Sinking My Teeth Into Gender Play and The Synchronicity of Art and Love

From the play, Slaughter City, March, 2010

His carefully controlled fist slices through the air just missing my face as his solid elbow connects with a deafening thud under my chin, snapping my jaw up and sideways, as my teeth and tongue collide and become one.  I fall slowly as if in a dream until I smack the cold, hard stage of reality.  Fake blood oozes from my mouth between the sharp edges and fragments of broken teeth floating in my mouth.  The theater audience has no idea that this fight has become all too real.

On March 8th, 2010, in the middle of a choreographed stage fight during a performance of the play, Slaughter City by Naomi Wallace, at the Son of Semele Ensemble Theater in Los Angeles, I chipped my four top front teeth.  Stabbing reality and the colorful haze of the imaginary world blended as I stumbled through the long scene and into the next before I could make my exit stage right.  The show must go on.  And life goes on.  The almost spiritual connection I have with this play had suddenly taken a deeper turn and literally altered my body forever.

Does life imitate art?  Or does art imitate life?  From the moment I read Slaughter City, I knew I had to play the lead role of “Cod”, an immortal woman traveling back and forth through time, disguised as a man, to act as “a spark for all eternity” fueling the fire of protest of the laborer against the capitalist machine repeated throughout history.  I have always been pro-union but that aspect is not what hooked me.  The author, Naomi Wallace, adds a cross gender love story, marrying her socialist agenda to a politics of love and sexuality as a way of freeing ourselves from oppression.  Take control of your body and take control of your life.  “Coming is the body’s way of saying fuck you to the rules and regulations,” Cod says gathering union support.  “I am radiant and I am fearless and I will not be disposed of; I am not a piece of meat.” 

As an out, lesbian actress, this role was an enticing opportunity to indulge my butch side along with the acting challenge of passing as a man through most of the play, as well as, an opportunity to further explore my personal sexual androgynous freedom.  Cod dresses as a man not only to work in the slaughterhouse but because that is how she feels most comfortable.  “Working like a man I feel more like a gal, know what I mean?” she says to her female lover after her secret is revealed.  In a special coaching session with Lisa Wolpe, the artistic director of the LA Women’s Shakespeare Company, I learned to literally walk like a man, presenting “the package”, taking up as much space as possible, and crushing tiny Lilliputian people beneath my feet like Gulliver from the book, Gulliver’s Travels.  Lisa also stressed the importants of finding areas in the play where my vulnerability and femininity could still shine through.  In my real life I appear as a soft butch on the outside but am all girl inside and I have no desire to change that because it is who I am.

During the course of the play, Cod, falls in love with, Maggot, a female worker, who believes Cod is a man.  Cod is like an indentured servant forced to repeat her role as the spark of the worker capitalist conflict because of a promise made between Cod’s mother, a textile worker who died in a factory fire, and his nemesis, Sausage Man, who diabolically grinds up bodies with his sausage grinder throughout history.  As conflict increases so does Cod’s temperature and she can literally burn something with the touch of her hand, including the love of her life:  “If I touch what I desire, I’ll destroy it.  Just one touch and toast.” 

 

Coincidentally, just after being cast in Slaughter City, I became involved in a passionate long distance relationship with the love of my life who found me through an article on the website, AfterEllen.com written about Hellbent For Hollywood, the crash and burn acting reality television show I taped a few months ago.  My girlfriend likes to describe our relationship as, “an international love buzz,” and although we have not officially met we have stayed together for five months over the course of phone calls, Facebook messages, email, texting, video Skype, and the old fashioned romance of letter writing.  I know it sounds crazy and I do have a history of being a bit of a commitment-phobe, only having two relationships in my life that have lasted more than a year, but I do believe I have finally met “the one.”  As Cod has been wandering through history, lost, not knowing who or where she is, I too have been looking all my life for that one soul mate that could stop time and change my course of history.  She completes the puzzle and compliments me in ways I have only dreamed of but I can’t touch her.  The frustration is almost unbearable.  As Cod says, “I am alone, I have never been anything but alone.  Let her touch me and I’ll know where I am.” Through the fire of love, Cod finally gets the confidence and drive to challenge her destiny: “Sometimes history’s just not ready for you and so you have to give it a shove.”   She is accepted and touched by her lover and no one gets burned as the workers save themselves from their hell on earth by putting out the fire in the slaughterhouse fueled by the Sausage Man during a lock-in protest.

Now, throughout this play I have been ridiculously accident-prone.  I have various cuts, bumps, and bruises from the fight, chains, and knives, and almost caught the stage and myself on fire, and of course, the final blow that knocked my teeth out.   For the love of theatre, what’s next? And this is an Equity (stage actors union) waiver play that I am not getting paid for.  The good news however is that the union requires insurance for just this kind of thing.  Go union! So what is the universe trying to tell me?  There are way too many coincidences coming together with this play to ignore.  As much as I have bounced in and out of relationships, I have bounced in and out of my acting career, never being fully committed to either, out of fear of failure. I have recently identified feelings of inadequacy in both areas and it is coming to a head now with my new relationship and this play and it is time to change before I lose far more than my teeth. Dreams about losing one’s teeth are traditionally associated with such things as insecurity, helplessness, issues with self-image, and transitions in life. Perhaps I needed to get my teeth knocked out to drill it into my skull that I need to focus and be committed to my acting career and my love life and that they can co-exist together. As a lesbian I need to believe that my loving sexual relationship with a woman is just as strong as a heterosexual one.  My girlfriend is one of the few people in my life who gets my creativity, my career choice, and me. I need to be willing to lose a small part of myself to let her in completely.  I need to believe I am a talented actress and I deserve to be paid and be successful. Sometimes it is the negative experiences that lead us to the positive ones.  Positive and negative, yin and yang, are intrinsically linked as are conflict and change.  If I am going to change, I need to have faith in myself, be comfortable with who I am, and be focused and committed to the belief that I can and deserve to be successful in my art and in love. Due to time and financial constraints, my girlfriend and I won’t be able to see each other for another few months but when she does finally make it over here, I will greet her with a huge smile with my new set of teeth and we will embraces change together. Our love will give us the strength to push through doubt and fear and change history forever.  To quote Shakespeare, “All the world’s a stage.  And all the men and women merely players.”

 

The play, Slaughter City, at the Son of Semele Ensemble Theater, closes March 21, 2010.  Tickets are still available through http://www.sonofsemele.org/shows/slaughtercity.htm

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.