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Archive for Creating A/Broad

Recalibrating my privacy settings

While touring nerdfucker this summer, I noticed how much people expected autobiography from me. People kept asking, “Does that actually exist?” that is, are there people who play chess on other people’s backs? Or, “Did that really happen?” e.g. have I really, somewhere in my colorful past, allowed someone to play a game of chess on my back?

My answers to the first question varied along the spectrum between I have no idea, but it’s possible to some people have more money than sense. The second question is a little more interesting, because while I have never gotten painted up for the purpose of using my back as a playing surface for any game, I have certainly been in situations with nerd and geek men where I gave freely of my gifts and my love and support, and got utterly used in return.

I’m not going to go into the specifics, because it’s not useful and it’s still too close to home, way too close, if home is the place where my heart lives with reasonable expectations of just being able to feel feelings without having to write an award-winning play about them just yet. I’m allowed to have that space.

No one will give that space to me, of course, not when I’ve built my performance career up to this point using see-through walls and almost total lack of boundaries. I mine my life for the stories I tell. That’s what people have come to know and love and expect, if not actually demand, from me.

This is fine. These are important stories to tell, exploring significant areas in internal and interpersonal psychology, things that don’t get discussed, and I have been happy to use my own experiences as an entry point for larger discussion. But it’s probably no coincidence that my interest in exploring fictional situations and characters has increased at the same time that my own life has gotten increasingly more complex, and different from what it has been. My excavations are more challenging, and I am not operating on my own anymore.

For example, I am in an astonishing, deepening relationship with someone whose parameters around privacy preclude using many of our sex stories for Smut Slams. I could easily say, well, but those are my stories, too, as I have in the past, for smut slam stories and my plays as well.

But these are not parallel situations. My past stories are past, involving people whom no one would any longer connect with me. Those stories are over; they shaped me and they’re done. This lover now, we are still going, we are still shaping each other. I hope that we always will, and I don’t want to fuck up that process by telling about it.

This is part of the dilemma with which I have been wrestling from the beginning of my career as a playwright/performer: when is it okay to write these stories, and how, and when do I hang on to them, for a later release or never?

For Smut Slam stories, well, since I have decided to go “mono” (monogamous) on all y’all’s asses—this has been true for over a year now, BTW—this means that my new stories at slams are no longer from the here and now, but mined from the time before. I've already decided that I will need to dig back through my sexual history, even more than I did while writing slut (r)evolution, sifting for useable stories with distinct narratives that rely on something other than immediacy for their impact. (Dammit, I wish I hadn’t black-out-drunk so much in college. My slam bank would be spilling over.) The current sex, the filth of the moment, I will continue to explore full-out, but only with my lover. These are our stories to learn from and laugh at; these are our private smut slams.

And for plays… well. These too require more thought lately. Sometimes I will hold off because the story is not done yet; as I noted before, observing a situation or a dynamic can be enough to change it, in unexpected and occasionally problematic ways. Sometimes I need distance and perspective to be able to write and convey what really happened. And sometimes I will hold off, or write a fictional piece, because I can if I want to. I don’t have to give it all, if I’m afraid or confused, or if I want to go deeper with it than I feel safe doing with the real situation and the real name of the real actual person. The stories from nerdfucker, for example, the main story, that is how I chose to tell it, because it really was too damn close to my own stuff.

So instead, I chose to explore that story in metaphor, in expanded or exaggerated form, limning the outlines of feeling-truth as best as I could with something other than the complete and actual, factual truth. There are actually different kinds of truth and feelings, and I am bringing them home.

In this home space, I get to keep deciding how to tell the stories I want to tell. Just because I used to tell everyone everything before, doesn’t mean I’m going to keep doing it, not in the way that my fans might always recognize. I think you’ll like it; those of you who have seen my new works already do. But I don’t want to get caught up in that too much. More important than how you like these new directions and dynamics is how I like them, how they feel on me, in me, around me.

I’m resetting, recalibrating, renovating. This is my new home.

*****

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Where are you from? (thoughts from an itinerant artist)

Where are you from?

My shoulders creep up to my ears every time I hear that question, a common conversational gambit. It’s an opening salvo in most small-talk skirmishes, one that is mostly about figuring out one another’s places, one’s clan, and setting up parameters and expectations for subsequent cultural references. As casual as the question sounds, it is PACKED with significance, both for the person asking and the person being asked, so I rarely know how to answer, because I don’t know what the question really is.

