Featured Q-STAGE Artist: JamieAnn Meyers

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Who are you and what is the title of your show? When will it be running during Q-STAGE?

My name is JamieAnn Meyers and my show is titled First Person: A Life in Transition. It will be presented during the first weekend of Q-STAGE May 13-15, 2016.

As one of our 2016 Q-STAGE Artists, can you tell us about where the idea(s) for your show came from?

I’m primarily a storyteller, and have been using this medium for many years in facilitating workshops, panels and discussions around social justice issues, especially those involving the LGBTQ+ community. The next step for me was to use some of these autobiographical stories to build a show that could eventually be “taken on the road” for education and entertainment through the medium of theater. The script just blossomed from there.

Have you been collaborating with any other artists to create this show? Who are they are how are they contributing?

After the original version of the script was written, I began collaborating with my director, Shalee Coleman. Shalee is especially creative when it comes to the use of body movement to tell stories. In my Q-STAGE proposal I originally intended to do a one-person show, but Shalee eventually convinced me to make use of a Greek Chorus to make my work come more fully alive. We wanted to involve other trans and gender non-conforming artists to form this chorus and to participate in dialogue. My friends Erica Fields, Zealot Hamm, Suzi Love, Beckett Love and Pearl Noonan, all of whom have experience in the Twin Cities Theater scene, agreed to share the stage with me to bring this play to life.

Why do you feel it is important to share this story/the story(ies) of your performance with the community?

We need a great variety of stories from the trans and gender non-conforming community to help break down stereotypical barriers that prevent people from knowing us as an incredibly beautiful and varied spectrum of individuals. Each of us has a different story, and First Person is my unvarnished truth. It’s the story of my life-long transition, a life that’s being lived “halfway up, halfway down,” in-between, and my claiming CHANGE as my identity. I want the audience to leave the show with an understanding of the complexity, struggles and joys of a trans person’s life. I want the audience to get inside my head and understand that each of us is different, that each of us struggles with many conflicting emotions. I want the story of my lifelong transition and the complexity of living “in-between” to emerge.

What aspects of your queer identity do you hope to express through your Q-STAGE piece?

The primary aspect of my queer identity that I want to emerge is that it has evolved over the entirety of my lifetime and this evolution is ongoing.  I’m what many would call a “trans elder.”  I came out in my late 50’s and am now 70 years old.  People often ask me “when did you transition?”  My answer is “from when I was a fetus, until long after my death.”  (Peoples’ memories of my life will evolve after my death as their own personal and societal contexts evolve.)  It’s been a lifetime of discovery, of peeling back the many layers of my identity and expression, and discovering the seeds that have grown into who I am today.  When I first uncovered my childhood feelings of gender difference in middle age, I realized that I was part of the transfeminine spectrum; I later identified myself in therapy as bi-gender.  When I began my social transition, I identified in the binary as female.  My recent gender confirmation surgery has finally liberated me and enabled me to come out as fluid.  I’ve also been enabled to claim my orientation as bisexual.  And the journey continues.  What identity will I claim in another five years?  I don’t know.

Talk about your background as an artist. What sort of artistic experience are you bringing to this production? Have you been involved with 20% Theatre in the past and, if so, in what ways?

My first theater experience was on stage as an actor in 20% Theatre’s production of The Naked I: Wide Open back in 2012. I performed Congruity, written by Erica Fields, a story not too unlike my own, except that back then I had begun to think that gender confirmation surgery was beyond my reach. I was greatly moved by this experience, which in effect saved my life and enabled me to open more doors and move forward in my gender journey. I realized that a more effective way for me to do advocacy work around gender identity and expression was through theater than by simply giving talks, facilitating workshops and participating in panels.  Since then I wrote and performed the piece Upside Down, Inside Out for 20%’s  The Naked I: Insides Out in 2014, and performed a variety of storytelling pieces in 20%’s “Open Stage” series and in the cabaret evening during MORPHOLOGIES: Queer Performance Festival put on by 20% Theatre, Pangea World Theatre, and RARE Productions. I also performed the trans-related monologue They Beat the Girl out of My Boy in Winona State University’s 2013 edition of the The Vagina Monologues. In that same show I wrote and performed the original version of Upside Down, Inside Out, which dealt with genitalia and the intersection of transmasculine and transfeminine identities.

What other artists or performances have inspired you over the years?

20% Theatres’ production of The Naked I: Monologues from Beyond the Binary back in 2009 (“the first Naked I” as it is often called) touched me deeply and inspired me to approach Claire Avitabile, 20%’s Executive Director, about opportunities to pursue advocacy through theater. My work in faith-based queer advocacy brought me into contact with Peterson Toscano, a playwright and gay activist whose one-person play Transfigurations—Transgressing Gender in the Bible informed my work in First Person: A Life in Transition.

Are you working on any other projects or are there others you hope to work on?

I hope to use my experience in working on First Person to write more short plays dealing with gender identity and expression. A book is also in the back of my mind and I think that this Q-STAGE experience will kick-start that project.

