Thanks to director Brendan Healy for putting this beautiful text into my consciousness.
“When I put my hands on your body on your flesh I feel the history of that body. Not just the beginning of its forming in that distant lake but all the way beyond its ending. I feel the warmth and texture and simultaneously I see the flesh unwrap from the layers of fat and disappear. I see …the fat disappear from the muscle. I see the muscle disappearing from around the organs and detaching itself from the bones. I see the organs gradually fade into transparency leaving a gleaming skeleton gleaming like ivory that slowly resolves until it becomes dust. I am consumed in the sense of your weight the way your flesh occupies momentary space the fullness of it beneath my palms. I am amazed at how perfectly your body fits to the curves of my hands. If I could attach our blood vessels so we could become each other I would. If I could attach our blood vessels in order to anchor you to the earth to this present time I would. If I could open up your body and slip inside your skin and look out your eyes and forever have my lips fused with yours I would. It makes me weep to… feel the history of your flesh beneath my hands in a time of so much loss. It makes me weep to feel the movement of your flesh beneath my palms as you twist and turn over to one side to create a series of gestures to reach up around my neck to draw me nearer. All these memories will be lost in time like tears in the rain.”
David Wojnarowicz, Close to the Knives: a Memoir of Disintegration
included photographic self-portraits also by Wojnarowicz
Congratulations to director Jordan Tannahill who has been honoured this month with both the Ken McDougall Award for Emerging Directors and Inside Out’s Emerging Canadian Artist Award.
Established in 1995 by Buddies In Bad Times Theatre, Platform 9 and Theatre Passe Muraille, the annual Ken McDougall Award serves to honour the memory of the theatre innovator it is named for and to acknowledge a promising emerging director. Previous recipients have been: Franco Boni, Cathy Gordon, Michael Waller, Chris Abraham, Simon Heath, Patrick Conner, Ellen Ray Hennessey, Rebecca Brown, Nina Aquino, Kimahli Powell, Brendan Healy (my director for The Silicone Diaries), Bea Pizano and Jacob Zimmer.
Inside Out’s Emerging Canadian Artist Award is sponsored by EP Canada is presented to an emerging Canadian filmmaker or video artist at the early stage of their career.
I currently have the pleasure of working with Jordan on Dryad, a short video piece we are creating together. Dryad was shot in the gutted and semi-demolished interior of Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto and explores alienation, isolation and the reconstructed body. (production photos posted below on April 30th)
originally published Dec 16, 2010
Each story is introduced by a title intermingled with projected images, some of them horrific shots taken during surgery (a nose job is a gory sight to behold in close-up).
Arsenault speaks in a low, controlled, intimate voice, just above a whisper, with a soupcon of melodrama.
Every slinky move is calculated: fingernails raked over her transparent latex dress, arms raised, undulating in front of a portrait of Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty. Every verbal inflection is carefully controlled.
Silicone Diaries is a slick piece of theatre, built on a compelling narrative, an arresting stage presence and deft direction, by Brendan Healy (artistic director of Buddies in Bad Times since 2009).
In addition, this tall, slim, curvaceous artist who was chosen to be Mattel’s representative for Barbie, at the doll’s 50th birthday party during the 2009 fashion week in Toronto (watch for her next solo show, I Was Barbie), proves to be an excellent spokesperson for the trans-gender community.
From the moment she emerges out of the dry-ice smoke like a rock star, she’s charming, articulate, witty – “If you die during plastic surgery what do you say to God?” -and frank.
We learn, among other intimate details, that she still has a penis although she has had an “orchy” or orchiectomy to remove her testicles. Her discussions of bootleg silicone injections and their ramifications are not for the squeamish.
Referring to herself as a “shemale”, she talks freely about working in the sex trade within a virtual reality setting (chatting with several clients at a time from behind a blurred image of herself), as an erotic dancer, and as a prostitute -all to finance her expensive procedures. Her flirt-and-tell account of meeting rocker Tommy Lee is priceless.
While Arsenault remains willing to go to any length to perfect her image (even exercise), she does confess that the upkeep (two hours per day on makeup and hair alone) can be exhausting – thereby striking a chord with every woman in the audience. Sisters under the mascara, we are.
Vanity is certainly at play here, but Silicone Diaries is actually less self-indulgent than many one-person shows. Arsenault, a former columnist at Fab Magazine, takes her audience for a fascinating ride.
