What Do You Know? A Discovery of Prejudgment, Vocabulary, and Identity
In this special two-part series, theatre artists Tatiana Gil and Max Cerci speak on their experiences working at the Theater Offensive as True Color Expansion interns last summer. Though they worked together as co-interns under the same position, Tati and Max had the opportunity to hone in on their specific point of view throughout their experience. In this series, these artists reflect on the different questions they each confronted and explored during their time at TTO.
It’s the beginning of my internship at The Theater Offensive and I feel confident, yet nervous as I trip up the mangled steps spray painted in bright yellow, “Watch Your Step” at the Dorchester Art Project building. From inside you can hear the sounds of the closed nail salon next door having a karaoke party with friends and family. I think to myself, “This is an unconventional place to have a performance, surely we could’ve found somewhere a little nicer.” Walking into the space I make out what I believe to be the set: two red rehearsal cubes with poles bolted to them, and a string connected to either pole holding white cloth down the center of the space. I clearly remember feeling a wave of relief come over me. I was so excited at the prospect of bringing what I had learned at my university to this group. I had spent my last three years attempting to make Broadway-level theatre and I was sure I could use my knowledge of design and directing to help this group out.
I took the True Colors Expansion Internship at The Theater Offensive with the knowledge that most of my work would be clerical, and the hope that I would experience some of the important opportunities that the company provides for the youth of Boston. When I was given the opportunity to be present for and contribute to the shows, I jumped. I thought I knew my privilege as a white man who has the ability to study theatre at a university. What I wasn’t completely aware of was my wrong notion that this group had so much to learn from me, while I didn’t need to learn anything from them.
Here at The Theater Offensive, I found a group of people with different levels of education putting on a show that transforms its audience through reflection and action.
Gemma Cooper-Novak’s Through The Glory Hole and What We Found There (TTGHAWWFT), directed by Elyas Harris and performed by Derek Charlesworth, Victoria Capraro, Chioke Waithe-Howard, and Sam Warton, is a story of identity. While it seems like the “Who Am I?” theme has been used countless times in a myriad of ways, this LGBTQ story feels different. It tells the story of characters that see themselves as people who are unable to place themselves in the world’s categories of identity. The story not only names these characters and their struggles, but also names the theorists who put them in those boxes—letting us all know why they are wrong. The show throws us headfirst into a queer high school where we watch through private glory holes as the students and teachers struggle with their identities and directly refute theories and ideas of identity by Sigmund Freud, Erik Erikson, Abraham Maslow, and Vivienne Cass.
After the performance ended, I was at a loss for words. I try every day of my life to be self-aware and check my initial pre-judgments and prejudices as they arise, but this was something else entirely. In my initial scan of this production and the company, I had determined I stood on a higher level of theatre artistry. I used state of the art technology. I devoted every day of my academic life to knowing the classics, knowing the structures—knowing everything. These artists, some in school and many not, taught me more than I had ever learned about theatre and more importantly, identity. I had an idea of what quality “theatre” was, but I had an itch to find something more; an inkling that there was other theatre out there. The performance was not only performative, but also transformative. I was prompted by the actors to participate, to really listen and to discuss; and in doing so, I gained vocabulary I had no idea existed.
I can begin implementing the information and techniques I witnessed in TTGHAWWFT at my school. I can inspire others like I have been inspired. I have begun to understand how theatre can be used as a tool to educate and activate others to be better.
Accepting my queerness is something that I have been working on since I started to question my sexuality. More and more I have felt a longing to understand how I fit into this community. TTGHAWWFT introduced me to characters that struggled with the same questions of acceptance and identity that I did. If these characters don’t jive with societal identity norms, then I don’t have to either. If these characters can directly refute old theorists and say, “We don’t fit your mold,” then so can I. Now with a place to start, I can educate myself more on Vivienne Cass’ model, and discover how I may or may not fit in with this and other theories. With this new understanding of my community and myself, I can begin implementing the information and techniques I witnessed in TTGHAWWFT at my school. I can inspire others like I have been inspired. I have begun to understand how theatre can be used as a tool to educate and activate others to be better.
These epiphanies got me thinking differently than I had before about theatre and education. Looking back at all my theatre experiences on Broadway, off-Broadway, and at community theatres, I wonder was I really there to tune-in to the experience of life, or to tune-out and escape the problems of the world? In my previous experiences, I gained a sense of catharsis, a purging of my emotions, through other characters; yet, I was able to separate the character from myself. I pitied the characters in their stories, but I never had to look too deep within myself. However, TTGHAWWFT placed me in the show and made me unable to separate myself. The people reflected in the show are a part of who I am. I had to acknowledge my presence in the story. I then began to understand how identity directly affects me.
I look at my education from grade school to now and wonder, what did I learn? I’ve been engaged with so much information in my life; but have I utilized that information to make a difference? Or is my brain simply just a vault to store facts and ideas until space is needed for something else? Here at The Theater Offensive, I found a group of people with different levels of education putting on a show that transforms its’ audience through reflection and action. By the end of the show, audience members learned about some theorists and their theories, LGBTQ vocabulary, and real accounts on the LGBTQ struggle to deal with societal expectations. These audience members left activated to become better allies and more in touch with the LGBTQ community. This is not something you find everyday on the streets of Broadway. There is a need for more education instead of mere stimulation.
Knowledge is important, just like my university and technology are important. But what use is any of it if it’s not activating others to be better? Knowledge must be utilized, not just stored. We should not simply be walking file cabinets of information that regurgitate information for a paper with a letter grade on it. I am so excited to take what I have learned during my time at this internship and bring it back to academia where the knowledge is overflowing, but the implementation of that knowledge to educate and transform others is lacking. My education doesn’t mean I’m more knowledgeable than anyone else. An unconventional performance space can be the perfect spot for a meaningful show. In watching TTGHAWWFT, I gained more knowledge about myself and a community I’ve been a part of for so long than I have in a long time. We can all stand to remember that we can learn from anyone at any point in life. If we check our initial reactions to things and enter with an open mind ready to absorb and participate in new information, we can come out transformed.