On democracy, and on the air

Last month I had the opportunity to step into a role I usually avoid: media promotion. As Red Magnolia Theatre Company continues to grow, so do my responsibilities, and so does my excitement. I think every theatre student talks about forming their theatre company. At some point, you get tired of doing the theatre other people want you to do, so you want to carve out your own space for your own stories. Joining RMTC’s board is the culmination of so many dream companies.

RMTC’s most recent offering was two staged readings of Twelve Angry Men. The first was performed as part of the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge‘s Ebb and Flow Festival. The second reading was performed much more intimately at Brew Ha-Ha where I turned the coffee shop into a jury room as a bit of environmental theatre. Both of these readings were performed with an all-woman cast to participate  in the 12000 Voices project.

This project was an obvious one for my attention. For one it’s a national reading, which places it firmly in my research wheelhouse. I love national readings. They inspire me to feel connected to a something bigger, something potent. I spent a lot of time and focus researching national readings of It Can’t Happen Here and getting the chance to be a part of another pro-democracy project brought that historian-lizard part of my brain roaring to life. Like ICHH, Twelve Angry Men dramatizes the lone voice against coercion, prejudice, and rage. Also like ICHH, I found myself at times reminding people the play wasn’t partisan. Unless of course you see voter registration, justice, decency, and reasoned debate to be partisan. Then yes, it absolutely was partisan. Nakedly, proudly partisan.

The other reason I was drawn to the play is deeply personal. Twelve Angry Men shows how one person advocating for thoughtful analysis of a case and the acceptance of reasonable doubt can keep our justice system just (it’s also about a lot more, but I’m not going to give a close reading here). There was a time in my life when a person I care about was at the mercy of a jury. I am fiercely, loudly, passionately grateful to the people who serve on juries. We complain, we look up ways to get out of it, we stress about lost income, lost time… We don’t like jury duty. It demands so much of us, but to give what it demands is honorable. It is sacred. It might be one of the few things private citizens do that really constitutes “duty.” Because we are called. We are notified. If you have served on a jury, thank you. Thank you for your time, your thoughtfulness, your focus. Thank you.

I had the opportunity to talk about the play on the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge’s radio show. You can listen here. Again, I’m not very comfortable promoting things, but if you get me on tangent about the power of theatre I will not shut-up.

Thank you to everyone who came out to see Twelve Angry Men. The show was personal and communal and democracy-affirming. All the things I love. Thank you for engaging with us.

Getting back in the game

One of the requirements of major writing projects it a strong No muscle. You have to say No to everything that doesn’t serve to keep you housed, fed, loved, and writing. Everything else has to fall away. And the loved part depends on the support of those doing the love. I’m sure I was not so lovable in the last months of writing. I eventually had to say No to being a good spouse, if only for a few months.

Now that I’m finished (even though finished is myth) I get to stop saying No to everything. I recently said Yes to the opportunity to direct a play for a new, women-centric theatre company. It’s been immensely rewarding and nourishing work.

The play is Nora and Delia Ephron’s Love, Loss, and What I Wore. The theatre is Red Magnolia Theatre Company.

I’m excited about the project, and the opportunity to work with the women attached to it.  The play itself speaks to way memories, especially those of love and loss, are woven into our clothing. Your wedding dress. The shirt you wearing when you lost a parent. The way it felt when you were fitting for a bra. The shoes you wore on the worst date of your life. We wear our memories as much as we think them. That is what this play about, and that is why I love working on it.

We are small but mighty.


Toxic (academic) Avenger

Let’s talk about abuse, shall we?

I’ve been putting this post off for some time. It’s something I need to get out, but it is painful, and I’m still digging myself out from the wrong lessons I learned about agency and self-worth.

At MATC 2018, the Larissa Fasthorse gave a powerful keynote. She spoke passionately about the need for native rights, and for those of us with privilege in the academy to recognize that this is not our house. Our institutions are built on native land, and our fortunes that sustain them stem from that same theft. We cannot just invite native peoples to the discussion; we have to recognize the active process of exclusion in which we are complicit. It was a moving call to action, a call to correct mistakes, and I was inspired to do more.

