Featured THE NAKED I: SELF-DEFINED Artist: Shalee Coleman

In what way/s are you involved with THE NAKED I: SELF-DEFINED

I am excited to return to THE NAKED I to direct Do No Harm by Eddy Samara and to choreograph a dance narrative number to Cat Hammond’s catchy and triumphant song, Pretty Boy.

Why is it important to tell the stories in THE NAKED I?

I believe wholeheartedly that representation is the solution to oppression. Representation in art, media, government, you name it. When people see themselves represented on stage, they no longer feel so isolated. When people see people other than themselves represented on stage honestly, accurately, and vulnerably, empathy and understanding becomes a natural reaction. THE NAKED I gives transgender artists and non-binary/ gender non-conforming folks the chance to speak their stories in their own words. Audiences create and form a bond with people all over the spectrum of queer and trans identities. And anyone in the audience who may be questioning the identity they were assigned at birth can put language to those feelings and relate to a story they see on stage. That is unspeakably radical. I have seen people’s entire perspective change in the span of a ten minute NAKED I piece.

For example, there was a moment in Oliver Schminkey’s piece two years ago when they said that in Spanish everything and everyone is referred to in the masculine (El -o) or feminine (La -a) with no ability to refer to anyone in gender neutral terms. Oliver then said that in the love language of Spanish, “they” basically did not exist. During this section I was sitting with my partner’s mother, a Spanish language medical interpreter. She works with Spanish speakers every day to advocate for them to get the best care possible. I heard her epiphany in a sigh/gasp. I watched her realize the inherent problem with that in the moment, and try to process solutions. In that moment, I saw the power of THE NAKED I.

Talk about your background as an artist. What sort of artistic experience are you bringing to this production? 

I acted all throughout college and was pretty content to be on stage performing. It was not until I studied away at the National Theater Institute in Waterford, Connecticut, that I was assigned a scene to direct. That experience sparked my love of directing. I discovered a desire to guide actors toward great performances rather than be up there myself. My first opportunity to professionally direct was with THE NAKED I: Insides Out, and I owe every professional directing opportunity I received since then to 20% and the amazing relationships I formed during this incredible show.

What social issues are important to you and how do they inform your work?

Social issues that I am most passionate about are women’s rights, Black Lives Matter, the rights of transgender people to exist and receive medical treatment and the intersections between all of these issues. I have garnered a bit of a reputation for indulging in the “hard” conversations: brawling on Facebook and calling out people for misogyny/racism/transphobia in the moment. I was the person at Christmas breakfast who asked “So, who are we all voting for?” This is a reputation that I fought hard to achieve and that I am extremely proud of. To me it is more important to let people who have faced oppression (visibly or invisibly) know that there is someone to defend them than it is to make people in power more comfortable. This streams into my work as a lot of my art has a social justice bent. More than that though, it means that my rehearsals are designed to be safe spaces. You can only ask people to perform boldly through vulnerability if you make it clear that you are there to catch them if they fall. People make mistakes sometimes; I do too, societal programming can be difficult to decode. But if you work hard to let people know that you will fight for them, you empower them to correct you when you make those mistakes. My hope is that any performer or friend of mine would feel comfortable bringing that to me. The correction, while uncomfortable, has only ever made me a more whole and empathetic human being.

What other artists or shows have inspired you?

I find myself most inspired by writers. Letting your imagination run wild is a skill that we learn to stifle while sitting in 7th grade home room. The people who hold steadfast to that skill inspire me and I could not do what I do without them. That is why most of the directing I do is new work. I relish the opportunity to pick writers brains, reaffirm them, invite them to rehearsal, and allow them agency in shaping the final product. Just another reason working on THE NAKED I is a real treat for me.

What is your favorite hangout spot and why?

I love having friends over at my place when it is clean. My apartment feels like a little hideaway complete with Hulu/Netflix, tons of books/graphic novels, and two fuzzy cats. I prefer to fill my home with friends though, because at my core I am a social being and adore sharing my space with people who love to play video games and yell at the TV during political debates.

When not involved in this production, how do you spend your time? What are some of your hobbies? 

I am a TV junkie. That feels like an unpopular thing to say, but I am a sucker for developed characters, intriguing plot, and voracious writing. If you get me talking I will recommend at least 5 shows you SHOULD be watching along with the various internet mediums where you can procure them. Just Finished: Fargo. Currently watching: Master of None. Looking ahead to: Jessica Jones (Season TWO y’all).

Other than that I enjoy playing video, card, and board games with large groups of people or simply catching up with friends. Did you know that we are in the golden age of board games? I’m serious, games nowadays are way more fun than Monopoly. My favorites include Escape, Resistance, and Sushi Go!

Tell us about your pets, real or imaginary.

Ok, but just remember, you were the one who asked. You started this. I cannot be held responsible for monologuing about my cats when you opened the flood gates.

I am the proud co-parent to two adorable and quirky felines. The first we adopted is named Tetra after the pirate in the Zelda game Wind Waker. She is all grey with darker grey stripes and bright green eyes. She is extremely dignified and a queen. She is not a big cuddler, which makes her cuddles rare and magical. Her circadian rhythm wakes her up at about 4-5 a.m., which would be fine if she didn’t think it was really fun to pounce on my partner and my feet underneath the covers. Alas, she makes a decent alarm clock. My favorite quirk about her is when she sees prey, she makes a small guttural noise that sounds like clicking. For what reason? No idea, but I am convinced it intimidates the hell out of the ladybugs that are practically glued to our ceiling in fear.

The second cat is Clementine, who is named after the protagonist in Telltale Games’s Walking Dead series (play it, it’s so good). She also happens to be a striped ginger tabby cat, but she was named after the video game character, not the small orange, promise. Clementine has an insane amount of energy and loves face scratches and snuggling in bed at night. This is a cat who spends the majority of her time in blankets. If you are under a blanket, she is on top of you.

We got two cats because when we only had Tetra, we could tell that she would get lonely during the day when we were at work. When we got home after a long day, she would cry and cry and follow us around. A need for companionship is a trait animals and humans share. No one likes to be alone. Although Tetra and Clementine don’t snuggle up together and are often tumbling and swatting at each other, they appreciate each other’s company. Having someone that speaks your language and fundamentally gets you because they are going through the same thing is infinitely and vitally important to our survival. Tetra doesn’t cry when we come home anymore.

What other projects are you working on or hope to work on?

Currently I am open to the universe. I have a couple irons in the fire for the Fringe Festival, I’m in talks with artists for a few other projects, and have some applications out. Above all, I hope to continue to be trusted by artists to stage their stories in a way that does them justice.

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