...a work in progress
--one of several workshops for d/Deaf and disabled actors, hosted by a major U.K. theatre.
Some years ago, a disabled actor wrote to this Very British Institution, asking why there were no disabled performers on its stages.
The workshops were, in part, a direct response to the awesomely direct, initial question.
I was excited and nervous to be included.
I have never identified as disabled. And there is a language and politics around and about disability that I do not speak nor do I know.
During the table discussions I was mostly silent. During the devising periods, I was in my head.
As an audience member going to see work at this Internationally Renowned Theatre, what always struck me was the lack of ethnic diversity.
And that was my entry into the conversation around equal representation: do I see my black, female self on this theatre's stage? Hardly ever.
I have never thought to ask: do I see my black, differently-sized female self?
Maybe, because my view is too narrow? Focused on ethnicity, mostly?
Maybe, it never dawned on me to refine the question?
I shared with someone connected to the workshop that I didn't believe I was going to work at the theatre, because the institution had to first deal with its race issue.
In speaking those words, it took me a few days to realize that I hadn't factored in my own skin color. The bottom line: I was in the room…in the workshop… because of the disability issue. Not because of the race issue.
Oh, the compartmentalization. And, the intersectionality?
In the mainstream, and the seeming 'hierarchy around diversity,' colour trumps disability. Rightly or wrongly. And this theatre was only now starting to investigate the issue around ethnic diversity. Not just with the actors onstage, but also the stories that were being told.
If I was to ever get hired it would be first as a disabled actor before it would as a black actor. I think. And no way, it seems, can equal representation be investigated all at the same time. It feels like either…or...
It's feels so fucking complicated.
Hey, Known Theatre (et al), I am open and ready for the continued investigations around diversity.
Should it get scary, new territory, we can be there for each other.
Let's do this.
(Photo Credit: thefarrfamily)
...not new, but I haven't done it in a while...
I am acknowledging the laughers and the laughing. This act that they are doing,
that we all know is fucked up, I let them see that I see…
So a week, ago…two different experiences…
Running errands on a Sunday, 2 young people laughed as I passed them. I stopped,
turned and silently joined them in the moment. Stood still and looked back
at them. The girl said, 'I wasn't laughing,' her face so tight. I turned away
and the second young person, the boy (I think), laughed some more,
harshly, loudly, at me, after me.
I didn't re-engage. Kept on walking.
The second encounter, not soon after the first, was while I was in the farmers market trying to decide if I should buy a fucking cauliflower.
First man sees me, and he nudges his friend. First one says something to friend,
the friend turns and just at the moment when their faces start to crease into laughter, I acknowledge them both with a simple (I hope) raised hand. The first man, who initiated the whole thing, didn't seem to know where to look. He saw that I saw. As I intended.
During the week, I shared the encounters with my friend, via email, and
while writing, I was filled with rage and then hurt. I was at work (at my desk, open plan), my eyes so wide trying to stop the tears from falling. Praying no one would look at me. (They wouldn’t. Any disturbance of any kind is usually simply pretended away.)
I have been using the business cards like an art project: wherever whenever, no provocation necessary. Dotting them about.
I want people to come across them and wonder.
With age comes an ever-deeper understanding that the laughing has nothing to do with me, specifically. I know this.
Difference can make people uncomfortable.
I am different.
My exterior is different.
Yet it is me who has to do the work in order to not fold in on myself.
To not internalize.
To not give in to the impulse to never leave my house.
To not harden and protect.
To not openly weep in public.
To not want to punch a kid in the face. (I won't, I won't, I won't.)
To not feel so fucking small.
To walk with my head up.
It has taken me all week to unfurl and feel ok. I am still not quite there.
It is again Sunday. I did, again, and of course, go to the farmers market.
I bought a fucking cauliflower.
(Photo Credit: alison)
...black...female...short-statured...I think a lot about, and around, being seen,
and representation, and diversity.
Because of podcasts, I have had the privilege to hear a diversity of voices
express thoughts that I believed were solely my own:
I don’t think I was allowed to be seen as attractive. There was nothing in media, but Apu,
Hari Karthikeya Kondabolu is an American stand-up comic and public intellectual.
He is best known for his comedy on subjects such as race, identity, and inequity.
The fact is that being a B.B.M. has consequences. Being a B.B.M. is why I smile quickly.
It’s why I don’t usually stand to my full height. I slouch and bend. When
acquaintances haven’t seen me for awhile, I often hear, “I forgot how tall you are!”
I know you did.
Walter Kamau Bell, known professionally as W. Kamau Bell, is an
American stand-up comic and television host.
Chasing perfection was your duty and your birthright, as a woman, and I would
never know what it was like – this thing, this most important thing for girls.
