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HomeTheatreAMERICAN THEATRE | What Is a Non-Binary Play?

AMERICAN THEATRE | What Is a Non-Binary Play?

Playwrights Jonathan Alexandratos, Ok. Woodzick, M. Sloth Levine, Ashley Lauren Rogers, Dani Martineck, and C. Julian Jiménez.

Years in the past, I had a pupil, an excellent and inventive trans girl, who recurrently wore full stacks of skinny steel bangles on her forearms. It was a wise selection. Along with being additional proof of her standing as a vogue icon, she additionally had a surefire approach of commanding my consideration every time her hand shot as much as reply a query. The clink of the bangles indicated the urgency of her thought. I by no means need to appear intrusive to my college students, so I don’t usually ask them about what they’re carrying, however to me these bangles gave the impression to be a press release. Their sound hitting her desk, or on her raised arm, proclaimed, “I’m right here.”

As a non-binary particular person, I discover myself making an attempt to do the identical factor. I see my associates and colleagues within the trans, non-binary, and gender nonconforming communities doing this too. The loud proclamations outline the fluid borders of our havens, and make these areas protected for quiet. And so we take a look at ourselves. We take a look at one another. We discover love and acceptance, typically small in scale at first. After which, once we deem the world worthy of our genius, we put the bangles on.

Right here I’m going to do an incomplete job of an identical sort of noise-making on behalf of non-binary performs. I’ll take an finally minuscule fraction of performs wrought by non-binary writers and amplify them to create an admittedly porous “definition” of the “non-binary play.” There will likely be many holes on this amorphous theatrical survey, and I hope different non-binary creators will fill them, both with their very own work or criticism. Nonetheless, the impossibility of completion isn’t any excuse to draw back from the urgency of beginning.

And beginning is pressing. In my very own work and within the work of different non-binary playwrights, I see formal shifts, pushbacks, additions, and questions declared by tales which can be typically dismissed by the cis-heteronormative institution as too distant from the prescriptions of Aristotelian theatre to qualify as dramatic narrative. They aren’t, after all, and the insistence that they’re solely serves one other oppressive binary: the play/not play divide that has been used to exclude many feminine, Black, Indigenous, POC, queer, and neurodiverse artists, and all intersections thereof and past. There’s a lengthy custom of this, however that doesn’t imply it should proceed. For those who should look to Aristotle, learn his personal “On Interpretation,” by which he notes that language exists “by conference.” We create the conventions; in the event that they now not serve us, we will alter them. Language, and the artwork created with it, serves the individuals, not the opposite approach round.

The primary people I’d prefer to be served in naming the conference of the non-binary play are rising non-binary playwrights. Ideally, they’ll use their phrases to construct out the range of this ever-changing class of theatre. Second, I hope this work of defining reaches audiences, theatres, and critics who’re maybe in search of to embrace work by non-binary artists however stay not sure of the vocabulary with which to take action. This vocabulary issues. Within the graphic novel Gender Queer, Maia Kobabe writes of eir hassle with the gender binary: “The data of a 3rd choice slept like a seed beneath the soil. This seed put out many leaves, however I didn’t have the language to establish the plant.”

We non-binary people continuously discover ourselves naming and renaming “the plant,” however there’s additionally generally a necessity to call the soil, the roots, the oxygen produced by the leaves, the chlorophyll, and different parts which can be associated to, however are usually not, the plant itself. In different phrases: Naming myself non-binary was one step. After that got here the necessity to rename my artwork in relation to my non-binary self. This, in actual fact, is the place the concept for this text started.

In 2020, my play Turning Krasniqi gained a Parity Fee from Parity Productions. Consequently, it acquired dramaturgy from the corporate’s creative management. This was invaluable. It remodeled my story of a Kentucky highschool pupil who adapts a centuries-old Albanian ritual to turn into burrnesha—a gender by which somebody assigned feminine at beginning takes on extra masculine social roles—into a good, effectively structured piece of theatre. On this course of, questions arose about tonal shifts throughout the piece. These had been moments I acknowledged as unconventional however deeply true. In my expertise as a non-binary artist with Albanian and Greek ancestry, I continuously felt the whiplash of reaching again towards deeply emotional, cultural gender rituals, solely to be propelled into present-day laughter across the popular culture worlds I really like dearly. I needed my play to protect that speedy oscillation, as a result of, for these of us who query items of our id, this doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Processing gender continuously occurs at intersections the place we’re additionally serving another half or components of our selves. As such, gender breakthroughs can occur in clothes shops, or college loos, or in parks as one LARPs their armor-clad self towards extra victories than one. The cathartic absurdity of that is essential to my journey, and my work.

