Papers and Presentations
- 2015 Queer Graduate Student Conference at UCLA
QGrad 2015: "Curing The Queer": From Pathology to Resistance
Disappearing/Reappearing: The Radical Embodied Resistance and Phenomenal Stage Presence of Trans Men Actors
Traditional actor training espouses “bodily unity,” unobstructed access to all parts of the physiological (and also expectedly able) body. Within this expectation, an alternate, non-normative bodily experience is an obstacle to overcome, unhealthy disquiet, “unwhole.” Traditional acting methods pathologize “unwhole” bodies, favoring “wholeness” rooted in cis/heteronormativity and ableism. The “bodily unity” concept contradicts a trans actor’s particularly queer (or queerly particular) embodied experience. Trans actors encounter the stage in a Halberstamian “queer time and place” with psychic metabodies, reconstructive surgeries, and practical prosthetics—objects of dis- or reappearance. Combining Drew Leder’s phenomenological theory of dys-appearance (the disappearance of parts of the body from the rest of itself) with Joe Chaikin’s concept of fragmentation in disabled bodies, I indict cisnormativity in established training methods, but also create a (queer time and) space that invites a new generation of queer-bodied actors to the stage.
My description of trans embodiment, though complex, is not “a complex.” In reapproaching acting methods, I find the ways dys-appearance can be reinterpreted as dynamic bodily resistance which creates a vibrant theatrical tension, as equally valuable as the sense of bodily calm other techniques prioritize. I also assert that being gender dysphoric offers an alternate, fragmented, but parallel wholeness that implicates cisnormative demands for “bodily unity” as an actor’s prerequisite, and thus disrupts normative expectations of the body in actor training. When body parts disengage from direct experience, they go away and in some sense cease to be… which gives a profoundly new (trans) dimension to Hamlet’s most famous question.
- 23rd annual Festival of Original Theatre (FOOT)
FOOT 2015: Queer(ing) Performance, February 2015
Disappearing/Reappearing: Phenomenal Stage Presence of Trans Men Actors
Trans actors encounter the stage in a Halberstamian “queer time and place.” The present body for a trans actor incorporates psychic metabodies, reconstructive surgeries, and practical prosthetics—all inhabitants of a reality that evolves from a powerfully authentic imaginary: a necessary source of truth for any actor. However, a tension exists in actor training between the commonly expected “bodily unity” opposed to this particularly queer embodiment. Combining Drew Leder’s phenomenological theory of dys-appearance (the disappearance of parts of the body from the rest of itself) with Joe Chaikin’s concept of fragmentation in disabled bodies, I have revealed the basis for a new technique that centers training on the embodied subjectivity of trans men. This technique not only indicts cisnormativity in established training methods, but also creates a (queer time and) space that invites a new generation of queer-bodied actors.
A trans man who has gender dysphoria, the clinical diagnosis of transgender—I describe it as disappearing and/or reappearing body parts—is challenged in his ability to achieve the unified wholeness and bodily calm required to begin many forms of actor training that include both traditional (Stanislavski’s method, for example) and non-traditional (Anne Bogart’s Viewpoints). Joe Chaikin’s Other Theatre worked principally with actors wearing prosthetics, creating a new actor’s tool: fragmentation. The idea of a fragmented wholeness is very similar to a dysphoric body in which areas disappear and reappear, sometimes with the aid of prosthetics that either enhance or flatten bodily morphology.
Because trans performance studies is a new and under-developed field, my technique borrows from phenomenology, queer theory, and disability studies. I have also met with prominent theatre practitioners, experts in various methodological and pedagogical models such as Butoh, Lecoq, and Alexander Technique, and I have begun designing exercises around my own subjectivities as an actor and a trans man—exercises which can be introduced into any acting space. My paper will discuss the theory behind the technique and describe these newly developed acting exercises.
- Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE)
Dream Acts: Performance as Refuge, Resistance, and Renewal, July 2014
Collaboration with Joy Brooke Fairfield, Stanford University
Workshop: Dream of a Queer Planet: Alternative Embodied Pedagogies for Actor Training
In this workshop, we begin from the premise that many traditional and even experimental acting training techniques unintentionally reinscribe cis-heteronormative social conventions. Through two brief experiential workshops and a discussion we will begin to dream up queer planets through our sensing bodies.
