Transfigurations: A play with a story to tell

The Equality Project, founded in 1995, is a 501(c)(3) non-profit committed to advocating for human rights tolerance, equality, and diversity by sponsoring educational outreach, informational forums, events and other activites which empower the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and human rights communites. Our programming has included coalition activites with Basic Rights Oregon, 501(c)(4) Educational Non-Profit, on the Fair Workplace Project, annual fiscal sponsorship the Lesbian Gay Bisexal and Transgendered PRIDE Day in Eugene, Oregon and a printed Community Resource Guide.

The Equality Project is seeking financial support from individual donors and foundatioons in support of script development and educational materials for Transfigurations, an original theatrical piece that focuses on transgender issues.

Background

“Transfigurations”, by Deltra Ferguson and Eliza Roaring Springs, focuses on the challenges and dilemmas faced by transgendered people. Ferguson and Roaring Springs interviewed a dozen transgendered people of varied ages and backgrounds, drawing on a rich archive of true stories to create a riveting hour-long drama. The play explores the wide range of experiences of people who define themselves as transgendered. Two focal characters link these diverse stories. Wh'Wha is a historic personage, a Zuni lhamana, or man/woman, was well-known and respected figure ca 1900. Dana is a contemporary, an intersexed person (a person born with ambiguous genitalia) who contemplates suicide throughout the play, making her decision in the drama's final moments.

Transfigurations was first presented during 1998 Gay Pride Day in Eugene, Oregon. After the performance, the audience sat in stunned silence for nearly 20 minutes. The torrent of feelings and questions that followed pointed to the need for a facilitated discussion format to follow the performance. The facilitators added to the subsequent readers were the playwrights, directors and researchers involved with the project.

Subsequent staged readings were presented at the annual conference of the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment in October 1998, a University of Oregon conference featuring transgender activist and writer Susan Striker in November 1998, the May 1999 Gay Pride Celebration at Oregon State University, and a staged reading by the members of the Eugene PFLAG chapter.

In the words of a counselor who supports and works with transgendered youth: "I've seen two staged readings of the play, directed by Carol Horne. It was clear from the audience reaction--facial expressions, laughter, tears, discussions with the actors, and ongoing discussion with each other in the lobby (and out into the parking lot!)--how meaningful People found the play. Unmistakably, multiple aims were reached: people left the show with new information, with new ways to think about that information, and with new feelings to go with that information. The play is truly transformative for the audience, and, I believe, has by itself helped greatly to further understanding and support regarding transgender issues in our local community."--Laura Philips, M.S.W.

Clearly, Transfigurations awakens surprising energy and powerful emotions. The playwrights, director Carol Horne, and consulting professionals Dr. Elizabeth Reis and Hannah Fox agree that to complete the experience responsibly and effectively for audience members, a structured discussion process and informative take-home materials are essential. Transfigurations begins a process of education and growth for transgendered people, their families and friends, social service and health professionals, police--and for the general population. Dissemination of this powerful educational experience cannot begin until tools are in place to maximize the play's effectiveness.

The Need

A recent award-winning film, "Boys Don't Cry", has brought mainstream visibility to the dangers faced by transgendered people. On average, one transgendered person is murdered in the U.S. each month (a statistic comparable to lynchings of African Americans in the post-Reconstruction, pre-Civil Rights South). Fully 60 percent of transgendered citizens in the U.S. have suffered hate violence. In the period 1995 to 1999, 20 percent of all reported gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered murders and 40 percent of all incidents of police-initiated violence were directed at transgendered people. Violence is the extreme expression of endemic ignorance and denigration. Transgendered people live with the experience of inhabiting a body that does not match their gender identity. In many traditional cultures, social roles have allowed transgendered people to assume a role especially designed for them. Not only does Euroamerican culture not offer such a role, the predominant values reject the very existence or legitimacy of the transgendered experience. Loneliness, fear, and low self-esteem cause a very high percentage of transgendered people--especially youth--to consider and/or commit suicide.

An estimated 2,000 babies of indeterminate gender are born each year in the U.S. Parents and physicians must make fateful decisions about these innocent children, in a climate filled with denial and fear. Transgendered people face discrimination in the workplace, in the housing market, on the streets, and in classrooms and school hallways. The law offers little or no protection; they can be fired or denied housing without cause, in most municipalities and states.

In the words of activist Dawn Joseph Wilson: "Prejudice, bigotry, and racism are the children of fear and ignorance. The best way to defeat them is through education and one-on-one contact. Because laws can only change the actions, not the heart or the mind." In that spirit, the Equality Project seeks to make Transfigurations optimally effective as an educational tool that will change hearts and minds.

The Transfigurations Project

Script development

Much has been accomplished. The initial play written by Deltra Ferguson and Eliza Roaring Springs was shaped for reader's theater presentation in consultation with Carol Horne, a professional director and stage manager, longtime member of Actor's Equity, and former director of an independent production company, Little Apple Productions. The resulting reader's theater script of Transfigurations has been performance-tested with local, receptive audiences and found to be not only "a hit," but an educational tool with exceptional potential. In order to make the play available to a diverse audiences nationwide, our Intention is first to develop the reader's theater script into a full-scale production script. Carol Horne will work with the actors and the playwrights in rehearsal to develop characters, especially Wh'Wha (who appears in the reader's theater script only as part of the narration). Some of the storylines may also be expanded; a fully staged production can hold the attention of an audience longer than a sit-down reading. Staging ideas will be implemented, and included in the script as suggestions for future productions. Transfigurations will then be ready for presentation by social service organizations, theater companies, and other concerned groups throughout the United States. The reader's theater script will continue to be available for organizations that wish to do staged readings. Educational materials

Historian Elizabeth Reis, Ph.D., has researched and will write a compelling and accessible background essay on the history of transgendered people in the U.S. She will also prepare a bibliography of library and Internet resources. Hannah Fox, trained in interactive "Playback Theater" techniques, will develop interactive theater games, which combined with these educational materials will empower facilitators to lead a structured workshop that will follow Transfigurations performances.

Pilot performances/workshops

Four fully produced performances of Transfigurations will be staged at a local theater in downtown Eugene. Audiences will be invited from local PFLAG and Queer and Questioning Youth memberships, the city's Human Rights Commission, Eugene Police Department, Lane County Medical Association and Educators. Performances will also be offered to local theater audiences and to members of the general public. Once workshop materials have been developed performances in Portland, Salem and Ashland would be a priority.

Measurement/Feedback

An educator and a person trained in theater techniques will alternate as facilitators, each leading two of the structured workshops. Audience members will complete written evaluations of their experience; their responses will help us modify and improve the workshop in the course of the four performances. The result will be an effective, workable facilitator's package that can be implemented by an educator or a person with theater training.

Production and dissemination of the Transfigurations package

The Equality Project has already received requests for playscripts from several PFLAG chapters. With chapters nationwide in both urban and rural areas, PFLAG will be a good first line of distribution for the reader's theater and performance scripts and accompanying educational materials. A number of psychotherapists have also made inquiries; publicity and/or classified ads in publications aimed at therapeutic professionals are a second means of distribution. As interest builds, the Equality Project may partner with a larger organization for widespread distribution of Transfigurations. Key staff

Carol Horne (Producer/Director) was the Founding Artistic Director for Little Apple Productions, 1994-2000. Currently, Ms. Horne currently writes, directs, and produces educational videos. Past experience includes event coordination (e.g. LA Olympics Opening Ceremonies, