In January and February, I had the pleasure of collaborating with Ani Collier on a performance art series. Ani and I have talked about working together for quite some time, and 2017 seemed like the perfect year to flex our creative muscles on a new project.
The concept of the series, Fluid, was based on new questions surrounding gender roles and sexual identity. Over the past few years, burgeoning questions about gender labels and pronouns have also been discussed widely, which is also what prompted us to explore them in Fluid. Now more than ever in the United States, I think that it is important for us to create a safe space for all to explore the tough questions surrounding gender and sexuality, and to work together to make the world a more open, considerate place for those who fall outside of traditional gender conventions.
In casting artists, I selected actors and actresses to personify the masculine, the feminine, and the other. Once assembled, we worked together to create a framework using texts and interactive play. Through exploring the cultural ideas of what it means to be feminine or masculine, we quickly realized that the lines were blurred. Because of this, we named our series Fluid, referencing the many nuances in gender and sexuality that exist in our society today. Utilizing the term “Fluid” served two purposes for the performance – it invoked a sense of gender fluidity, and it also allowed for fluidity in execution. Part art installation, part staged moments, and part audience participation, Fluid ultimately created itself, with each performance becoming its own unique happening.
For the text, we combined multiple sources to create our production. Blue is for Boys, Pink is for Girls, written by Emily Norcia, is a short dialogue that examines the origin of gender designated colors. Confessions of a Straight White Man, a personal monologue written by Anthony Berry, explores his personal journey of what it means to be a man, but familiar with the feminine. The monologue from Salome by Charles Mee, performed in a group setting, discusses the beauty in non-binary gender possibilities. Another monologue from Parallel Lives: Dear Kenny Rogers by Mo Gaffney and Kathy Najimy reveals a young woman’s idea of what it means to be the perfect lady for her man. The finale of the performance was an edited version of The Bear by Anton Chekhov, a short, melodramatic play about two apparent enemies who fall for one another. The climax to the performance was the creative use of the gallery’s snow machine. Let’s just say that it ended the production with a bang!
As part of Fluid, we also created an interactive set with four different environments for the cast to use when interacting with the audience. These environments were created to challenge the audience’s perception of conventional gender roles and also their concepts of self. First was The Attic, where people could read to each other, make cups of tea, and feed each other cookies. Second was the Selfie Room, which explored the origination of the term “selfie,” and provided visitors with the opportunity to play dress up, write on the walls and the mirror, and to take selfies (or not take selfies)! The third environment was the GIRLS Room where the Muffin Lady (also known as Tony Berry) served guests his muffins fresh out of the oven, “frosting” them with his caulk gun. Last was the Pink Room, which contained all things pink and girly. Visitors could write in the pink diary, talk on the pink phone, and choose between eating gender-conforming and non-conforming fruit snacks. Each room had its own transformative soundscapes created by music engineer Jason Potak, with voice overs recorded by various local actors. Participants also had the opportunity to make alternative name tags – or in some cases, performers created new names for them. Participants could also design their own masks and watch Disney cartoons that have shaped society's gender constructions over time. Other guests played in the “snow,” danced, improvised a story, or simply looked at Ani’s amazing artwork. One guest even brought the cast some wine to enjoy!
In total, we had four very successful showings over the course of two weeks. Guests loved the interactive nature of the production and the cheeky humor. It was a pleasure to work creatively with Ani, and also to partner with the rest of the cast: actress Emily Norcia from the University of Florida, master carpenter and visual artist Anthony Berry from the University of Florida, and musician Jason Potak from the Hippodrome Theatre. Many thanks to Michael Eaddy, Melanie Sholl, William Vonada, Ariel Reich, Lizzi Nehls, Ani Collier, and Allison VanDenend for their artistic and production support. I look forward to the next collaboration with Ani and Black C Art Gallery – who knows what we’ll cook up next time!
Actress, Instructor, Exploratory Artist
Adjunct Professor at the University of Florida School of Theatre and Dance
Company member at the Hippodrome Theatre in Gainesville, Florida