Where is your accent from?

I don't really know. All over, I guess. They sure don’t talk like this where I was born and raised. They don’t talk like anything there. I’ve been told that the native Pacific Northwest accent is one of the least inflected accents in the US. Frankly, after traveling around North America and the UK, I find myself liking inflections. I want some for myself, which is good, because I tend to absorb surrounding speech patterns quickly.

I’ve lived on and left both coasts, but still carry traces of each. I speak too quickly for the West coast; they look at me funny. I absorbed a slight Bostonian drawl, can put on a hard, fast New York shtick that is convincing enough for everyone except New Yorkers, those suspicious fucks, they can tell I’m not from there. And then there are the pesky Canadianisms that have crept in, the question tone at the end of sentences, the “eh” (it’s a real thing).

Where is your home base?

Sometimes people ask me this question outright, and then it’s easy to answer: “my car.” Hopefully they’ll laugh and I’ll laugh and we’ll just forget this tangled branch of the conversation. Any other answer, the real answer, leaves me stumbling along through a geopolitical swamp.

I get my mail in Massachusetts; I have clothes and cookware still in Montreal, which is where I’ll be returning to at the beginning of December. I’m relocating my base of operations to Manchester at the end of the year. All of those places have legal ramifications and sometimes hardcore paperwork challenges for me to keep my connections there. You don’t want to hear the boring, stressful details, and I don’t want to relive them every time I hear the question.

Where is your fan base?

On Facebook.

Where is your community?

Whether that’s a performance community, a kink scene, or a city where I know the best place to buy produce, as long as I travel, I will never have this. I get over it; I have to. I join the groups on fetlife, stay in touch with locals as best as I can, but I will always be the carpetbagger. The one community I most consistently have had is itself composed of transient parts—Fringe artists touring Canada—and it disbands at the end of the summer, and I’m older and not up to or interested in all the late-night shenanigans, and I missed three summers before coming back this year and BOY can I feel that the divide has grown. Besides which, did I mention I’m moving to England?

You see why I don’t like to think about this question, and all the variants of it: The answers are there, but they are dissatisfactory in one way or another. They take too long to explain. They are something that I’m trying to change. They’re highly personal, inappropriately so for most conversational environments, in the same way that most people don’t really want to hear how you’re doing when they ask how you’re doing.

Where am I from? It’s just too messy and weird to get into sometimes. Besides, right now I’d much rather focus on where I’m going.

*****

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Creating on tour, aka planting seeds and filling the well

Usually the idea of creating new material while touring feels a bit … high-pressure? Over-achieving? Hell, I’m banging this out over the shitty wi-fi on the last possible ferry to get from Victoria to Vancouver in time for my tech rehearsal this morning, with no breakfast and half a cup of Charbuck’s finest, and that feels like enough of a stretch. The thought of trying to work on a new script or memorize lines or have a skype call with a director, it feels like Too Fucking Much Already. (Although I have seen plenty of artists do this, and mad props to them, WTF people, you art-making MACHINES.)

On the other hand, there is something about being out on the road that both blows things open and focuses my creative vision into something like a laser. There are more aspects to creating than just writing a script.

For starters, being out and surrounded by so many other creators helps me see myself and my work in the context of what other people are doing. I wind up being able to define the art that I want to do more clearly by watching others and dividing their shows up into two categories: stuff that I know I would not be any good at or show to my advantage, and shows that teach me something applicable. I can also see, huh, not many people write solo shows like mine, which is a double-edged sword sometimes, but mostly I manage to use that edge to my advantage.

Out here I see what topics and trends and techniques are popular, and decide for myself whether I want to jump on board or not, wholeheartedly or picking and choosing.

I am constantly inspired by seeing how other solo performers make scene or character shifts, for example, or how they choose to portray internal states or dialogues. Even something as simple as pre-show handouts—doodle pads for a kids’ program or question slips for a mentalist session—invite me to reconsider my own physical materials for the audience Some stuff I don’t have the training for, like puppetry or acrobatics or what-not, but there are plenty of other genres—storytelling, poetry, multimedia, even song or dance or a fucking cooking show—that I can access and store up for my own works.

(Specific example: at the Edmonton Fringe this year, I was so jazzed watching my fringe friend Sharon Mahoney use both outdoor and indoor performances to reinforce attendance at both, that I came up with an idea for a new character for possible street performance purposes and also emceeing. I had the name of this character three years ago, but it didn’t get any traction in my imagination until I saw what Sharon did, and then got a chance to sit down with her and brainstorm.)