Using practice as research, we’ll investigate the following questions:
• Are there ways to train students in representational acting techniques without relying on the gender binary as an innate truth or the achieving of romantic heterosexual union as an innate good?
• In physical theatre training, can we eschew a pedagogy that assumes all performers have similar relationships with their body and homogenous access to sensation?
• In building characters, can we explore gestural vocabularies and movement repertoires without relying on static genders?
• In ensemble theatre devising techniques, can we encourage students towards exploration of narratives that don’t rely on cis-hetero-mono-normative tropes?
• How can queer, trans, and allied theatre training instructors challenge students to investigate the performance potential of their unique bodies with equanimity and respect for bodies’ vast differences?
- Part One: Becoming Animal/Becoming Mineral Exercises (Joy Brooke Fairfield, Stanford University)
This workshop will feature exercises that use sensory awareness techniques to queer the centered, gendered subject reified in masculinist enlightenment thinking. Participants will attempt to discover new physical sensitivities that disrupt the ocularcentric paradigm upon which performance traditionally depends. If gender is a role we play in the eyes of society, as Butler suggests, this workshop will ask participants attend to the realms of the animal and mineral for new models of non-binary sensuous embodiment.
- Part Two: Dys-Appearance/Re-Appearance (Joshua Bastian Cole, CUNY/BMCC)
Participants will disrupt ideas of the cisnormative actor's body by exploring active resistance and deliberately fragmenting bodily unity. As anatomical parts on trans bodies intentionally, subconsciously, or even surgically recede from direct experience, other parts can re-appear as replacements in forms of material or non-material prosthetics. "Absence", "resistance", "fragmentation", and "prosthetic" will all be investigated as sites of artistic richness. What Joe Chaikin called "absent time," considered by him to be a problem, might actually be a trans/queer actor's presence itself.
- Part Three: Discussion
- Midwest Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference (MIGC)
MIGC14: ANIMACY, February 2014
CYBORG ALICE: Cyborgs and Erin Courtney’s The Service Road
“There might be a cyborg Alice taking account of these new dimensions.”
-- Donna Haraway, A Cyborg Manifesto
Informed by sci-fi in popular culture, our opinions of cyborgs may bring to mind cold, metallic human/robot hybrids stomping around on a spaceship in a galaxy far, far away: a Darth Vader, a Terminator, a Robocop, a Cylon, or the Borg. Donna Haraway’s famous manifesto brings beings with hybrid or multiple signifying characteristics much closer to home. Harawavian liminal beings float between dualistic categories; they are cybernetic hybrids of machine and organism, and also creatures of social reality as well as creatures of fiction.
Jennifer Parker-Starbuck, performance studies scholar and author of the book, Cyborg Theater, explains, “The cyborg theatre relies on the reiteration of terms […] as ongoing tropes […] to attempt their rethinking, to think about their undoing.” The Service Road, a play by Obie winner and Guggenheim Fellow Erin Courtney, produced in 2013 with the Adhesive Theater Project’s residency at the New York City College of Technology, exemplifies one such undoing. The play itself is one complete deconstruction, from the identity of the main character to the destruction of the set to the disassembling of puppet apparatuses. Adhesive Theater’s or Courtney’s production used human/mechanical creatures to tell the story of an outsider’s struggles with life and death in a fictional tale set in the real location of Prospect Park, and inspired by an actual earthly event: the Brooklyn Tornado of 2010. The combination of various puppeteering, mechanical, live foley, and animation technologies firmly situate the play within the terms of Jennifer Parker-Starbuck’s “cyborg theatre”. However, I contend that the main character, a human woman from Park Slope, is the cyborg of the play.
By integrating the feminist cyborg theory of Donna Haraway, Anne Balsamo, and James J. Sheehan and the cyborg theatre scholarship of Jennifer Parker-Starbuck, I will argue that Courtney’s human fictional character is a cyborg, though not cybernetic (bio-mechanical), through her otherness, her precarious ethics, her displacement in time and space, and her allusive relationships to both Greek demi-god Hercules and Lewis Carroll’s Alice.
- trans* : Tufts Graduate Humanities Conference, October 2013
Vanishing Point: Dys-Appearance and the Not-Quite-There of Transmasculine Spectatorship
In his book, The Absent Body, Drew Leder describes a state of corporeal absence called dys-appearance. This occurs when parts of the body disappear from itself (for example, being unaware of the physical body while asleep). I generalize that the subjectivity of transmen who experience gender dysphoria (the clinical diagnosis of transgender) is a form of dys-appearance. A transmale embodied subjectivity, as I describe it, has areas of the body that disappear and/or reappear. Presence and absence are experienced at once, hybridly, and thus creates both a trans and cyborg lived reality.