I missed it. I failed. I wasn’t a woman. You only get one life. I missed it.
Lindy West, is an American writer, feminist, fat acceptance movement activist,
and film criticism editor.
I have already shared that, for the longest time, due to the emphasis
(and anxiety), around my height, I simply thought I was ugly. I was nothing
more than the sum of my inches....Or, that's how it felt.
And, I am not a Big Black Man (BBM), however, I know what it is
to play with the perception of myself, in order to try to control responses to my size.
I, too, have chased the idea of perfection, in order to try to fit a
very specific and narrow ideal of what it means to be a woman. Knowing, too,
that I would never, ever, fit that ideal. Ever. (More on that, in a bit…)
Girl, you are everything. You may not know it, yet. Be stingy. You only have
so much time in this world…in this particular body, in this particular experience,
don’t spend it. Budget that shit.
Janet Mock is an American writer, TV host, transgender rights activist,
author of the New York Times bestseller Redefining Realness,
contributing editor for Marie Claire, and the former staff editor of
People magazine's website.
Hearing and reading the deeply-personal from others...we are all of us complex.
I then wonder what would have happened to every one of us, if we'd have
seen ourselves all along, all around, represented.
Rooted in the everyday, reflected back, and not ‘other’.
How glorious...For everyone...
I am a black, short-statured female (BSSF). A short-statured, black female (SSBF). Female. Black. Short-statured. I am.
The word 'legacy' is also something I’m thinking about.
(Photo Credit: alison)
...And every year, on December 26th, my sister and I take an early morning trip to the mall.
We get up early and we hit Gap, J. Crew, and any other stores we deem worth visiting, to get the most out of post-Christmas sales.
Initially, our trips were tentative and fraught. We bickered and offended each other easily. For a long time, those shopping trips ended in silence as we drove home. As we have gotten older, we have learned to recognize the fragility of our 'fun times,' and prior to me coming home we verbally agree to be kind to each other and to enjoy one another.
An agreement between middled-aged sisters.
Those trips to the mall are now an annual staple that we now really look forward to. It's our time to be together—just her and me. Me and her. Sharing our mutual love of clothes and make up.
There's a dynamic between us that remains from growing up: she knows fashion (the pretty one) and I don't (the smart one).
When we shop, I gladly relinquish control and she picks out clothes that I might not have ordinarily considered for myself.
This past Christmas she encouraged me to purchase a deep blue/purple/black lipstick.
Unbeknownst to her, I had been considering a similar color for a while. A non-traditional deep blue/black lipstick, but I hadn’t been sure if I was up for even more attention. (Here again.) With her encouragement, I purchased Witching Hour.
I am wearing the shit out of that lipstick.
(Photo Credit: alison)
...varying responses from young people.
And depending on the age/ethnicity of the child or young person, the responses to
me can range from:
Glancing stares--no shits given;
Immediate and sudden stillness, with an open-mouthed stare, neck-craning (as I walk by), and (what seems like) an awed silence;
Hiding, then inevitable peeking;
Conspiratorial whispering (if more than one child present), followed by
furtive glancing, tag-team style;
Unblinking, fixed stares, turning into big, wide smiles of (seeming) 'Hello!';
Pointing and laughing (and then turning to accompanying adult(s) who then join in
on the laughter);
Pointing and laughing (and then turning to accompanying adult(s) who shush the
young person in some way); or,
And, depending on the day...the moment...
I stare back; move on; pretend to not see; have a flash of empathy; return the smile ('Hello to you!'); or, want to punch someone in the face ('cause, I mean, come the fuck on!).
And, an acceptance that I will always garner the attention.
I have often been asked if I am imagining the looks/responses? I respond, depending
on the day:
(Photo Credit: alison)
...to be a part of a workshop that will include disabled and non-disabled actors. Nothing to prepare--just four days to explore and play.
I recently saw a play produced by the same theatre company (who will be hosting the workshop).
One of the first images the audience saw was of a statuesque actor silently stalking out of the darkness, pulling a cart behind her. She was moving ponderously, bent over as if pressed down by heat and oppression.
At one point during the play, she quietly walked up to an actor (who was standing centre stage, addressing the audience) and seamlessly wrapped herself around him. Her limbs long and engulfing.
Both performers were of the same height and the transfer of one body onto the other was seamless. The actor speaking to the audience just kept on talking, but now with a woman on his back. The moment was So. Awesomely. Powerful.
After, post-play, that night, I spent some time wondering how I might achieve that same level of artistry, should I have been cast in the role.
The stalking--no problem. However, me being so much smaller than the lead actor, what adaptations could be used to achieve the singular effect of me climbing onto his back?
