(The following is my speech from Pride Prom, held at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, produced by the Triangle Program and SOY (Saving Our Youth). The Pride Prom is an annual prom in Toronto for LGBTQ and Questioning youth and their friends. It gives them a chance to come to a prom with same sex dates, be outrageously queer and there is a Prom Queen, King and Ace. The Ace is for anyone not comfortable identifying as a king or a queen.)
Thank you for having me here today. I want to welcome you all to Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. I believe that usually when we come to the theatre we come to watch characters onstage, people, have experiences and to watch them transform as they have experiences. And as we sit in the darkness in the audience, hopefully, we can let our hearts open. Maybe we let our hearts open just a little bit. And, if we let this happen it can be really quite amazing to watch people transform. It can also be very moving to realize that we are all on a journey that is unfolding in front of us. I think that is one of the things that makes the theatre a very magical place. When it lets us see that.
Tonight, I am very privileged that I get to speak to you at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre at the Pride Prom. As you graduate from high school. It’s my hope that you are enjoying the moments of this time in your life. Because this is a time of transition for you I expect it will also be a time of transformation for each of you. I encourage you to let your hearts open, just a little bit. You are witnessing everyone’s transformation and your own.
It can be very exciting to watch the Theatre of our Own Lives as it unfolds.
The Theatre of my Own Life has been very exciting for me.
I went to high school in a very small town in rural Ontario. When I was there I was a very effeminate person in a boy-body, and I hope things have changed in that small town for young queer people, and I know that they have.
One of the things that comes to my mind when I think back to my high school is that it was a kind of theatre, too. It was a very small high school so there were people watching other people’s lives unfold. In fact, we were all witnessing each other’s lives. Commenting about it. Talking about it. Getting caught up in the drama.
Sometimes people could say some very negative things about each other.
I did everything I could to perform well there. I performed very well in class. I was a “straight” A student. And, I performed very well after class in the drama club. I performed very well in our school’s production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I liked performing very much, and I suppose I was known for it in my high school.
I also made sure to perform very well in the hallways, and in the cafeteria and after school. In between classes I made sure that I guarded my impulses and didn’t do anything inappropriate for my small town high school in the 80’s. Don’t be too effeminate. Don’t be too flamboyant. Don’t be too creative. Definately don’t be too creative. Don’t be sexual in any way around straight people. I performed that very well.
I wanted to be liked. I wanted to have friends and be accepted. So, I performed very well whenever other kids were watching me which was pretty much all the time in the Theatre of my High School. It was very challenging for me to always be performing, but it paid off because I got to survive.
But in a way I made an unspoken deal with some of the other people at my school. I would perform in certain ways and not in others ways if they would accept me. And they agreed to this agreement, too.
But once I made that unspoken deal with people they could be very critical of what I was performing and how I was performing. In fact, almost everyone was a critic. Everyone had an opinion.
Some people complained I was too artistic. Others said, “Why can’t you just let yourself be as artistic as you want to be?” Some said I was too unusual. Others said, “Why can’t you just embrace the fact that you are unusual. Most people said I was too effeminate. Others said, “Why can’t you just get over the fact that you’re effeminate and stop caring what other people think?” I was too proud. Not proud enough. Too forceful. Not forceful enough.
There was always something wrong with my performance. It was never good enough, and the criticism came form both sides.
Sometimes the most painful criticism of what I was doing was, “Why can’t you just be real? Why can’t you be the real you?”
It’s very hard to be real inside that kind of theatre. With an audience always judging.
I always used to think that if I was famous everyone would accept me. Once I was famous people would really want to get to know the real me. I was really looking forward to being the real me. In a way, I wanted to perform the real me.
I don’t think that to perform is only to be fake. After all, we perform daily actions. We perform brushing our teeth. We perform carrying out the garbage. We perform actions. We perform saying hello.
I do my best to perform as well as I can.
Now I work at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre creating performance. I’ve made two plays. One is called The Silicone Diaries and the other is called I was Barbie. Each of the plays are from the Theatre of my Own Life. They are real life stories. Both of them have been directed by the Artistic Director of this theatre, Brendan Healy.
When I got the job of doing my plays here I didn’t know if I could actually do them. I didn’t know if I would be strong enough to withstand other people’s criticisms. But I agreed to do it anyways, hoping for the best. Trusting everything would unfold.
One of the things that I liked most about working with Brendan is that he has never tried to tell me who to be. He has never tried to make me or my plays into his version of me, what he wanted me to be. That made me trust him, and that made me like him.
One of the other things that I liked about working with him is that he spent very little time talking to me about what I was doing wrong. He mostly talked about what excited him about what I did. He could always find something to be excited about. It is very energizing to listen to someone talk about what is exciting about you. I very much liked coming to work. A big part of his job in supporting me as a performer was being encouraging of me. The things that I was doing wrong would start to fall by the wayside.
And the performances we made came into being. Unfolding, transforming, in unexpected ways. Because instead of not-doing what I was doing wrong, I continued to explore what was exciting. We came up with some very exciting stuff that surprised even us. Following our excitement.
When I think of my life, I could not have imagined the way that things would unfold for me. I couldn’t have planned it like this. I don’t think I could have gotten to where I got if I kept focusing on what was wrong with me. I got here by following my inspiration, by looking for what excited me. I think that every version of “me” that I have been performing, every chapter of my life, unfolded into the next version of “me.” There have been several me’s so far. I’m looking forward to seeing what other me’s I will perform, too.
Each time I was performing a different version of myself I wish someone had told me, “Nina… Rodney, you can relax a little bit, the person who you are pretending to be right now is the person you are.”
I think I would have felt a whole lot realer at each point in my journey.
I want to encourage you at this moment of transformation to see each other and yourselves in the best possible light. To see all the good in each other that is there. Do not listen to the people who criticize you. They can not possibly understand how distinctly, how wonderfully, and how unexpectedly you and your life can unfold. You could live a great drama.
And instead of attacking what you do not like in others. I ask you find something you do like in them. If you appreciate it that part of them, it will grow. A lot of people preach the subversive power of violence and anger. I believe in the subversive power to change that comes from appreciating the good.
I would like to finish with a quote from Martha Graham, a famous dancer and choreographer who was very wise about the artist’s process. But I would like to take her words and apply them to all of you. All of you are performing the stories of your lives, and I invite you each to think of yourselves as a piece of walking art, as performance art, art that is unfolding.
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, … that is translated through you … and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly…”