There are even opportunities to experiment out here, at various late-night cabarets or special events. My new character got two chances to play around in Victoria; I also developed a feminist phone sex sketch with another PSO/fringe artist that almost certainly has legs for other performance environments. With these showcases, there is the constant pressure to use them as sales vehicles for one’s productions, and experimenting can be messy. But fringe is also an okay place to take those kind of risks.

Beyond seeing other performers at work and testing new stuff in bits and pieces, being out on tour gives me the “water-cooler” experience that is otherwise severely lacking in my life. Artists who mostly stay in one place, they develop creative community there. For me, my creative community is online, and tour time is when we finally get face time. It’s not much, little bits and pieces grabbed here and there between shows and flyering and special events and all the rest of the festival frenzy.

But occasionally it’s there, a precious half-hour where I get to hear what people are working on next, and I get to hit them with my titles and ideas and half-formed glimpses of posters for the show that’s coming out in 2018 at the earliest. We don’t have to do anything with those ideas. We all understand the pressure out here. These are simply the moments when I can let down my guard with a chosen few, share my vision, get some broad-stroke feedback, dig into the larger issues—beyond back story and narrative arc into “really, though, THIS is what it’s about” territory—and then, well, jot those notes into a notebook and wash it down with a pint.

You were there for the birth of it, I joke at those moments, but that’s not quite right. I don’t know when my projects will be born, their world premieres or whatever. They were there for the conception.

*****

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Finding my #fringefemme colleagues

Last night in Edmonton, my Fringe friend was admiring the constellation of buttons that spreads like a neon-colored Milky Way across the ceiling of the Deerinator. She was able to identify a few of them, and I pointed out others that were more obscure. I don’t often spend time enjoying the collection—it’s there with me whenever I drive—which I guess is why I remembered the back corners. “Back there I put… shrines, I guess you’d call them?”

She craned her head back to look while I described Heather, the woman who had first given me space to perform (and whose boots I inherited and have been wearing pretty much non-stop since 2009). And in the other corner, I said, was the shrine to Vee Anne, my Fringe friend and regular New Orleans billet who passed away in 2014.

These were the two women I knew as my peers, I said. Women of a certain age who were pushing ahead and directing their own shit. When they passed away, it just felt lonelier out here. These were my colleagues, I said, and I miss them.

As I told my fringe friend during the drive last night, these women remain the two performing women that I’ve spent the most time with, and we spent a lot of time talking about making our own way as non-traditional female artists (women of a certain age, doing performance work of a definitely if not explicitly feminist kind). I had talked with Heather about budget planning long before I went to school about it. I talked with Vee Anne about intellectual property and gratuitous shock value in theatre. It was something, to be able to have those conversations.

Naturally my fringe friend and I began sharing our own experiences out on the Fringe as women, especially as women of a certain age (in Fringe theatre, as in film and other performance spheres, women reach that "certain age" far earlier than men do, whatever the actual number of years). And I felt a visceral sense of relief to be talking about it again, as if my rib cage could loosen a little. I could be open about this.

Because, see, none of this gets discussed very much out in public. No one wants to be the one bringing sour grapes to the Fringe banquet. But naturally I have opinions about sexism on the Fringe; I am developing other opinions about ageism on the Fringe, and where those two intersect. The precarity of Fringe performing, combined with the fact that women tend to be pigeonholed and overlooked out in the rough-and-tumble marketplace of the fringe, makes this an important subject of discussion for any two or more female performers to have. Such conversations will not happen by themselves.

Frankly, any conversations about how we survive, how we struggle, are never going to be carried by the Fringe platform. The festivals do not have anything to gain by disseminating information about how inherently challenging, not to say problematic, they themselves are. They don’t benefit by talking too overtly about structural inequities both inside the system and outside as well. They need us artists to keep thinking that we have a chance, the same chance as anyone. I’m not saying that the fringe festivals are actively holding us down or oppressing us; I’m just saying the system thrives on the myth of the noble bootstrapping artist, and talking about individual experiences as manifestations of systemic inequities would detract from the mythos.

