“You are the part of me I wish we were entirely. How could you not be happy?”
“We are all we have ever needed to be. Why aren’t you?”
The writing is beautiful and challenging: beautiful because it is challenging. The script’s first draft was imperfect, therefore engaging and full of life. As it progressed, and took shape under the pressure of questioning and conversation, the innate sincerity of the story shone through even brighter. Reflecting on this growth, it strikes me that the formation of the production ran parallel with the rise and fall of the narrative arc and the directorial decisions I made. I’m fascinated by this comparison and I want to tell you about it.
Often when I take on a new project I am struck by the thematic similarities between process and dramatic content. In Re:Construct, Even created a “beautiful broken thing” that, much like the character he plays, had to become comfortable with its own unique self before presenting an approachable “meaning” for those on the outside of the experience. The text became more defined in order to “shine through the cracks” and be understood by an audience who may or may not be familiar with queer stories. The character (whom we called “the artist” in rehearsals) similarly allows bits of his identity to be revealed gradually. The cake functions as a device symbolic of said identity and what the artist wants people to see.
I think in order to fully unpack just how fascinating these parallels became, it’s important to note the directorial intentions of the production.
It’s cake. Everyone loves it. That’s basically the message.
The artist is crafting his identity, which is physically manifested in the form of a sculpture or visual art installation. The piece is shaped like a cake: a symbol associated with “gender reveal parties” (vomit), birthdays, and other celebrations of new beginnings. The basic structure of the cake is made of plastic totes, and is covered (and uncovered) using shaving cream-as-icing, rendering more opaque what the artist considers a “transparent past”. What became important to convey in the production was the theme of covering up aspects of ourselves that inevitably seep through.
We should learn to embrace those parts of ourselves which may break us but also make us beautiful. The story is not saying that trans* people can never present as their true selves. Rather, it highlights some possible difficulties in the journey of transitioning while also pointing to how those challenges are important.
The transition to how we got here in the hardest, ugliest, best part of it all.
“She”, the biologically female body in which the artist was born and lived a small part of his life, shines through from the inside of the installation. The memories that surround the artist, hung like clothes on racks in his psyche-cum-studio are discussed then etched onto the cake, revealing “her” presence. In other words, no matter how much he decides to cover them up, some aspects of her are still present when reliving his past. This makes it difficult for him to construct his idealized self. As is the case with many of us, he often has to incorporate that which he would rather not confront.
Of course, it makes sense that a play dependent on the metaphor of identity-as-art would cause interesting parallels within the creation of the production itself. But none of the four of us could have predicted just how powerfully the comparison would play out. Even created a play, while the character within the play is creating a visual art piece, both representative of a trans experience. The two trans stories (Even’s real story and the character’s fictional story) are slightly different, yet the central metaphor of an artist crafting his identity stitches together the dramatic content to the real world experience. If we compare the cake to not only identity formation but also the making of theatre, we can then consider the artifice of both theatre and identity, and how their necessary falsity has real, visceral affect.
And I’m just there. Licking my fingertips for every last inch of flavour. Needing more…
The script itself doesn’t have dramatic tension. Its style is spoken word poetry, with wonderful imagery and rhythm, but no conflict or juicy plot line. As with any piece of theatre, we needed to discover what David Ball calls forwards: those moments that make the audience want more, sitting on the edge of their seats, needing to know what happens next. A lot of the discussions between Even and myself were about the line of toppled dominoes: “So this thing happens. What caused that? What happened as a result of that thing happening?” These dramaturgical conversations led to my ideas of an artist studio, with the artist working on his magnum opus: his sense of self. It became clear, when working on the dramaturgy, that Even wanted this to be a cathartic experience. I wanted this to be something he could feel comfortable with while delving into some really raw emotions.
The parallels became apparent only through diligent work in rehearsals (ie Katie’s wonderful technical planning and Cullen’s insightful decisions for the other side of the artist’s brain [“B”]). Even created something that brings the audience into his mind, allowing us to see him in a much more raw state than how he is seen in his daily life. The mise en scene has quite a bit of complexity right from the beginning, but, much like a good Seinfeld episode, is laced with elements of foreshadowing. Even’s character (“A”) randomly injects the word “breeze” into his opening lines: a hint at a speech that occurs near the end. The lighting also shifts in that second, mimicking the final moments when the character moves toward a more positive self-acceptance. In other words, the directorial decisions also play into the metaphor of “seeping through”, so important to Even’s lovely words.
These parallels are what made Re:Construct such a difficult and satisfying piece to work on. As Even accepted his award of excellence for Emerging Artist, receiving a standing-O (because of course everyone can tell just how kind and genuine a human he is), it reminded me of that lighting cue, with the stage momentarily washed in warm light before returning to cool blues.
That’s the thing: even though we’ve had this beautiful experience that was Fringe, Even still has some shit to deal with. Even after making a breakthrough, “the artist” had to return to perfecting the cake.
I am currently sitting on my balcony with the creator of the play. The moon sits above him, eerily similar to the street lamps below. He’s just told me that he has to sort out an issue with his student loan applications: they can’t officially document him as male, because his social insurance number is still linked to who he once was. While he tries to articulate this frustration over something I can never fully understand myself, one line from the text echoes in and around and around my cochlea:
You are dandelion seeds. You are sent-off wishes. You are only as good as the breeze that carries your fears away…