Third Street Theatre casts transgender character in central role

Queer artists tackle issues of loss, identity in debut production

By Pamela Di Pinto, March 12, 2013, The Calgary Journal

theatre thumbWhat happens when someone awakens something in you — love, possibility, hopes, dreams — and then that someone special disappears?

Calgary’s only queer theatre company is exploring that question in This is How I Left, which is set to hit the stage at Living Spirit United Church from March 28 to 31.

Third Street Theatre’s artistic producer Jonathan Brower beams as he discusses the company’s first public production. “I’m beyond the moon right now,” said Brower.

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Facilitator Paul Welch (top right) leads the Queer Theatre Creation Ensemble in finalizing the This is How I Leftscript. Photo courtesy Pamela Di Pinto

The characters

This is How I Left is an original work produced by the company’s Queer Theatre Creation Ensemble, a group mandated to explore issues related to the queer community.

The ensemble was selected by facilitator Paul Welch, Third Street Theatre’s artistic director, based on two days of auditions held last fall.

The group began to share movie clips, news articles and interviews on broader issues facing the queer community through social media to help stimulate the creative process.

In January, the ensemble started rehearsing about nine hours a week at Living Spirit United Church. The church’s ministers are a married, same gender couple.

The group started by identifying and slowly unpacking major themes that interested them, such as identity, shame and belonging.

Members then began developing their own characters through guided meditations, individual and group exercises.

“It was always very important to me to make sure that we were doing a character-driven story and to have a strong story narrative, rather than do something highly abstract that might not necessarily resonate with an audience,” Welch said.

The plot

This is How I Left features four ensemble members:

  • Alyssa Bradac as Sam
  • Conrad Belau as a young woman
  • Lindie Last as Elle
  • Kyall Rakoz as Michael
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Ensemble member Alyssa Bradac believes all of the characters in the play, including Sam, are representative of people one might find in the real world. Photo courtesy Pamela Di Pinto

The story follows a writer named Sam holed up in a grief centre unable to confront the death of her wife, who was in the military.

Sam loses her wife shortly after the American government passed legislation allowing queer individuals to openly serve in the military, leaving Sam robbed of the chance to finally live authentically with her partner.

“It’s not just the mourning of the human being, but the mourning of the life, the mourning of everything that couldn’t be said, couldn’t be talked about, couldn’t be dealt with,” said Bradac, who plays Sam. “How does one move on and grow out of that?”

That’s when a young transgender woman, incapable of sharing her past, comes into Sam’s world.

Curiosity and misunderstanding lead the two women into the stories of Elle, a key witness in a murder trial, and Michael, a man who doesn’t know what he’s looking for.

Along the way, Sam embarks on a journey of self-confrontation in which she must finally come to realize and accept the death of her partner.

“Loss and dealing with loss is really key to who we are as human beings,” Bradac said.

“It’s always darkest before the dawn,” she added. “Bad things happen to all of us all the time. We’re little ants crawling around on this earth, and we can be killed millions of ways. Somehow, we keep surviving, and we keep persevering. In the perseverance, there is hope. There is always hope.”

The production team for This is How I Left includes:

  • Dale Lee Kwong, co-creator
  • Courtney Charnock, stage manager
  • Eugenio Saenz, set and lighting design

The setting: ‘hyper-conservative cowboy town’

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Ensemble member Conrad Belau (centre) says it was difficult to find authentic information on transgender individuals while researching his role for This is How I Left, making this story that much more important. Photo courtesy Pamela Di Pinto

Third Street Theatre explores what it means to be human.

Welch said This is How I Left is meant to show audiences everyone has a story that deserves to be told, regardless of who they are.

“There’s very little queer theatre that happens here in Calgary,” Welch said. “Calgary does have a reputation of being a hyper-conservative cowboy town. By creating this theatre company, it instantly forces a dialogue to happen.”

Welch went on to describe This is How I Left as “progressive” because, in a rare move, it also includes a male-to-female transgender individual.

“It’s exciting because it’s starting a conversation that needs to be had,” said Belau, who plays the young woman. “They (transgender individuals) are such a voiceless community.”

An excerpt of This Is How I Left will be premiered at the fourth annual University of Calgary Coming Out Monologues on March 15.

 

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