I don’t know the way widespread this tonal mixing is in non-binary performs, however I’ve learn sufficient of them to know I’m not alone. At present, I’m enhancing a set of non-binary performs for Subsequent Stage Press. Whereas there are collections of performs by trans writers, that is the primary I’ve seen that focuses on non-binary people particularly. That distinction might demand an evidence. A group of labor by trans authors ought to goal to incorporate trans males, trans girls, and non-binary people who take into account themselves to be beneath the trans umbrella (not all do). In making a e-book of non-binary work, it could be disrespectful of me to incorporate trans males and trans girls who don’t additionally use the time period “non-binary” for themselves (as some, specifically some in my assortment, do). It’s because trans males are males, and trans girls are girls, and nobody has a proper to impose upon them terminology that separates them from their validity in both of these genders. For non-binary people, there’s typically the idea of trans-ness. Since that’s generally the case, I needed my assortment to be inclusive of these writers. Nonetheless, I additionally needed the e-book to be respectful of non-binary individuals who don’t additionally outline themselves as trans. For that purpose, I take advantage of phrases like, “trans and/or non-binary writers,” to permit for that range. If genders are containers, then we’re all cats. When cats put themselves in containers, they are often as content material as Garfield subsequent to a contemporary pan of sizzling lasagna. Put a cat in a field, although, and you’ll in a short time be taught the true which means of claws and tooth, and rightly so.

It’s essential to me to respect the field of “non-binary” as its personal place—related to others, certain, but additionally absolutely shaped by itself. As a rule, I’ll see the need for non-binary people to be coupled with one other gender or gender class: “Girls and Non-Binary Individuals,” “Trans and Non-Binary Individuals.” Nobody ought to deny that these intersections exist, however being non-binary shouldn’t be a de facto rider to a different gender. It’s impartial, and will take up house as such. One good thing about that is that, when work is studied as solely the work of non-binary individuals, sure developments or similarities might emerge that might illuminate shared pursuits and/or points for mentioned group. I’ve definitely observed this within the assortment of non-binary performs I’m enhancing, even permitting for the individuality of every piece. As an example, Ok. Woodzick’s brief play Pageant and Pyres mixes the glitz and glam of ’80s and ’90s teen magnificence pageants with the brutal execution of Joan of Arc. This oscillation of tone and time creates the friction that tears aside the binaries of the play, exposing its very coronary heart.

Dismantling binaries is difficult. It takes a whole lot of drive. In non-binary performs the place gender is a central theme, the viewers might really feel the bluntness of this vitality in order that the work can present each the likelihood and the issue of eradicating the slash (“is/shouldn’t be,” “previous/current,” and so forth.) that establishes binaries. What some might expertise as a tonal shift, then, is a really actual manifestation of some non-binary experiences.

Playwright M. Sloth Levine makes use of one thing comparable of their work. In Levine’s 4 Moments of the 12 months, we hear 4 monologues spoken by trans individuals. They occur in numerous seasons, in numerous settings, in numerous tones, they usually drop references to every thing from historic Greece to John Carpenter’s The Factor. Right here, the tonal shifts strike me as having the identical goal as Woodzick’s, although using references that dwell in each antiquity and popular culture stands out as distinct. In Levine’s work, I get the sense that the inclusion of allusions previous and new dismantles that specific temporal binary, whereas claiming each as trans by way of the mouth of a trans character.

We continuously find out about each historical past and fashionable popular culture as being implicitly cisgender. Antiquity is queer, no query about it, however academics dedicated to that fact have, in my expertise, been overpowered by these dedicated to a extra cis- and hetero-washed previous. In some ways, modernity has the identical drawback. There’s queerness, however it typically takes fan and slash fiction to push it up above subtext. As an example, whereas some Trekkies insist upon Captain Kirk’s heterosexuality, loads of the earliest Star Trek slash fiction extrapolated a homosexual relationship with Spock. Whereas some shrug off such plots as byproducts of a junk medium, queer communities inside fandom gravitate towards such writing as a result of it lets us see a model of ourselves explicitly in a textual content that hasn’t made house (the ultimate frontier). When people like Levine, and different playwrights who do that extra extensively, incorporate each queer histories and popular culture into their work, and that work finds a mainstream house, it validates the queerness we’ve been elevating from these locations all alongside. And since non-binary individuals typically search by previous, current, and future for locations the place we exist—and there are lots of—non-binary performs have the potential to highlight these explicit types of queerness in areas of tradition which can be already within the properties of individuals far outdoors our neighborhood.