Then she moved on to abuse.

I will not recount the entire story here, but Fasthorse told of how she endured working for a known abusive executive, and how she was able to stand up for herself against a powerful person who had never been told no. The abuse was verbal. The abuser was a woman.

Something under me shifted. I felt the weight of something sliding: I’ve been trained to accept and excuse abusive women.

In my time in academia, I have worked for and studied under a few abusive women. These women taught me:

  • If you rise to top of your field, you can treat people below you poorly.
  • Being an emotional support system for your professor is an honor. Hold it above other’s heads if you are a chosen one.
  • Do not feel or express emotion. Anything other than smiling gratitude will be met with ridicule.
  • Gossip is currency, and if you have the right kind you can expect a big payday.
  • Likewise, refusing to gossip will mark you as a permanent outsider. Be a good spy.
  • Pick sides. Don’t pick the wrong one.
  • Gentleness and sensitivity is a cancer. Kill it or never make it in the real world.
  • Anything that would raise a red flag from a male professor or mentor is not a problem from a female one. She is just trying to toughen you up. Be grateful.
  • Toxic behavior from men is admired so it should not be criticized in women. Instead, accept and mirror it. Whatever you do, do not question these abusive power structures.

While learning the above lessons, I endured gaslighting, coerced intoxication, derailed scholarship, public shaming, private shunning, and the fear of academic retaliation.

It took a long time to un-learn these; #3 is still causing me issues. I never called this abuse. Even now, I struggle to name it as such. In my head I hear the refrain “Get used to it, life in the academy is fraught with assholes. Get that thick skin or perish. You should be grateful for what they gave you.”

Never be grateful for abuse.

I am grateful for this: not all my mentors were abusive. I’ve had the fortune to study under and work with those force-of-nature, magical women and men who can stare down a tide of adversity and come out the other side. Their cheeks may be streaked with tears and their hearts may be broken, but they still stand. These mentors showed me kind people are always kind. The showed me justice and generosity are the greatest qualities to have. They showed me how to maintain boundaries, and how to care for my heart over another’s ego. They gave me access to my self-worth by demonstrating their own. From my first to my last, I owe them so much.

I hope you have one of these people in your life. I have many. Why I let the abusive, toxic lessons of the few poison that of the many, I do not know. Perhaps calling abuse for what it is will help me to cast off those last tendrils of hatred.

After Fasthorse’s keynote, I made a new covenant with myself: I will be a mentor who is kind, generous, and just. I will teach people who will inherit my path to recognize abuse when they see it– and then find the strength to walk away.

Kindness, Generosity, and Justice.

Post-Spin, Pre-Invention: MATC

I think it is fitting that first post on my shiny, new, professional site comes after the 2018 MATC (Mid-America Theatre Conference) has ended. MATC always serves as my professional and creative New Years, or Epiphany. January 1 I set out my goals, personal and professional, but it’s not until mid March that I really know how I want my calendar year to shake out. Sure, I’ve been making good on my goal to run 5K, my house is mostly clean, and I’ve been reading more books than subreddits before bed.

But it’s the other goals and resolutions that I’m fuzzy on during these early days of the calendar. I want to write a play. I want to get my “please hire me” portfolio together. I need to find something to occupy my brain now that I’m under-employed and finished with the dissertation. There are the things I need to do, things I need to make a plan for – but I lack the inspiration and clarity to make them happen. MATC always cuts through the haze and leaves me hopeful, and oh so full of plans.

This year’s theme was Spin. Beyond the panels and the papers (which I will post about later), I’ve been in a bit of spin myself. I finished my dissertation, defended it well, and finally achieved my dream. I had to quit my day job; a job I enjoyed immensely with people I love fiercely. After the whirlwind of revisions, more revisions, lost formatting, defense, job loss, and post-graduation exhaustion-triggered illness, I found myself all turned around. MATC is the wall I put my hand on to stop the room from spinning.

In the coming days (or weeks) I will post about the lessons learned and the ideas sparked by this amazing conference and the members who made it happen. Until, here’s Millie.

Millie the Duck

Millie is one of six Milwaukee ducklings hatched by Gertie the Duck in 1945.