I still  don’t know how that’s going to change, but these are the things that Heather and Vee Anne and I talked about with each other. The first step toward solving the problem is the same as it always has been: admitting that there is one. Then you find other people who are seeing the same thing, or at least are willing to believe that what you’re seeing and saying is true. I need this shared experience, now more than ever, and I’m so grateful when I find it. Rare though it is, it’s such a simple thing:

No, you’re not making this up. Yes, this is harder than it should be. No, it’s not fair. Yes, tell me.

NOTE: the #fringefemme hash-tag was created in 2009, I believe at the Edmonton Fringe, to lift up solo female playwright/performers. Time to revive that shit.

*****

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TERRIBLE SEX TIPS: “Please Your Husband By Becoming His Mistress”

The headline was problematic, so when I saw that this piece was authored by a “Dr.”, well, I HAD to do a background check. Dr. Cadell has a doctorate in Human Behavior from Newport University, which is pretty much an online diploma mill, as far as I can tell from the web site. She’s affiliated with some reputable sex-ed programs, although I don’t know in what capacity. She’s got a list of media appearances as long as an average-sized third leg. And she writes like a church lady on ecstasy. Who talks about becoming your husband’s mistress anymore? I’m pretty sure that went out in the ‘70s, which THANK GOD. I mean, LOOK AT THIS TERRIBLE SHIT:

1) Look good for him and for yourself. 

I’m all in favor of dressing up. If you’ve got the closet space, go on and bring out your sex play costumes as often as you like (although how a pair of high heels “enhances his sense of sight” is a mystery). But this expert is not encouraging him to play dress-up. She doesn’t even mention him changing his underwear, never mind putting on a pair of high heels. She suggests the apron-only outfit “when serving him breakfast in bed.” Way to fold a couple of subby stereotypes into one! Oh, and this: “Getting dressed up is also a great way for a woman to get into a juicy frame of mind after a rough day at work or exhausting time with the children.”

<insert angry emoticon here>

2) Flirt with your husband. 

Start by giving him a physical compliment daily and touch him when he least expects it.

I get that it’s easy to take your partner for granted, but … why does the woman have to be doing all of this? Why can’t they sit down and agree to hit on each other in a more egalitarian fashion? One tip from this section points out the basically anachronistic tone of this whole piece: “squeeze his butt playfully just before he leaves for work.” Right. But what if you are also a money-earner? What if you’ve got presentations all this week and your slide shows are crashing? What about the kids screaming about the choice of cold cereal this morning? If “your man” is regularly down in the trenches with you, then yeah, he deserves a butt squeeze. Otherwise, fuck him.

3) Make dates spontaneous. 

But then the writer goes on to say, “Make it memorable by recreating some of the dates you went on before you got married.”

Are you kidding? Those dates early on in the relationships can be some of the highest prep-to-outcome events ever! Here, she addresses that by putting the responsibility for picnic-ordering and site selection in the woman’s hands. Again.

4) Be adventurous. 

What is adventurous here? The woman making the first move. Reading 50 Shades of Grey to each other. Taking a class at the writer’s own online Loveology University. “Adventurous” is relative, and this tells you everything you need to know about the author’s scale.

5) Don’t ambush him with complaints. 

Men want their wives to be happy, so the last thing they want to hear about after work is complaints about all the things that went wrong in your home.

WUT. This item is LOADED with seriously retrogressive phrasings:

  • let him feel like a king
  • if he can’t fix a problem, he might feel emasculated
  • communicate positive things
  • don’t “ambush” him
  • “he probably doesn’t want to hear about your shopping spree.”

RULES FOR SUCCESSFUL MARRIAGE AS DRAWN FROM SIXTIES SITCOMS.

6) Play into his fantasies. 

Yeah, but she follows that up with a warning list: Men’s sexual fantasies are generally more sexually explicit, more physically arousing, about objects of desire, more likely to specify sexual acts, more visual in content and more likely to contain details about physical appearance. Unlike women’s, which are all satin sheets and chocolate and curtains blowing in the night breeze?

7) Ignite your passion to fuel his fire. 

When you please yourself, you automatically please your partner because he does not want to work at giving you pleasure and quite frankly it’s not his job anyway.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAH. WHAT THE FUCK WHAT THE FUCK WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK. Warm yourself up, because men are lazy slackers. Since when should giving pleasure be a “job” for anyone but sex workers? Oh, right. Since forty years ago, and apparently still today.

The takeaway from today’s post? Honorifics and letters around a person’s name cannot save those sex tips, if they are truly terrible.

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