The work of finding transness in time and house is the work of many non-binary performs. It seems in Ashley Lauren Rogers’s The Final Ring, by which transness performs a key function in a narrative about skilled wrestling. Right here the influence of each gender and wrestling are proven onstage, expertly linking the trials of 1 to the opposite. In the meantime C. Julian Jiménez’s performs Julio Ain’t Goin’ Down Like That and Bruise & Thorn lay a trans declare to their setting, New York Metropolis, and characters’ personal trans and non-binary our bodies. In Julio, Jiménez’s character Magnificence sums up this possession properly by saying:

I dwell in reality. You had been born into your fact. How good for you. I earned my fact by trials and tribulations, by the backhands of my stepfathers and the chokeholds of my mom’s fingers pressed firmly to the Adam’s apple that my mom would eternally remind me that I’ve…

Taken past the context of the play, these phrases reverberate into many non-binary performs and lots of non-binary lives. Many people don’t have the expertise of being “born into” our fact. In maybe the most effective of instances, the potential for being non-binary was discovered about quickly after, and the particular person was in a position to lay declare to the id rapidly. In my case, it could be a long time after my beginning earlier than I even discovered the language of being non-binary, and after that my fact needed to survive the questions of associates and family members, the anger of these closest to me, and the harassment of neighbors. It wasn’t an expertise as violent as Magnificence’s, however it was one which harm. Even so, Jiménez paints the fitting portrait of the expertise: not one which facilities trauma, however one which celebrates our fact’s energy to emerge from the most effective and the worst. Being non-binary shouldn’t be essentially a narrative of trauma, however, when trauma does occur, non-binary performs are uniquely located to point out what occurs once we make it by.

Above all, I might urge theatres that need to produce non-binary and trans work to acknowledge the potential subtlety of our tales. A non-binary play isn’t just one the place a non-binary particular person comes out. It might probably merely be one the place a non-binary character turns into a part of one thing they love that has historically not explicitly made room for them. A theatre skilled as soon as requested me if I needed to contribute a play to their to-be-published exploration of “the non-binary or trans expertise.” I responded with a politely worded query about their use of the singular in “the non-binary or trans expertise,” mentioning that for me, shopping for my first gown, pondering what sort of creature McDonaldland’s Grimace is, responding to transphobia, and enjoying with my Energy Rangers motion figures are all non-binary experiences, as I’m non-binary, and I’ve skilled them. My response went unanswered.

Certainly the most effective factor about trans and non-binary experiences, as conveyed in trans and non-binary performs, is that they’re by definition not one factor. They’re a plethora of joys, pains, ownerships, references, anxieties, comforts, languages, types, and extra—all continuously evolving due to new range added. As non-binary playwrights intersect their work with the opposite components of their identities—race, class, faith, neurodiversity, incapacity, tradition—their audiences get to see the other ways our gender exists on this planet. This lets us keep away from the pitfall of portrayals of non-binary individuals in media, which generally skews white, skinny, able-bodied, and neurotypical. The good thing about that isn’t simply giving audiences a extra trustworthy image of non-binary communities, but additionally the truth that such performs can act as an invite to any non-binary one who might have felt they don’t “look the half” that claims, “Sure, you belong right here.”

This is the reason I’ve not began any sentence right here with, “A non-binary play is…” No matter I might say after the ellipsis would exclude a fellow non-binary playwright, and would void the best present non-binary performs may give audiences: a way that house exists to be claimed by those that have none, reasonably than assigned by or to those that have a lot. As I talked concerning the notion of the non-binary play with Ashley Lauren Rogers, they talked about a number of parts that may come up continuously: “a play written or helmed by a non-binary artist…,” or that has “binary expectations (of gender or typically) as the main target of its criticism.” Or, they mentioned, “It may very well be so simple as together with well-rounded non-binary characters.”

Rogers then added that the act of definition itself typically includes making a binary itself round what one thing is and isn’t, including, “If we’re really trying to break binary considering, we’ve to interrupt binaries when what a non-binary play is as properly.”

Non-binary playwright and actor Dani Martineck agreed, however put it in another way. “Non-binary performs are as different as non-binary playwrights, non-binary performers, and non-binary storytellers of all types,” they mentioned.

This can be irritating for some in search of the effectivity of a single reply, however I desire the sort of fluidity. It facilities the humanity current in non-binary performs, and begs us to concentrate the various vary of labor that might presumably match beneath its umbrella. That range is human range.

When a non-binary play is produced, it’s however one bangle on the arm of theatre. We want many. We want so many who when the hand is raised, the sound is immediately recognizable and its message can’t be ignored. We’re right here. We’re right here. We’re right here.

Jonathan Alexandratos (they/them/theirs) is a non-binary playwright primarily based in New York Metropolis whose award-winning work has been internationally produced. Discover them on Instagram @toy_circus, Twitter @jalexan or on the internet at

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