Through the experience of dys-appearance, trans spectators more easily access the hybridity, awayness, and futurity of cyborgs. By incorporating layers of meaning and reinterpreting characters’ actions, a trans spectator observes a shared experience with characters that may or may not be trans themselves. During this reconstructing, the trans spectator sees the multiplicity of characters who simultaneously both are and are not trans. The ability to traverse narrative in this way is queer, utopian, and cyborgian.
By integrating the scholarship of Drew Leder from phenomenology, Jose Muñoz and Jack Halberstam from queer temporality, Gayle Salamon and Henry Rubin from trans studies, and Donna Haraway and Jennifer Parker-Starbuck from cyborg theory, I will investigate how the trans spectator reads multiple dramaturgical layers at once, which displaces the trans person out of time and space, like a cyborg.
- Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE)
P[L]AY: Performance, Pleasure and Pedagogy, August 2013
Phenomenal Presence of the Transmasculine Actor: Dys-Appearance, Trans-Parency, Fragmentation, & The Nothing
Panel - Training Queer: Intersections of Queer/Gender Studies and Actor/Performer Training
There is a tension in actor training between the common expectation of bodily unity versus queer embodiment, particularly as it is experienced by transgender people. Combining Drew Leder’s phenomenological theory of dys-appearance with Joe Chaikin’s concept of fragmentation, I have discovered the basis for a new technique that centers training on the embodied subjectivity of transmen, or female-to-male transsexuals. This technique not only indicts the cisnormativity of established training methods, but also creates a new space that invites a new generation of queer-bodied actors.
In his book The Absent Body, Leder describes dys-appearance as the experience when parts of the body disappear from itself (for example, being unaware of the physical body while asleep). I generalize that the subjectivity of transmen who experience gender dysphoria (the clinical diagnosis of transgender) is a form of dys-appearance. A transman who has dysphoria as I describe it, with areas of the body that disappear and/or reappear, is challenged and possibly limited in his ability to achieve the unified wholeness and bodily calm required to begin many forms of actor training, both traditional (Stanislavski’s method, for example) and non-traditional (Anne Bogart’s Viewpoints). The model most in tune with dys-appearance is that of Joe Chaikin and the Other Theatre. Through the 1980s, Chaikin focused on actor training and disability (working particularly with actors wearing prosthetics), and worked around a concept of fragmentation. The idea of a fragmented wholeness is very similar to a dysphoric body in which areas disappear and reappear, sometimes with the aid of prosthetics that either enhance or flatten bodily morphology.
Because trans performance studies is a new and under-developed field, my technique borrows from phenomenology, queer theory, and disability studies. I have also met with prominent theatre practitioners, experts in various methodological and pedagogical models such as Butoh, Lecoq, and Alexander Technique, and I have begun designing exercises around my own subjectivities as an actor and a transman.
- 36th Comparative Drama Conference, March 2012
Transitioning Twelfth Night: A Transgender Reading of a Female Page
Peter Stoneley claims queer spectatorship involves cropping, reordering, or reconstructing a narrative to make it fit with particular desires and investing characters with extra information the text does not actually provide. A transgender reading of the “female page,” a character cross-dressed as a man and originally played by a boy on the Elizabethan stage, exemplifies this added meaning by investing transmasculine qualities to a female character. I will discuss my transgender reading of the female page, Cesario, in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, butting up against other queer readings of the play which have often disregarded this possibility.
By comparing my dramaturgical study to a meta-analysis of the existing scholarship surrounding Cesario as a female page, I will display a gap in queer theory where transgender should be. Two major trends in the analysis of female page roles include the homoerotic interpretation and the lesbian dynamic. The former, espoused by such scholars as Michael Shapiro and Phyllis Rackin, limits the discussion by emphasizing the experience of the actor on stage as opposed to aspects of the character in the text. The latter, seen in the work of Casey Charles and Chad Allen Thomas, also does not sufficiently consider a masculine performance of the self as separate from sexual orientation. By incorporating layers of meaning into the character’s actions, a transgender spectator observes a shared experience. A transgender reading, which is a third term not previously explored in this way, gives the kind of truly queer analysis that Stoneley advocates.
