Culture Feature

On Transgender Day of Remembrance: 5 Iconic Trans Men From History

While we memorialize victims of transphobia, we should take the time to remember the historic contributions of trans men.

Philanthropist Reed Erickson

November 20th is known as Transgender Day of Remembrance.

First marked in 1999, it's now part of Transgender Awareness Week, and an occasion to memorialize victims of transphobic violence who have died in the course of the year. Trans women of color in particular have long been disproportionately targeted by violent transphobes.

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It's Spring! And there's Chemistry in the air...

REVIEW | The F*IT Club is back with their 8th annual Spring Fling, and you should catch it now

Photo: Sean Fader

For some people, Spring is the time where they fnially shed their winter wardrobe and take a day in the park.

For F*IT Club, it's their time to put on eccentric theatre that will make your brain feel funny. Now in its 8th year, the F*IT Club Spring Fling is currently in full force, showcasing an evening of short one-acts carefully curated on a single topic. This year's theme: Chemistry. Playwrights are given the theme, and then allowed the liberty to take it to logical or illogical extremes. The results this year held a few surprises, some standouts, and never failed to be fascinating.

Erica Saleh's play Contemplation invites it's characters and its audience to take a moment to consider their own death. It's characters, with the help of an app, acknowledge that life is finite and that all things must pass away to nothing. With the aid of an able cast (composed of Mara Kassin and Richard Prioleau), Saleh and director Rachel Dart were able to put together a light-hearted and straightforwardly philosophical perspective on the inevitable. The play dealt with the morbid, without slipping in to morbidity itself. A welcome feat.

Photo: Sean Fader

Henry, by Mario Correa, saw a former couple (Ceci Fernandez and Eric T Miller) reuniting unexpectedly on a street corner. A simple, honest, piece; it was a humorous, but real, look at the awkward moment when two people, who were once as close as anything, realize how far apart they've come. The piece toyed with a cosmic melancholy, allowing the audience to feel deeply for both parties, whilst also being able to laugh at the relatability of the situation.

Snackable Content, presented an insight in to the dynamic of two co-workers at a BuzzFeed-style internet content creation website. Written by Daniel McCabe, this one-act featured a strong back and forth of humorous jabs, as well as musings on the terminal stages of life, and of working relationships. The stars, Brett Epstein and Rosanny Zayas, really sell their characters, and their conversation feels bright and real.

In Imperfect and Important, Jahna Ferron-Smith took a dialectical approach to race relations in theatre. A black playwright from a middle-class background (Dana Scurlock) is arguing with her literary agent (Liz Leimkuhler) over the tone and subjects of her writing. She is being pushed to write in a more urban tone, with explicit social commentary weaved in to her narratives. She struggles to see why she should, making the point that her upbringing was far from urban, and she doesn't want to feel like she's pandering to a perception of black people that she doesn't represent. More importantly, she, and the play, ask the important question: why do people only understand black narratives in the context of black oppression?

Photo: Sean Fader

Cost/Benefit by Jon Kern presented a view of the workplace that some would call bizarre, others would call next level, and some would call creepy. A corporate spokesperson (Paula Pizzi) espouses the benefits of love in the workplace, assisted by her son (Cesar J. Rosado). She does this with two potential adopters of her methods (Emma Kikue and Monica Gonzalez). The whole thing ends in a game of hangman conducted by Lori Vega. Whilst well-intentioned, this play was the most confusing of the evening and struggled to leave a consistent message. It's multiple set changes also made its levels of context unclear, and gave the impression the play had ended prematurely. A noble effort all the same.

Possibly the most off-the-wall play of the evening was The Verjeena by Mara Nelson-Greenberg. In it, a mother (Dawn Evans) tries to explain the female vagina to her teenage son (Alton Alburo). He has immense difficulty grasping the fact that he could be wrong about anything, even when drawing the vagina as a chemistry set. As the play unfurls his claims at knowledge become more and more twisted and surreal. When challenged on his incorrect beliefs he (literally) dehumanizes his critics, and devolves into petty screaming. Behavior apparently modeled after his father. With its absurdist style, the play humorously makes a point about the willful ignorance of a patriarchal society, and the dangers of complicity with it.