The Postergirl for Cyborg Beauty, Arsenault Impresses in “The Silicone Diaries”
Dec 13. 2010
By: Michael Bou-Younes
As the audience gathers their seats, a looped video of gloved hands fondling a silicone breast implant plays on the projected screen that doubles as the stages background. An ominous, low based, deep-toned ambient noise fills the theatre in sequence with a rolling cloud of dry ice. Carefully placed stiletto boots slowly creep out of the darkness and a six foot plus silhouette stands unabashed at center stage. Our first introduction to writer/actress Nina Arsenault is something out of a science fiction movie; the escape hatch of a futuristic spaceship opening to reveal a certain kind of cyborg-beauty never before seen. The Silicone Diaries is indeed surreal and sleek, however at its core it is a production about the nature of beauty, and the thin line between the pursuit of perfection and unhealthy obsession.
Presented by Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Silicone diaries is the biographical chronicles of the life of Nina Arsenault and the sixty plus operations she endured to transform from an ordinary man to an extraordinary woman. Directed by Brendan Healy, the diaries start with humble beginnings in a Manitoba Zellers, a young boy becomes hypnotized by the dead gaze of an unclothed mannequin. Obsessed with every curve of the figure’s hips and thighs, the boy stares deeply at the lifeless effegy knowing that is exactly what he wants to look like when he grows up. A multimedia slideshow follows the boy through his adolescent years, and through the quickly spliced images we notice a tendency for cross-dressing and ever lengthening hair; the desired transformation has begun.
Botox is injected, a scalpel makes its first incision, noses are chiseled, rib-cages are filed down like fingernails and the audience is spared no gory detail in the rebirth/creation of Nina Arsenault. Clips of the process are gruesomely displayed on the stage’s backdrop, and I’ll be quite honest in saying I covered my eyes on more than one occasion. As difficult of a pill as this is to swallow, Aresenault is making the point that if this is so excruciating to watch, imagine having to endure that kind of torture. The artist has clearly suffered for the sake of her art, and it just so happens that her body has become the canvas. However, the line between the pursuit of perfection and unhealthy obsession is paper thin at best, and as Nina considers black-market Botox injections and shady unregulated Mexican surgical procedures, the audience begins to see a women so enamored by a concept of absolute beauty that she will endure anything to achieve it, or die trying.
Trevor Schwellnus’ work as lighting and stage director was enchanting with a deliberate purpose, predominantly lit from beneath, Arsenault is put on a pedestal, shining like a diamond necklace in a glass display case. Sharp overhead lights work to create defined shadows on the stages backdrop, punctuating the femininity of Nina’s curves while directly addressing her obsession with perfecting the projected image on the mirror-like wall.
Arsenalt’s performance is breathtaking and tragically self-aware, conducting her dissertation in a sultry, monotone voice that is somehow a beautiful meld of a late night call girl and a cool handed surgeon conducting an open-table lecture. Due to convenient seating arrangements, I think Arsenault caught my discomfort with the subject matter early on, directly trapping me in several eye to eye staredowns, as if to assert the kind of alpha-dog power she was capable of destroying men with. Nina asserts herself with the powerful aura of Aphrodite and the cutting unforgiving gaze of Cleopatra, and once again I was forced to avert my eyes, simply too overwhelmed to properly consume the devastatingly electric performance taking place on stage. Very rarely would I use the word uncomfortable to give positive praise to a performance, however Nina’s skillful projection of her twisting and intricately structured sentences is more numbing than a double dose of local anesthetic. The Silicone Diaries plays until December 11th at the Buddies in Bad Times Theatre
Arsenault’s next step: Yukon
COMING & GOING / Fresh off Silicone high, writer/performer heads north
by David Bateman / Toronto / Monday, December 13, 2010
Nina Arsenault’s solo performance work possesses a visceral power that has engaged audiences from New Brunswick to the far North.
Nakai Theatre’s artistic director David Skelton booked The Silicone Diaries for the annual Pivot Festival in Whitehorse last year on the recommendation of a number of Toronto colleagues. He was won over by Arsenault’s ability to articulate what she does, both onstage and off.
“She’s very deliberate, very conscious of all her actions. It’s extraordinary how she can have that continuous scrutiny of everything she does, and what that means in the context of all of her actions. Thinking of her deliberate quality [in performance], that she must [also] have in putting on her makeup and creating herself, is so detailed and so deliberate. I just marvel at it,” he says.
