Featured Q-STAGE Artist: JamieAnn Meyers

JamieAnn Brick wall copy (1).jpg
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!

 

The Naked I: Insides Out – Get to Know Valencia McMurray

This winter, 20% Theatre Company is thrilled to present the world premiere of The Naked I: Insides Out – the 3rd in a series of Naked I plays that explore queer and trans* experiences through monologues, short scenes, and spoken word poems. The show was created over the past year by selecting 25 of 119 stories submitted by community members. This newest installment of The Naked I will involve over 75 LGBTQ artists and allies – including contributing writers, directors, performers, designers, technicians and supporting staff.

You can see The Naked I: Insides Out February 13-23, 2014 at Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis. Purchase tickets now!

Over the next several weeks, we will be featuring interviews from a variety of The Naked I: Insides Out artists.  We recently asked Valencia McMurray what they had to say about The Naked I: Insides Out.

Valencia McMurray

What attracted you to audition for The Naked I: Insides Out?

I saw The Naked I: Wide Open at my school winter 2012, I believe. I also participated in the workshop that was held. I’ve never seen or heard of anything like The Naked I and I definitely fell in love. When I heard there was a new show happening, I had to audition and bring my Spoken Word background into the picture.


Have you ever acted before? If so, in what? When?

I’ve done minimal acting. I was in The Vagina Monologues my freshman year of college. My sister is the actor in the family; I tend to stick to my poetry and have done several small shows with that.


What is your role with the The Naked I: Insides Out? What do you like most about the piece(s) you are working on and your relationship to them as performer?

I am one of the performers in Carpenters. I will also be a body in Requiem for the Queers. I don’t know much about the latter, but I’m really excited for Carpenters. It’s written so beautifully. The metaphors, ah ha moments, and emotions it solidifies are all too real for me. If I were a violin, Carpenters would be my bow.


What about this production excites you most?

Being around so many queers, feeling safe, and doing what I love in a way that means a lot to me in an identity type of way.


What do you hope/think audiences will take away from seeing  your piece in The Naked I: Insides Out?

I hope people get what the author of the piece intended for all of us to get. I think that’s a voice to, not simply carry on by hearing, but rise up with.


More about Valencia, the person…


What is your personal pronoun preference?

I don’t have a preference, except not it/it’s/itself.


What is your first memory of gender?

My first memory is when I was 6 and trying to figure out what the difference was between kissing boys and girls.


If your gender identity was a food, what would it be?

Potatoes. There isn’t anything deep there. I just really like potatoes.


You feel the most naked when…

I feel the most naked when I’m naked or being dehumanized for any part of my identity.


What do you do in the world, outside of working on this production? (job/hobbies, etc.)

I’m a Computer Science senior at Augsburg College. I tutor my peers and participate in Students for Racial Justice. I’m also trying to start a trans* and gender non-conforming space on-campus this semester. I’m a geek! I love technology and I’m a huge gamer.


What if the concept of gender didn’t exist? How would that change your life?

The pressure would be off. God, would it be off. An entire system of oppression is upheld by gender (some might argue that there is more than one system); I can’t even begin to imagine how different my life would be.


What is your most favorite accessory or article of clothing?

Hats! Specifically skullies or longer beanies.


Name one of your favorite songs right now.

Flawless by Beyoncé or the whole album, but that’s one one song, eh?

The Naked I: Insides Out – Get to Know Leslie Lagerstrom

This winter, 20% Theatre Company is thrilled to present the world premiere of The Naked I: Insides Out – the 3rd in a series of Naked I plays that explore queer and trans* experiences through monologues, short scenes, and spoken word poems. The show was created over the past year by selecting 25 of 119 stories submitted by community members. This newest installment of The Naked I will involve over 75 LGBTQ artists and allies – including contributing writers, directors, performers, designers, technicians and supporting staff.

You can see The Naked I: Insides Out February 13-23, 2014 at Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis. Purchase tickets now!

Over the next eight weeks, we will be featuring interviews from a variety of The Naked I: Insides Out artists.  We recently asked Leslie Lagerstrom what she had to say about The Naked I: Insides Out.

Leslie Lagerstrom - playwright for Knock On Wood

Leslie Lagerstrom – playwright for Knock On Wood

What attracted you to The Naked I: Insides Out?