Photo: Sean Fader

Finally, Detention by Amy Staats sees the time old story of boy meets… teacher. In detention, an educator (Allyson Morgan) attempts to push away the advances of her former lover (and current high school student) played by Adam Langdon. They are quickly joined by her husband (Federico Rodriguez), another student (Emma Orme), and eventually a police officer (Emma Kikue). The scene is a gradual comedic devolution, where maturity is up for grabs and all morals are relative. Whilst the play doesn't seem to offer a concrete moral judgement on any of its characters (it feels conspicuous in its absence, particularly in the #metoo era), it does deliver on the laughs, and ends the evening on a decided high note.

Overall, another strong year for F*IT club, showcasing plays that one legitimately feels would not exist anywhere but here. More than that though, it should once again be stressed how few evenings of one-act plays are assembled with any sense of cohesion. Spring Fling categorically feels like it is put together with care, nuance, and with the aim to produce a night of plays that flow gracefully from one to the other, rather than zig-zagging across a wild spectrum of content, and quality, as most similar festivals do. Everything here is consistently enjoyable, comparable in its content, and creative in its presentation. Spring Fling: Chemistry, is sure to be a catalyst for your enjoyment.

Check out Spring Fling today!

Thomas Burns Scully is a PopDust contributor, and also an award-winning actor, playwright, and musician. In his spare time he writes and designs escape rooms. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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New play 'Soot and Spit' looks at the life of James Castle, an artist born deaf and effectively mute

THEATRE | Our Voices at the New Ohio Theatre presents an inside look at the life and work of James Castle, an artist born deaf and autistic who never learned to speak, sign, or conventionally communicate

When dealing with the subject of disability in art, we are almost inevitably brought to it from the perspective of the observer of said disability. In Rain Man we see through the eyes of Tom Cruise's character, not Dustin Hoffman's. In Of Mice and Men, we experience the world from George's point of view, not Lennie's. In A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, we learn from the parents, and not the child. This is natural enough. It's easier to understand things that are other than ourselves when we are presented them through the lens of commonality. But what if you were to imagine a show that presented the world of the differently able from their point of view? With almost no context whatsoever? What would the experience be? It would be Soot and Spit, presented by Our Voices at the New Ohio Theatre.

A narrator (Chris Lopes) walks on to the stage. He briefly outlines the early life of James Castle (JW Guido), a man born deaf, autistic, and essentially mute in 1900. Despite attempts by those around him to get him to communicate via either speech or sign language, he chose instead to create art. James wrote and sketched using whatever materials were available to him, often using ink made of soot and his own spit. His creations included representations of the figures around him, sketches of the rural town in which he lived, and much more besides. We see many of these recreated on stage, both as exact replicas, and as figurative creations imaging what they looked like to him. Through these we are lead to question the nature of art in relation to perspective, and pushed vehemently and unapologetically to see the world through his eyes.

Photos by Nina Wurtzel

Soot and Spit is a rare show, in that it's intent so intensely pure. It simply begs you to try and understand. In the same manner as an autistic person with speech and hearing impediments is dropped in to a world of talkers and listeners, we are dropped in to the world of James Castle. No forewarning, beyond a brief introduction, and occasional interludes of the world as we know it. We see him play with the paper dolls he makes, sketching food labels, we hear words interpreting his work as read and sung by the actors around him.

"JW Guido is an enthralling presence as Castle"

There is a whole lot of something to this, as an experience. But you would never call it a conventional play, more of an art installation that you are encouraged to let wash over you. Its segments are thrown at you with no obvious through line or narrative, enhancing the discombobulatory effects of the pieces. The audience is pushed to draw their own conclusions with as little judgement as possible. This is so completely admirable and selfless, and the time given over to it so overwhelming, it's enough to make you weep. And yet…

Soot and Spit comes off just a little too far in to esoteric territory in order to achieve its goals. Watched with no context the audience spends too much time having to guess what is being talked about and how it is presented to appreciate the finer nuances of the text or the visuals. The lack of plot structure drains the characters of discernible intent and the lack of clear stakes from moment to moment kills the drive of the play. It is difficult to watch and remain engaged all the way through, and this is problematic.

