as opposed to other media? In collaborative arts like film and theatre, it's hard to get a sense of who's driving the process. I also majored in English at an HBCU, which meant that most of my teachers (and most of the works I studied) were by and about Black women. As a result, I can list things off the top of my head that most people have to dig around to find. Ditto my thing for anime.

* You sort of brushed this off as tangential when you probably should make it central. When you say, "I don't see much evidence that female artists or audiences are more willing to go for non-closure narratives," why do you think you don't see it?

** A circle has closure, but that shape carries clearly feminine connotations. So what do people really mean when they say "closure"?

April 23, 2010

Interesting reading to do

I came across a preview for Derald Wing Sue's Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation. Perhaps having copies of this on hand for those . . . "educational" moments would help my blood pressure a bit. Although all three categories are things I deal with on a daily basis, I wonder what if it addresses intersectionality (even obliquely) like . . .

Sheri Parks' Fierce Angels: The Strong Black Woman in American Life and Culture. I hear you groaning now. "More of that Black woman stuff?" Yes, but think of it as research before you go creating Yet Another Black Best Friend.

April 15, 2010

The personal is radical - reflections on my current piece

There is something terribly radical about believing that one's own 
experiences and images are important enough 
to speak about, much less to write about and to perform.

--Deb Margolin, A Perfect Theater for One, 1997

Recently I've been thinking about how Anne&Me is, at its core, an act of radical subjectivity. For marginalized groups, it has always been a struggle to express the wholeness of who we are. Claiming the "I" - embracing one's own self as intrinsically valuable simply because it exists - is a radical political statement.

It is radical because affirming ourselves by telling our own stories and speaking our own truths, without an attempt at justification, is a transgressive and transformative act, a direct challenge to hegemonic power (the ultimate expression of which is the power to define what is true and worthy) and a catalyst for healing the internal wounds inflicted upon us by an environment that says that who we are doesn't matter. It undermines hegemonic power by revealing its own subjectivity, effectively neutralizing its power to define and determine truth and value for all people by exposing it as merely one truth among many.

This is not just a long-winded way of saying everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I'm talking about something far more nuanced and powerful: how we exist in this world. For someone with limited experience with marginalization (and I mean experience, not just entertaining the idea), it's easy to overlook or dismiss its importance. But those of us who live with marginalized identities know the power of finally realizing that we do not have to apologize for being ourselves or prove we are worthy of existing or endorse behaviors and attitudes that make us less whole.

Getting back to theatre and my current piece, Anne&Me is radical not only because it comes from me but because it's also about me - and as a piece of theatre, people literally have to see it. There's no filter named Narrator or Camera to distance people from it. It's right in their faces. In an earlier draft of the play, someone commented that it feels like someone's diary, so they were reluctant to critique it. At the time I was a bit annoyed by that, but now I'm in a position where I can say, "Good."

April 14, 2010

When does a play with issues become an Issue Play?

I saw Garlia Jones' Stranger in My Body at the New School on Saturday, and I came back to witness a reading Monday night for Blackboard Play reading series at the Cell. I thoroughly enjoyed it, especially when watching what the actors brought to the readings of the characters, both on stage and in a reading.

After the reading there was a brief talkback. Several people made comments to the effect that they were relieved that Stranger in My Body was not an "issue play." I found that . . . odd (read: slightly disturbing), particularly since the blurb about the play makes it quite plain that Stranger in My Body grapples with Issues. I also found it odd (read: slightly disturbing) to see who the comments were coming from, especially taking into account the playwright herself and the performers. Here are a few things to give you some context:
  • The playwright: cisgender Black woman.
  • The actors: 2 Black women, a White woman, a Black man, and non-American woman - all cisgender as far as I know.
  • The audience: 20-30 people, male-to-female ratio about even, a 50-50 split of White and non-White. All cisgender as far as I know.
  • The people who said that they liked Stranger in My Body for not being an issue play - all White.
  • From the looks of it, a mixture of sexual orientations.
Let me get this out of the way: I'm sure they meant it as a compliment. Apparently, many plays that deal directly with "issues" can come across as pretty fucking didactic. I can see why that would turn people off. Nobody likes to be manipulated, and no one likes being told what to think or how to feel. I get that.

But that's not what I'm talking about, so please don't make comments pointing out the obvious.

Here is where I start to squirm a bit. Of all the things that Stranger in My Body does right, what's with the trend of praising it for not being an "issue play"? What is that even supposed to mean in this context? The play itself has issues all over the place - gender issues, sexuality issues, religion issues. Stranger in My Body focuses on the lives of its characters and their relationships with one another, but does not make it apolitical. Hell, the play opens up at a fucking voting boothThe personal is political, and all that.

What am I supposed to take from this sort of commentary? The playwright is a Black woman who writes a play full of Black characters who don't make race the topic of conversation, and that's what's praiseworthy about it? Nevermind the sensitivity and nuance she brings when she writes about a man trapped in a woman's body. Nevermind how she brings complexity and depth to characters who would be all to easy to stereotype. Nevermind her skill at writing naturalistic dialogue that flows smoothly and feels spontaneous each time the actors say the words. Nope - the thing that 3 or 4 people felt most compelled to comment on is that Stranger in My Body is not an issue play or a topical play, but the only topic I see not getting any attention is race.

No, I'm not going to make this post about race per se, but I will venture a working theory I have about what constitutes an "issue play." Especially considering this discussion happening over at Parabasis, I'm starting to get the idea that an "issue play" is any play that directly confronts the experience of a marginalized identity that makes those who are not marginalized in the same way feel uncomfortable.

I wish I could be more precise than that, but I'm working with what seems to be the only two criteria: privilege and discomfort.

What do you think an "issue play" is?

April 8, 2010

Crossroads - something I'm thinking about.

If I were to put the selling points of my current project in a few words . . .

Black stories on stage.

No maids.
No crackheads.
No Tyler Perry.

I've named the project I'm working on Crossroads, since the works of all 3 of us come from or deal with how race intersects with other identities - namely gender and sexuality. It also links to an idea in Vodoo, African American folklore, and Delta blues songs about the crossroads being a place where strange and unexpected happens. Essentially, our works, simply by the fact that they exist, challenge popular notions about what Black theatre is and what it means.

The visibility of Whiteness

When it comes to race, a lot of people (including people of color) assume - if not outright state - that White is a lack of race, an empty ethnicity, the default, normal, invisible. As a result, when it comes to matters of race, Whiteness becomes impartial, objective, unbiased, rational, common sense.

I'm sure you can imagine how this plays out in racial discourse. Whiteness is positioned as true and therefore right.

Of course, no one thinks that consciously (duh!), but it often comes out in how, in a weird sort of way, White people seem to act like they're only White when the topic of discussion is racism and not every waking moment of their lives. And this confuses the shit out of me because that's like a straight person acting like they're only heterosexual when the issue of gay marriage crops up. Or a man acting like the only time he notices gender is when people bring up sexism. To which the only prudent response is to disengage before the intensity of delusion makes your head explode.