When you’re not deep in Q-STAGE rehearsal and development, how do you spend your time? What are some of your hobbies?

My wife Peggy and I live in Winona and enjoy the atmosphere of a small city where three institutions of higher education influence the social fabric of the community. We are both retired and have fun playing golf and taking long walks together. Every Wednesday night is “date night,” which includes a meal at a local deli and a movie at our local theater.  Travel is a big part of our lives and we are often on the road with one another. Our two adult children and three grandchildren live in the Twin Cities, and “Old Blue” (our car) knows the U.S. 61 river route by heart. Queer advocacy work in secular and faith communities also occupies a chunk of my time.

Click here for more information about First Person: A Life In Transition and other performances in our 2016 Q-STAGE: New Works Series!

 

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Featured THE NAKED I: SELF-DEFINED Artist: Esmé Rodríguez

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

I am a contributing author to THE NAKED I: Self-Defined; I wrote “Places!”. I will also be assisting the director of my piece and the actor with some makeup and costume tips, as well as providing a little background about drag performance.

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

It is vital to tell these stories because so many people’s experiences go unarchived, ignored, or dismissed. Sharing our stories is an empowering achievement and many times, cathartic. By telling these stories, all who are involved in THE NAKED I create opportunities for outreach, connection, and safer space for those who may be experiencing some of the same or similar emotions. Telling these stories may save someone’s life. These stories also provide educational and emotional growth opportunities for those outside of our communities who desire to be more understanding and knowledgeable allies/actionaries for transgender and gender diverse people.

What aspects of your identity do you hope to express through your involvement with THE NAKED I?

I aim to express/expel some of the pain that I went through by not being accepted in my own community when I originally came out as trans/non-binary. Communities need to be held accountable for the cultural wounds that they inflict—even if the damage happened in an unintentional/misunderstood manner. By vocalizing my story, I let go of some of the negative residuals of the pain and I am able to move forward in new ways. I am also expressing the pride that I have taken in my integrity and self determination to be the most authentic ME that I can be—regardless of the approval of others.

 

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

Intersectional justice lies at the core of everything that is important to me as an artist and as a person.  Every person should be respected, supported, and offered equitable opportunities to succeed in life.  In order to realize this goal, we must work endlessly to break down barriers and oppressions that are upheld by white supremacy, patriarchy, colonization, and corrupt economic systems. Ideas and feelings about being a trans/non-binary person show up in all of the art that I create, from my drag performance, to costume design, to my visual art/painting.

What other artists or shows have inspired you?

Other artists who inspire me are Freddie Mercury, Eartha Kitt, Kate Bornstein, Andrea Jenkins, and all of the actors who I have had the privilege of meeting or seeing in conjunction with THE NAKED I.

What is your favorite hangout spot and why?

My favorite hangout spot is a ski hill/mountain.  I feel free when I am skiing and generally am able to share the experience with people who are important to me.  As I grow older, I tend to spend less time in the bars and clubs, unless I am performing in a show.

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

Besides skiing, I enjoy watching NFL games, painting, and directing/producing multi-dimensional drag/gender performance shows.  I am the director/producer of Esmé’s Traveling Gender Show & Tell and am invited to take the program to a variety of local and national colleges and universities.  One can find out more about this program here.

Tell us about your pets, real or imaginary.

I have a lot of stuffed animals—and I believe that they have souls.

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

Here is my artist bio:

Esmé Rodríguez, MA, PhD (ABD) is an east coast, via Portland, transplant back to Minneapolis, MN.  They are a Trans-masculine, queer-identified, Latino artist, educator, and activist. Esmé has a Master’s Degree from Boston College and they studied their PhD (ABD) at the University of Minnesota. They are also a self-taught seamstress and designer. Much of Esmé’s professional and creative work exhibits themes of transgender and gender diverse identities, the deconstructions of femininities and masculinities, and the creation of possibility spaces through engaging with work, which promotes intersectional justice. Their personal and professional goals are to form coalitions which aid in the breakdown of patriarchy, white supremacy, and colonization; meta-systems which maintain and control oppression, violence, and inequality. Esmé is currently the Social Justice & Training Specialist under the Day One Program at Cornerstone Advocacy Services.  They are also a Development and Diversity Consultant for Mental Health Connect and they were formerly the Development Manager at TransActive Gender Center in Portland, OR.

Esmé has taught Gender Studies and Latin American Literature at the university level for 12 years and is currently touring national colleges with their “Gender Show and Tell Program,” which engages in intersectional discussions surrounding the performance of diverse gender identities, and gender expressions from non-binary cultural perspectives.

Esmé is the director and producer of a variety of drag cabaret shows.  They have been chosen to perform at the 2016 International Drag Festival in Austin, TX. They also perform in a variety of state wide and national venues. Highlights of their 16 year drag and design career include regular performances in Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Amsterdam, working with Peaches Christ for the Minneapolis Premiere of “All About Evil” in 2010, as well as being chosen to work as an invited artist at The Walker Art Center in 2008 in conjunction with the international FRIDA Kahlo exhibit.