It's such a terrible shame, because everyone is clearly putting their all in to this. The story is told and performed and interpreted on all fronts with such care, and respect, and sheer love that it makes one want to rain down compliments with Thoric abandon. JW Guido is an enthralling presence as Castle. The supporting cast are working overtime through costume change, after musical number, after costume change. Designers Boyd Branch, Matthew Imhoff, Haley Peterson, Paul Miller, Leontine Greenberg and Andy Evan Cohen make the piece look and feel so lived in and loved, it is simply astonishing. Director Kim Weild brings so much that is so right to this piece. And yet as much as I want to love Soot and Spit, I only find myself admiring it from a gentle distance.

To level criticism at this play may feel, to some, to be leveling criticism at the conditions it depicts, and/or the conditions of some of the actors appearing on stage (JW Guido is deaf, Chris Lopes and Karen Ashino-Hara have down-syndrome), and/or the conditions of those working off-stage (Writer Charles Mee is physically disabled). That is not the case. Everyone involved in Soot and Spit has obviously worked their tails off. While the product is flawed, that does not take away from the purity of spirit behind it, the good it may yet do, the talent of the people involved, or the work of James Castle. People should be encouraged to see it for the sheer otherness it has to offer, but I would recommend research both before and after. This will allow the emotional comprehension that the play provides in spades to go hand in hand with the intellectual comprehension that it does not.


Piehole presents 'Ski End', your unique theatrical experience for the week

THEATRE | Piehole have created, arguably, the most unique theatrical experience you are likely to have this week...

Photo by Matthew Dunivan

A group of nondescript individuals arrive in an abandoned ski equipment store. They begin to explore the space, declaring "We live here now." An elaborate game of imagination evolves, each person playing a series of characters that live and work around the shop. An indeterminate amount of time passes. The interactions have an improv feel to them, each person deliberately and conspiritorially saying "Yes, and…" to the ideas of their fellows. The reality of the situation seems a long distance away; time and place blurring into a non-distinct entity. The false worlds they seem to be creating become increasingly, perilously important. A real estate agent enters the room, apparently trying to sell the building. It is not clear whether she is real, or a further evolution of imagination. Indeed, it is not clear if anything at all is real in this play.

Piehole (for that is the company's name) have constructed a deliberately cryptic work here. Comparisons to Ionesco and theatre of the absurd are inevitable. Their characters interact with one another and their surroundings in a way reminiscent of the characters in The Chairs. To someone who hasn't seen the show, this may make it sound like it errs on the side of pretentiousness. Surprisingly, this is a flaw Ski End does not possess. It's far too charming to be pretentious. With all its seemingly high-concept trappings, you could be forgiven for concerns regarding its intent. However, it's clear from very early on that this is a play with a good sense of humor about itself. The characters toss around awkward quips, and talk ironically about "shredding pow" in too-cool-for-school ski-slang. Its sense of fun, and lack of self-importance allow an audience into their borderline-esoteric world, freeing it of those unwanted trappings.

Photos by Matthew Dunivan

Tara Ahmadinejad's cast are a lot of fun here, particularly the core five players. The improvised feel of this show is vital to its ecosystem, and could have dissolved easily in a rehearsal process. Nevertheless, they are able to keep it alive, and even make these bizarre people surprisingly endearing. That is perhaps the watch phrase for this entire play: surprisingly endearing. Describing Ski End for the potential audience member is a difficult task because so much of what it is comes from its mood and the complete lack of context that it presents. However, for some reason, as you watch it, the play's by turns consistent then inconsistent internal logic forms itself into a kind of harmony. To say it makes sense, or that you understand it is a stretch, but to say you leave with a working theory of this world is reasonable.

Ski End is a play recommended for the theatre-goer who's looking for the genre marked "Other". It's funny, but it's not a conventional comedy. It's moody, but it's too verbal to be a mood piece. It's occasionally creepy, but it's not a horror show. It has some beautiful visuals (courtesy of Oona Curley, Matt Romein, and associated crew), but it's not a visual installation. It has drama, but it is not a drama. It is a decidedly peculiar piece of devised theatre that defies easy categorization, and yet asks nothing strenuous of its audience beyond an open-mind and a mild tolerance for bemusement. Worth a look if you're craving a unique experience.