Sep 9, 2009

Hartford Advocate: Stage - Transgendering the Stage

New Haven Advocate, CT, USA

Transgendering the Stage

Two shows with transgender themes and genuine theater values come to Hartford

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

By Christopher Arnott

Transfigurations — Transgressing Gender in the Bible

7:30 p.m., Sept. 11. Charter Oak Cultural Center, 21 Charter Oak Ave.,
Hartford. (860) 249-1207,

Becoming a Man in 127 EASY Steps

8 p.m., Sept. 18-19. Real Art Ways, 56 Arbor St., Hartford. (860)

Peterson Toscano eagerly promotes the upcoming performances of Scott
Turner Schofield's Becoming a Man in 127 EASY Steps and Toscano's own
Transfigurations — Transgressing Gender in the Bible as "two plays
about transgender themes by two relatively well-known queer
performance artists," which is true enough, but some of the words in
that description deserve special emphasis.

Toscano's first piece, the very funny yet very personal Doin' Time in
the Homo No Mo Halfway House, was confessional in nature. His latest
work, however, is less personal — it's about transgendered people, and
he is not himself transgendered. The characters he's portraying lived
thousands of years ago. Toscano's changing costumes while managing a
tricky script based on close readings of Christian and Hebrew
scriptures. To flesh out the revelations, he interviewed over 20
contemporary transgendered people and "wove their words into the
experience," as he puts it. Mainly, Toscano says, "I used tools I
learned as an Evangelical Christian — Bible study."

"People are shocked by the scholarship," he says proudly. They're also
apparently knocked for a loop by the show's theatrical, mindblowing
surprise ending. "The ending is so shocking that the tech people
who're working with me have missed their lighting cues," Toscano
laughs. "I have to prepare them carefully. Scott [Turner Schofield]
told me 'You totally fucked with my head with that ending.'"

For his part, Schofield has augmented his latest solo show, his third,
with aerial ballet. He also stands out on the queer performance
circuit by not technically being queer — he's a straight man who used
to biologically be a woman. His work generally explores his spiritual
and anatomical journey from female to male, but he has always made
sure he brings a show. Besides the intense acrobatics (which Schofield
mastered expressly for this show), Becoming a Man in 127 EASY Steps
lives up to its title by having audience members suggest which of the
actual 127 stories Schofield is prepared to deliver. There's also a
recurring "decoder ring" element copped from a child's "choose your
own adventure" book with alternate endings. Asked how he came to such
a structure, Schofield jokes that "I ran out of metaphors." His
breakthrough piece, Debutante Balls, played with multiple meanings of
"coming out," while his earlier Underground Transit used subway
imagery to represent submerged urges and "underground" culture.

"As an activist, I use what I know about theater, and my shows are
done for anyone who enjoys theater," Schofield explains. He's seen the
results of shooting for larger, broader audiences. When 127 EASY Steps
got an unexpected rave review in a mainstream newspaper in his native
Atlanta, "the weirdest corners of Atlanta society came to see it. And
they came away saying 'I understand now — I just needed a story.'"

Peterson Toscano freely admits that he's grown as a performer since he
first hit the circuit with Homo No Mo. That piece was undeniably
entertaining but mostly about sharing a real-life story and building a
movement, and that's where it was most successful. Toscano takes
credit for coining the term "ex-gay survivor," for those who've
endured treatments to remove or deny their true homosexual impulses.
Though Toscano has been based in Hartford since 2001, the Sept. 11
performance at Charter Oak will be the official Connecticut premiere
of Transfigurations, which he has been touring for two years now. The
show has been seen throughout the U.S., as well as in Canada, England,
Wales, Northern Ireland, Sweden and South Africa.

For Toscano, touring to colleges, churches and community centers
allows him the best of both worlds — a place to perform and an
audience that isn't as "settled" as what he feels he would find in
more conventional venues. Removed from the presentational trappings of
theater, his audiences often fall into what he describes as "an
intense strain of concentration, a Quaker meeting kind of silence."

His prowess as an actor and speaker has grown, but Toscano hasn't cut
back on controversiality. Between Homo No Mo and Transfigurations he
devised Queer 101: Now I Know My gAyBCs and The Re-Education of George
W. Bush: No President Left Behind. It's his need to engender
understanding and compassion for misunderstood areas of society that
led him to the Bible for source material. "Part of it is about social
justice. The Bible has so often been used against sexual minorities. I
decided, 'I'm going to go for the positive.'" Transfigurations
features six different people drawn from Hebrew and Christian
scriptures, their stories acted out by a narrator. That narrator is,
"a disciple of Jesus," Toscano explains, "who's purposefully ambiguous
— we don't even know what gender."

Both Transfigurations and 127 EASY Steps benefit from a supportive
Hartford GLBT community. Toscano's Charter Oak booking is a fundraiser
for the Connecticut TransAdvocacy Coalition (, while
Schofield's two performances at Real Art Ways (augmented by a Trans
Community Forum at the same space, 7:30 p.m., Sept. 16) came about
through a grant he received from an anonymous donor during his
extended Atlanta engagement. The money was given so the show could be
toured in areas of the country "where good work was getting done" with
transgender issues.

Schofield, who performed at a Yale transgender awareness event in
2007, says "Becoming a Man is my highest artistic achievement at this
point." And you can emphasize that any way you like.

Originally posted here

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