Thought about how I could use the cart...maybe stand on it. Go from standing on the floor, to getting up on the cart and, from there, climbing on the actor.
I knew in my imagination that, though different, I would have been just as impactful as the stunning performer who was actually cast in the role. Just different.
(Photo Credit: alison)
...who is reading the blog.
He shared that it was 'intense,' and then demonstrated how he covers his face with his hands, reading through his fingers.
Wondered if he should be worried about me. Said he wanted to hug me.
Told me to keep on going.
This friend who I thought for sure was going to tell me to stop.
Truly, it's intense for me, too. Too much? Too little?
And I am filled with gratitude by the deep and lovely support. The resonating words of encouragement to keep writing and posting.
Words that I save and reread when I am not so sure...
(Photo Credit: alison)
Is it patronizing that I cry?
I cried during the Olympics, also. The athleticism. The human feat.
Witnessing the athletes' depth of feeling as they pursued their life-long dreams, just made me cry.
I also enjoyed looking at the various bodies and body shapes. The differences. Marveled at how a specific sport--with the corresponding training--impacts, defines and shapes a body.
Watching the Paralympics, I am moved by the diversity of the body shapes. The differing physicalities. The beauty in the difference.
Witnessing the human feats of athleticism. The adaptions in place, in order to facilitate the human feats.
Honestly, though, it's the physical difference on display for me to look at, that makes me cry.
I have spent time and energy trying to not be seen.
Being afraid to be seen.
Wishing I wasn't so visible.
Trying to find ways to be smaller.
On such an international stage, I am watching Paralympic athletes try to realize their dreams--all eyes on them. I wonder how they feel about that.
During an interview, a blind, 400-meter gold-winner swimmer said that he kept on losing his rhythm (he counts his strokes in order to know where he is in the pool), but that it was all about handling whatever challenge presented itself, and adapting.
I heard all sorts of life lessons in his eloquent answer, and cried like a baby.
(Photo Credit: alison)
...I auditioned for an all-female acrobatics company.
The small ensemble was looking to expand and to work with women of differing creative and physical backgrounds. With varied abilities and bodies.
After the initial project ended, I was invited to devise a new show and become a touring company member.
The all-female acro company saw potential in me and my physicality.
I was thrilled and excited to expand my range and body of work. To collaborate with new people.
I later learned that the work was classified as street theatre/circus.
Talking to my mother, early on in my working relationship with the company, I shared that of course I'd do circus, because of how I looked. That, being short-statured, my casting opportunities and possibilities were limited….to circus.
I was crying. Really, really crying.
Mum said that one of the things she hoped for children was that when God offered a different path (from what we thought we wanted), she prayed that we would be able to take the new road.
Not really what I wanted to hear. Probably eye-rolled.
Last fall, after having worked on several projects over many years, I was offered a position of Artistic Associate.
I accepted proudly.
Mimbre Acrobatics is a company where I can explore my artistry.
Where my singular voice is heard.
Where I am challenged to do things I have never done before.
Where I get to perform in front of thousands.
And, where my stature is not regarded as a hindrance. Nor, too different,
but exciting and interesting and unique.
I get to create with a company of talented, breathtakingly- strong, intelligent,
funny, and hard-working women.
I am very grateful that they saw something in my singular body, and that I didn't cut myself off from the possibility...cut myself off from this different path.
(Photo Credit: Lina Johansson)
...For many years that was my sport of choice.
Mitts, pads, bags, jumping rope: I was very good at all of it.
Making a fist, hitting and punching. The satisfying sound and feeling when the glove hit the mitt dead center. Oh, God. So good.
Plus, I was able to get rid of any internalized, negative feeling.
In the boxing gym, I was something more than 4'6''. I was the height, but not solely that.
In the boxing gym, I didn't have to make apology about how hard I could hit.
The boxing gym was where I learned how powerful I was. Where I got comfortable being powerful. Where I learned to give myself permission to be powerful.
My little 4'6'' body.
People used to tell me that they'd been scared of me, upon first meeting me.
And when told that, I used to wish I didn't come across like…too...
Tried to figure out how else I might be. Less? More?
The last time a woman told me that she thought I was scary (only a couple of months ago), I merely stared at her.
So be it.
(Photo Credit: alison)
I am short-statured.
And, because of how I look, I garner a lot of attention.
Positive and negative.
I decided to use the very public Internet and the platform of a blog to play with the idea of seeing and being seen.
The thing with which that I constantly struggle...
To be vulnerable.
To deepen my personal freedom.
I have been writing for a couple of years, while I worked up the nerve to share. (There's also a video, but it's not quite ready. I am not quite ready...)
This is an extract. Have a look...
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