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.