Last year, friends of ours invited my husband and me to attend a production of The Naked I: Wide Open, which we loved.  When the lights went up for intermission I remember them looking at us and saying, “Wow, that was so intense, do you want to leave?” because they knew we had a transgender child and thought the content was more than we could handle.  My husband and I looked at each other and then one of us replied with a chuckle, “…NO, this is our life and this show is providing us with total affirmation!”


What type of role will you have in the production of The Naked I: Insides Out?

My contribution to this production is as a playwright, which seems strange to say because I never considered myself to be one.  I wrote a story about our experience raising a transgender child and I was honored and thrilled to have it chosen to be part of The Naked I:  Insides Out.


What do you hope/think audiences might take away from seeing your piece Knock on Wood in The Naked I: Insides Out?

I’m hoping my story will leave the audience thinking about two different points-of-view that many might not consider – what it is like for a child that is transgender and the challenges their parents face trying to keep them safe and secure within a society that can still be quite intolerant.


What is your pronoun preference?

She/Her


What do you do in the world, outside of working on this production?

I’m an advocate for transgender children and their families.  Through my blog, Transparenthood, I have been able to shed light on what transgender children and their families go through on a daily basis – the good, the bad and everything in-between.  The blog has given me a national soapbox, as The Huffington Post, More Magazine Online, and The Good Men Project have all featured my essays that they found on Transparenthood.  I am also a volunteer speaker for Welcoming Schools – an initiative by the Human Rights Campaign to educate K-12 teachers on transgender issues.  And most recently, I have been invited to be on the Board of Directors of TransActive, a national trans youth advocacy group that provides counseling and referrals to those in need all over the world.  And when I am not doing that I love walking around Lake Harriet with our dog, Molly – a black lab/collie mix of a mutt that we love with all of our hearts.


What is the strangest or most interesting job you have ever had?

My most interesting was the first job I had after college – I was hired by a small advertising firm in the Minneapolis Warehouse District (in 1989 when it was not yet cool to say you worked in that area of the city).  I was given the title ‘Assistant Director of Creative Services,’ which sounded impressive for a new graduate, but truth be told it could have been, ‘Gopher Girl’ because that is what I did for them – ran a lot of errands.  Back then I drove type to the keyliner (that will age me), helped paint sets for commercials we were producing for Daytons and managed the firms accounts payable and receivable.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was probably the best job that I could have ever had because it exposed me to all areas of the advertising field and opened doors for me to be hired to manage an in-house agency of a large manufacturer for the 21 years that followed.


What is your first memory of gender? 

I can’t really recall my first memory of gender.  I believe that our gender is hard wired at birth, and so I have always known I was female and have never questioned other people’s belief as to who they are.


How has your concept of gender changed since raising your children?

I’ve come to understand that gender is a spectrum instead of binary.  Before we had our children I just thought of gender as male or female but have since learned that the concept is more complex and something I wish was more widely understood and talked about within our society.


What has been the most rewarding or difficult part of raising a transgender child?

The most rewarding part of raising a transgender child are the incredible people we have met along the way…people that we would not have had the opportunity to know, respect and love, had we not been given this life experience.  We have been overwhelmed by so many kind souls that we can attest to the fact that good does outweigh the bad – sometimes it just takes a little longer to realize.


What if the concept of gender didn’t exist? How would that change your life?

It would have saved my child and therefore our family a lot of heartache because when he hurts we all hurt.  I envision that without the concept of gender Sam could have avoided a lot of bullying and ostracizing, and his peers would have gotten to know and love him for the wonderful kid he is instead of being influenced by ignorance.


What is your most favorite accessory or article of clothing?

I love my current backpack purse.  It reminds me of a magician’s hat because it can hold hundreds of things and converts to be a cross body handbag that comes in handy when I feel the need to hide some fat rolls (grin).


Leslie, you feel the most naked when…

…we have to share with a stranger that our child is transgender (such as a new doctor, teacher, college recruiter).  I feel naked as I wait to read their reaction…to determine if we are dealing with an ally, someone we need to educate, or a person that is going to be prejudice against my child.


What is your favorite song right now?

‘On Top of the World’ by Imagine Dragons.   I just used the song to accompany a photo montage of trans children from as far away as New Zealand, as close as Mahtomedi and everywhere in between, who are smiling and happy.  Every time I hear the song it makes me smile thinking of all these kids who know their true identity and are brave enough to share it with the world.  We are in good company, indeed!