The deliberate quality that Skelton speaks of becomes, in the context of Silicone, an array of performance strategies carefully crafted by Arsenault and director Brendan Healy. Aided by a skilled production team, they have sculpted a beautifully nuanced visual and aural gender/sex landscape. Arsenault’s strength as a performer takes on a Brechtian quality through a direct-address style.
Arsenault is set to return to Yukon in January, this time with her show I Was Barbie. It’s a retelling of Arsenault’s experience as Mattel’s representative for the famed fashion doll during Toronto’s 2009 Fashion Week, coinciding with Barbie’s 50th birthday celebration.
Arsenault has fond memories of her last trip north.
“Everywhere I went men were whistling at me. A lot of lumberjack mentality, in a good way, an outdoorsy man’s man-ness. There were no women there who wore as much makeup. I felt really sexually hot there,” Arsenault says.
Healy describes Arsenault as someone deeply ”interested in the intersection between aesthetics and spirituality.”
Audience reaction has not always been as open to this element of her persona. Skelton recalls a talkback session in Whitehorse in which an audience member told Arsenault that she hoped she would find peace one day, and would be able to stop having surgical procedures. Arsenault responded simply and directly by saying that she had found peace within surgery, and would continue to do so. Continue reading
Last night at Buddies in Bad Times Nina Arsenault returned to the Toronto stage, and it was a memorable evening to say the least. Last November Nina bursted onto the Buddies stage with The Silicone Diaries and had every critic around the city collectively applauding the piece. It turned out to be a massively successful sold out run, and we are loving the decision of Brendan Healy to bring the show back for a second run in this year’s Buddies programme.
Besides an outrageously warm Chamber room and a bizarre incident of a young woman running by Nina in the middle of the show and accidently vomitting everywhere (which Nina handled to perfection with a simple, “It’s intense”), the show was absolutely captivating. It is a fascinating and profound piece of work. Furthermore, the juxtaposition of still photography and spoken word from Nina works really well here. Nina is simply fierce as well. Her gestures, body movements and timing are really strong. It is a riveting 2 hours and we highly recommend seeing this show. We will be writing more on the show as the week goes on!
to read the whole story cut and paste the following link: http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/article/864232–brendan-healy-vs-the-world
Healy made a big splash at Buddies last season with his direction of Nina Arsenault in her controversial play about her transgender journey, The Silicone Diaries. Besides being a huge hit, Arsenault’s work raised a lot of thematic and socio-sexual issues that Healy finds important.
“Nina says, ‘I’ll go through dozens of surgeries to become a woman, but I refuse to cut off my penis. Is that empowerment or is it enslavement?’ You couldn’t have asked a question like that 10 years ago. We used to have such focused political agendas; now we’re questioning whether or not we’re one community.
“Working with Nina is emblematic of what the whole gay community is going through. So now I’m empowered and everything is wonderful. Or is it?”
(another quote from the article:)
“I believe queer is a value thing more than a sexual orientation thing. Queer is a deep respect of difference and a celebration of the inherent differences we have in each other. Queer makes space for difference and allows for difference.
“A queer value is a message that the status quo needs to adapt. Although we are all different, we are also all fundamentally the same. I believe that in encountering difference, it will awaken something in you.”
(the article is written by theatre critic Richard Ouzounian.)
For tickets call 416-975-8555 or go to www.buddiesinbadtimes.com. Advanced tickets are recommended to ensure seating.
Show info below:
Buddies in Bad Times Theatre presents
The Silicone Diaries
Created and Performed by Nina Arsenault
Directed by Brendan Healy
Dramaturgy by Judith Rudakoff
Production Design Trevor Schwellnus
Sound Design Richard Feren
November 25 – December 11, 2010
The Silicone Diaries is Nina Arsenault’s tour de force account of her transition from an awkward man into a jaw dropping silicone bombshell, a process that spanned eight years, sixty surgical procedures and a lifetime of preparation. After a sold-out run last season, Buddies is thrilled to welcome back this inspirational, hilarious and harrowing encounter with one of the most provocative queer voices in the country as she wrestles with the contradictions that surround the pursuit of inner and outer beauty.
“**** (out of four) profoundly moving” – Toronto Star
“***** (out of five) absolutely unforgettable” – Eye Weekly
“positively hypnotic” – Globe and Mail
“captivating theatre” – Xtra!
Opens November 25
Runs to December 11
Shows Tues – Sun 8pm
The billboard on the side of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. It lists all the shows in the 2010/11 season.
You Can Tell It’s Mattel. It’s Swell!
