Overflow – Open Letter From Actress Janet Anderson

'Overflow' - Image © Robert Catto
Our eclectic team of writers from around Australia – and a couple beyond – with decades of combined experience and interest in all fields.

Making its Melbourne debut in January is one-woman show 'Overflow', from Playwright Travis Alabanza, Director Dino Dimitriadis, and performer Janet Anderson.

‘Overflow' will be presented as part of Melbourne's Midsumma Festival (as well as events in Brisbane and Sydney) and is an exploration of women's bathrooms. . . Who is allowed in, who is kept out?

Actress Janet Anderson will bring to life Rosie, a young trans woman, and 'Overflow' will be the first time an all-trans and gender-diverse team have been assembled for a mainstream Australian theatre production.

Rosie has been cornered into a flooding cubicle, determined not to be rescued again. She's distracting herself with memories of drunken heart-to-hearts by dirty sinks. . . Friendships forged in front of crowded mirrors. . . Hiding from trouble.

Her panic is rising and there's no help on the way. Can Rosie keep her head above water?

Here, Janet Anderson pens an open letter about 'Overflow' and its impact.

“Coming off stage after another performance of 'Overflow', soaked head to toe and shivering profusely both from the wet and the adrenaline, my first impulse was often to collapse in a soggy heap and hope to be teleported to my bed. But as this technology isn’t readily accessible yet, I’m forced to peel off my costume, blast my mess of hair with a blowdryer and work with the abstract artwork that has become my makeup.

‘That’ll have to do’ I think as I leave my dressing room and head out into the foyer. And without fail, every night there is a trans woman waiting for me, usually a little nervous, and I get to hold her hand as she tries to articulate everything that she and I have just experienced together.

There’s so many moments in the text that, as a trans performer myself, feel almost as vulnerable to share as reading my diary aloud.

Travis Alabanza’s writing is so painfully truthful, it's no surprise that often the silences in between lines are filled with sniffles. Rosie covers a lot of ground, talking on everything from her upbringing in catholic school, to discussing the multitudes of uses that a single lipliner can have.

Overflow Robert Catto 3
Image © Robert Catto

The audience act as her confidants, a much-needed distraction from whatever is waiting for her outside. Every now and then she’s reminded of the threat on the other side of the bathroom door, breaking her train of thought with a terrifying bang.

Of course, to the trans people in the audience, Rosie’s experience may be all too familiar. Just about every trans girl I know has had some unsavoury experience in a bathroom when you’re suddenly reminded just how vulnerable you can be. When perhaps you got a little too comfortable in your skin that day, and forgot how far you stand out. There's a line in the play that always stung me a little to say every night: 'what gave me away huh? Was it my height? Something in my jaw? Or was it something inside me? A monster poking through the whites of my eyes'.

It perfectly articulates the exhausting guessing game that many trans people face minute to minute. Wondering what part of our bodies might be a dead giveaway, like a tell in a game of poker. All that stranger at the sinks next to you needs to do is spot something on me that is, for them, decidedly unwomanly. And once they’ve sniffed you out, all you can do is hope they aren’t harbouring some truly scary opinions.

Before every performance, it was a condition of mine that, along with the acknowledgment of country, we had an acknowledgment for all the trans women who laid down their lives so that we could tell this story every night. It’s not lost on me how lucky we are to take this show on tour, to be invited to take part in some incredible festivals and for hundreds of people to hear Rosie’s story every night.

Overflow Robert Catto 4
Image © Robert Catto

While I’m endlessly grateful to those hundreds, it's that one trans girl waiting in the foyer who I get to connect with that makes me the most excited to come back.

Now, after having done what I thought might be my last performance of 'Overflow' just over a year ago, I’m almost giddy at the chance to be drenched every night. Just as long as I get to meet that girl in the foyer. Hopefully she doesn’t mind a slightly damp hug.”

'Overflow' will show as part of Brisbane's Melt Festival, 23-26 November at Brisbane Powerhouse, Sydney Festival, 17-27 January at The Eternity Playhouse, and Midsumma Festival 2024, 31 January-4 February at Arts Centre Melbourne.

This story originally appeared on our queer sister site, FROOTY.

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