the conversation – issue 385
The people, places and things we’re talking about
T is for theatre
Sex work, masochistic relationships, testicle removal and an almost sexual encounter with drummer/sex god Tommy Lee are just some of the intensely personal adventures Nina Arsenault revealed in her 36 highly memorable T-girl columns in fab. “When I would finish a column I used to read it over the phone to a friend,” muses Arsenault. “And I thought these would be great monologues. There’s theatre built right into them.
” Arsenault, who taught theatre at York University before transitioning took priority was appearing in Sky Gilbert’s Ladylike when she caught director Brendan Healy’s eye. “Nina has a specific sense of what she wants,” understates Healy. “My job is to help realize, add to and question as opposed to being an outside eye with authority.” The collaboration clicked and the first production of Arsenault’s surgery-centric memoir performance piece, The Silicone Diaries, was a hit when presented in Nova Scotia, enough of a hit to become a full theatrical production during Buddies In Bad Times Theatre’s 2009/2010 season.
Arsenault spent nine months rewriting and during that time Healy was appointed artistic director of Buddies. Suddenly Healy, as well as Arsenault, has something to prove. If there is pressure to deliver, it doesn’t show. Arsenault fits right in with Healy’s vision for Buddies. “What draws me to Nina is what draws me to all my artistic endeavours: a profoundly queer perspective on the world. Nina is in between things in a very fantastic and human way and to delve into those polemics and wrestle with them is the queer view, destabilizing normality in issues of identity.”
Arsenault is more concerned about being honest. “If you’re going to make art about yourself you’d better be prepared to tell all the depths otherwise people can smell it. I was never afraid to reveal things,” shrugs Arsenault. “That’s something I can do. I altered my body into a queer form. When I look in the mirror I don’t see someone who looks like a woman, I’m stylized and that was a conscious decision.”
Arsenault is determined to tell her story her way. “I’ve been the subject of other people’s work but transpeople never get to sculpt their own stories. It’s important politically to get to frame our own story and help frame it,” she explains. “Even before I transitioned I was obsessed with beauty, not just my own.” Arsenault’s meticulous attention to beautiful detail has resulted in a spectacular set to frame her performance. “The floor lights up,” laughs Arsenault noting that the soundscape is also exceptionally lush. She further enthuses, “There are video projections, archival stuff from when I did web porn and actual surgical footage.”
The Silicone Diaries is not all political queer theory and glamour and, after Aresenault proved herself to be such a deft comedienne with her previous one-person performance I Was Barbie, theatregoers should expect lots of quips and gossipy guffaws. And Arsenault once again offers to strip down to draw an audience. Healy demurs, “There is already nudity in this show, a nakedness of the soul. It’s a real revelation of self that makes it a story of all of us. I recognize myself in it.”
The Silicone Diaries runs Sat Nov 14-21 at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander St. Info: artsexy.cafab who is delighted that theatre and body modification are finally mingling..
Drew Rowsome is an associate editor at