Monday, March 3, 2014

Stanislavsbea*

Shortly after coming out as transgender, I realized that my identity would produce issues as far as my career in the theatre is concerned:

Unless for a specifically queer play or theatre company, who would consider me for the roles with which I empathize more profoundly, the women's?

Until tonight I'd been able to sidestep the issue.

***

The evidence:

  1. In what is now "Shakespeare quarter" of my acting class thus far, I've played Juliet, Queen Katharine, and Olivia. I found the emotional lives of these characters much more relatable to my own than say, Hamlet or Hotspur, and I played them as honestly as I could, earning positive feedback.
  2. For an audition back in January, I rehearsed a selection from Doug Wright's Pulitzer-winning I Am My Own Wife, a sort of one-woman-fictionalized-docudrama about Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, a German transwoman who had lived through the Nazi and Communist regimes. I understood the piece intuitively and again, my peers praised my acting.
  3. Finally, on a larger scale, I acted in the only play since my self-actualization about a month ago: Caryl Churchill's Cloud 9, an exploration of changing racial, gender, and sexual norms from Victorian England to 1970s England. I played a matriarch in the first act and then her own son in the second, who over the course of the latter progresses from a self-identified gay man to a lesbian to some kind of transfeminine pansexual human being. Needless to say, it was pretty darn queer, and I again had no problem finding the heart of either of my characters, and was once more greeted with a warm reception to my work.


These recent ruminations came into sharper understanding when I read an article today, at what ended up being the perfect time for such a meditation: Lauren Love's "Resisting the 'Organic': A feminist actor's approach." In a broad sense, Love argues that Constantin Stanislavsky's psychological approach to actingthe most commonly used theory in Western practiceinherently participates in a patriarchal system that oppresses women. While this may sound strange, it actually makes a lot of sense; in plays written within patriarchal societies (i.e. most of what we see on Western stages), women characters are notoriously passive, reactive, and dependent upon the action of the men, who tend to be the driven, dynamic, active sort. If actors are meant to inhabit the interior lives of such characters, the actors become automatic participants in perpetuating these patriarchal, oppressive norms. You can see how this is problematic for politically-minded actors who don't want to contribute to their own oppression.

All this serves to explain why I withdrew from an exciting audition opportunity.

***

I was scheduled to audition for a student sitcom pilot at Northwestern at 9:30PM this evening, which despite the following experience, I believe will be a delightful project, knowing some of the people involved.

When I first emailed the casting director for an audition appointment, I received a confirmation email with three audition sides attached: one for each of the three male characters. I shrugged it off at the time, saying "well, it's television," and figured that they would be less inclined than the theatre to try on a queer casting for a show that isn't at its core queer-related.

As I began reading Love's article, however, her resistance to theatrical gender norms inspired me, and I sent a follow-up email asking to be sent the women's audition sides as well. The casting director responded, writing that they were "specifically looking to cast women in [those] roles" and encouraged me to still audition for the male characters "if [I felt] comfortable doing so."

Who was this casting director to dictate my gender identity for me?

After this response, I found that my struggle as an invisibilized transgender actor paralleled Love's struggle as a feminist actor. I decided, like Love, that I could not ethically participate in a project that denies my womanhood as a viable identity.  If the casting director chose to consider me only by my physical body and not by my actual talent as an actor who most excels in women's roles, that forms a creative culture in which I do not wish to participate.

***

My recommendation to all art-makers and other humans: 

Biology doesn't really matter.  "Aesthetic preferences" like only casting "women" in roles in which I, for one, might shine, compound just one of the many micro-aggressions trans* people like me face on a daily basis.  So stop worrying about their genitals and just pay attention to the person themself.

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