(by Amanda Campbell)
Nina Arsenault, “boy, girl, man, woman, performance artist, academic, educator, reality TV star, stripper, whore, columnist, nightlife hostess, storyteller, aesthete, art object, cyborg, icon, Barbie” is a fascinating human being and, in her newest work i was BARBIE, currently playing at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace as part of the 2010 SummerWorks Festival, she is an immediately captivating performing subject. In this one woman show Arsenault speaks about her stint playing Barbie at Canadian Fashion Week for the debut of a new Barbie-inspired fashion line in celebration of the iconic doll’s 50th Birthday.
As Arsenault says at the beginning of the piece, the irony of Mattel considering a transgendered performance artist who has become renowned for her ability to transform herself from a seemingly masculine body into a gorgeous and unique work of art is intense to say the least. She also mentions, of course, how ironically appropriate it seemed to her that an individual who has spent thousands of dollars on plastic surgery and who has significant portions of her body created entirely out of silicone, should be chosen to represent a doll who has been accused of “fucking up the body image” of generations worth of women for the past fifty years. And yet, what is perhaps even more fascinating is that the event during Fashion Week, at least on the surface, swept all satire or paradox under the PMS 219 Barbie Pink carpet.
Arsenault is an extremely intellectual artist, and the programme for i was BARBIE is filled with fascinating academic insights with dramaturg Judith Rudakoff into performing identity, the nature of art, beauty and gender and the way that our media and our society constructs gender norms and the way that corporations like Mattel and artists like Andy Warhol, use iconography to perpetuate certain ideals of femininity, beauty and perfection. Yet, the play itself is more subtle in its analysis of this experience, and allows the audience to choose for themselves how deep they would like to delve into the complex issues of gender and identity that Arsenault is weaving. In the programme she says of her writing of this show that “there are stream of consciousness elements in the writing. It moves from a rampant analysis of the things that are happening around me, to a moment of internal reflection about sensation, about something I’m actually feeling in my body.” To truly inhabit Barbie, Arsenault reflects, it is her job for this evening to be vacant (courtesy of Ativan), to be plastic and to be perfect.
While keeping herself poised as the representation of a doll whose image is nearly as complex as her own, Arsenault manages to paint a vivid picture of this event, which is rich in its detail and yet always accessible even to those who didn’t know that Toronto had its own Fashion Week. She mostly takes the audience into her own mind, her own heart and into her breath, which she strives to keep down in her genitals the way her voice teacher advocates, all the while she simultaneously represses and embraces the very real feelings of fear and insecurity that inevitably rise and subside throughout the evening. Yet, she also inhabits a few other individuals instrumental to her journey to Barbie to hilarious effect, as each one is more extreme in her ability to precisely inhabit the Hollywood culture than the last.
There is so much fascinating intellectual territory crammed into this piece that the feminist in me could write an entire paper delving into the subtext of each moment from the way that Arsenault carries herself, the dainty way she holds her wrists and insists on having her hair cover one of her eyes to her allusions to Ghandi, Buddha, Jesus Christ, Michelle Obama and the pink plastic temple of patriarchy, with Barbie as the highest priestess and, most interesting of all, Arsenault’s ability to simultaneously revel within this world, as even her own body, and certainly her deft mind, both celebrates, subverts and rejects everything that Barbie typically stands for.
Director Brendan Healy largely allows Nina Arsenault to be the focus of this piece, both as the storyteller, but also as a Barbie, a gorgeous, perfectly sculptured representation of the female body clad in a silver sequin dress and incredibly high stiletto shoes. She creates art and is the artwork, although there are also projected photos from the event, with Perez Hilton styled captions, as well as commercials for Barbie inter-spliced throughout as well as a good use of the camera shutter, as Arsenault speaks thoughtfully about the mechanics of modelling as a public figure, and musing what her genuine emotions, a feeling like empathy for example, would look like on camera if it accidentally permeated through her meticulously posed facade.
At the heart of i was BARBIE, is that even though Nina Arsenault, like Barbie, can easily spark a discussion about artificiality, as Judith Rudakoff writes, “is Nina a reproduction, a representation, a reflection or a reinterpretations? Perhaps a regeneration? A reinvention?,” as Barbie can change her clothes and reconfigure her image, just as real woman are able to do in the world of Plastic Surgery and Self-Help gurus, ultimately what is inside, the raw emotions, and the heart remain. And what makes i was BARBIE so beautiful is that it is filled with both.
to read their other great reviews cut and paste the link: