Magnetic North Theatre Company presents a work by trans activist Miranda Sparks at MELT Festival.
'Cassandra And The Boy Doll' shines a spotlight on Cassandra. She's a woman. At least... She knows she is. But the people around her have a different opinion. She's transitioned and now she has to put away her constructed male identity – for good.
Here, Director Artemis Green answers some questions about the performance.
This show is all about being transgender and society's ideas about gender identity. Why is 'Cassandra and the Boy Doll' an important piece of theatre?
This work challenges the three main pitfalls of Standard Trans Narratives: ‘Then/now’, inauthenticity and fetishisation. When trans characters are discussed in media, if they’re not the butt of the joke, they tend to follow a well-tread route where the story is about who the person was ‘before’ and the dramatic transformation ‘after’. The character tends to be written and performed by a cisgender (non-trans) person, and the focus is generally on their body, medical transition, and how the cisgender people around them feel about the scandal. 'Cassandra And The Boy Doll' is a show created and performed by trans people. The story begins after Cassandra has been living as the correct gender, and has little to no voyeuristic dissection of the trans body. In this work, we’re giving a platform to our authentic voice. We’re removing the sensationalism associated with our bodies and lives.
As the Director for this show, what has your involvement been?
Creative development is extremely hands-on for me. My role was to take the raw text, and build something layered, interesting and watchable. Through my meddling Miranda’s script has been chopped, blended, rearranged, and coated in 11 herbs and spices; Miranda gave me enormous creative freedom to devise movement, symbolism and whole new scenes. Working with a small ensemble makes it imperative to straddle many lanes: my influence is also visible in the design, costumes and even the programmes – though I have a mighty (if tiny!) creative team.
This isn't a new production. It played at Anywhere Festival two years ago. What's changed about the base material since then?
I think there is a slightly more mature tone to parts of the work now: we are older, our leading lady has had more experience of transition and being publicly trans: we’ve had time to refine the message. I think when we started, this show was a celebration of life – an invitation to live authentically from trans people to other trans people. Now, the work is more inviting. I think it’s more accessible to people outside our community. I want to invite cisgender people to the party so they can also see us in celebration and authenticity.
Have you added anything?
With more mature leading actors and a stronger cast overall, we’ve been able to add a few moments I initially shied away from for fear of butchering them.
Do you think the message of 'Cassandra' has become more relevant over the last few years? Why?
After we won an Anywhere award with this work, we were invited to Glitterfest on the Gold Coast and now we’re at MELT; it’s safe to say that there is something that Cassandra has that audiences aren’t getting elsewhere. I think transness has been weaponised as an effigy of what is right or wrong about ‘politics today’ (depending on who you listen to). In a post-plebiscite, post-Trump world I feel a sense of urgency to find ways of bridging the divides between good people. 'Cassandra And The Boy Doll' is an offer; maybe you’re not trans, or queer of any description, maybe none of your friends are either, but you aren’t hateful or fearful. Here is your invitation. You are welcome, we want to share our story. The real one, not what you see in the news, in porn, or in Facebook comments.
Why does this show belong at MELT Festival?
Being trans isn’t new, and we’re not going anywhere. There is a perception that ‘queer issues’ are ‘sorted’ now that same-sex marriage is legal, but trans people are over represented in suicide, violence and related health statistics, and generally underrepresented in media, activism and other LGBTIQA events. We’re hoping that Cassandra can become the centre of a new discussion on correcting media bias in trans stories and offering a narrative that’s not based on fear or shame.
In that same vein, what are you looking forward to about presenting it there?
MELT is special. The Brisbane Powerhouse is an institution. For MNTC, there is a sense of purpose and achievement in being able to perform in such a wonderful venue and festival as an un-funded, young company.
How are you hoping audiences feel when they leave the show?
I’m not too concerned, so long as they feel something. 'Cassandra And The Boy Doll' has so many ways in that I think (hope) people will find something that resonates with them. I hope trans people feel empowered, seen, celebrated and I hope cisgender people feel more connected, less fearful. I would love this work to be a starting point for conversations around living authentically and taking up your rightful space, no matter what your gender, colour or creed is.