- CORD Special Topics Conference
Meanings and Makings of Queer Dance, February 2012
When Transmen Dance: Hermeneutics of Dance Masculinities
The construction and maintenance of codified gender regulations is interwoven throughout the history of Western dance. For centuries, training and choreography have reinscribed iconography of the ideal masculinities and femininities and hegemonic heterosexual relationships. Strikingly in spite of this, dance has the common association of being a haven for queer people who do not fit that mold. What happens when the dancer is not only queer, but female-to-male transsexual, owning a different kind of male body, one that is often erased and invisible in American culture? The dancing transman encounters the pressures of culturally informed masculinity while also combating specific experiences of embodied difference.
What is the ideal man in dance? How does one “dance like a man”? What if the dancing man used to be a woman? Emphasis on statuesque masculine physique and displays of virtuosity are part of the history of Western dance. Dancing cowboys, Eugene Loring and Jacques D’Amboise, gave American ballet a popular audience. Insisting on athleticism, Ted Shawn and Gene Kelly, had an agenda of dispelling the “suspect” nature (effeminacy) of dancing men. Dancing men have been socially acceptable only when the heterosexuality of the dancer is made known, as exemplified by the popularity of Baryshnikov. What does this mean for men who do not fit into these archetypes?
I will shed some light on the shadowed masculinities that exist in dance much like how dance scholar Jennifer Fisher has pointed out “the gay elephant in the room.” By interviewing FTM (female-to-male transsexual and transgender) dancers and choreographers, I will explore the methodology of overcoming not only body dysphoria in order to articulate movement comfortably, but also finding a place in or outside of strictly gender-regimented classical Western tradition. I will engage with a hermeneutic and ontological approach to the discourse of masculinity indance.
- 35th Comparative Drama Conference, March 2011
Athena in Armor: The Warrior Goddess in Greek Drama as an Embodiment of Gender Variance
"I couldn’t find myself in history. No one like me seemed to have ever existed” said transgender historian Leslie Feinberg introducing Transgender Warriors, a chronicle of transgender historical figures. With the recent recognition of transgender and intersexuality in academia, more scholars are locating historical examples of the existence of these communities. According to classicist P.M.C. Forbes, “Literal and metaphoric sex change seems to have been a subject of considerable imaginative interest in the ancient world and had some importance in ancient religion.”
In exploring ancient Greek mythology, many characters emerge embodying an “otherness” to the Greek male citizen. These include gods, heroes, barbarians, centaurs, and Amazons. Among these characters from the myths, several transgress boundaries of gender, although they appear with substantive difference in the Greek plays. However, the goddess Athena, in particular, appears in both myth and drama as an early depiction of transmasculinity.
Using the theories of David Wiles, I will discuss the process by which the Greek myths were incorporated into the plays to examine how transgender figures in the myths were adapted. Using the lens of a feminist transgender reading of the myths of Athena and her appearance in several Greek plays, I will prove that Athena is one example of a transgender character stemming from highly present gender diversity in Greek mythology. To support this, I will use historical theory by classicists Page duBois, Philip E. Slater, S.C. Humphreys, and Sue-Ellen Case. I will also reference the studies of transgender historians Mercedes Allen, Michael Hernandez, and Leslie Feinberg.
- The Flea Theater blog, a critical response to New York Times Critic's Pick, Smoke by Kim Davies,
part of a curated series of writings about the play -- Read the essay here:
"Pressure and Movement, That's How it Works": Revisiting August Strindberg's Miss Julie in Kim Davies' Modern-Day Smoke
- Theatre Communications Group (TCG), Read the interview here:
What is Taking So Long?
- Huffington Post, Read the article here:
Who's Missing From the List? The Killjoys and Why American Theater Needs Trans Playwrights
- Theatre Provocateur, online theatre journal. Read the essay here:
Stop the Spot: Polemics of Transmale Stage Representation and Its Criticism
- Beyond Masculinity, online anthology. Read the article or listen to the podcast here:
Tarheels and Transfags
- Visible: A Femmethology, Volume 1. Amazon link below:
Some Femmes Don't Wear Heels
- Trans Forming Families, 2nd ed. Amazon link below:
Girl Amongst Boys
All images and content copyright © Joshua Bastian Cole 2016. All Rights Reserved.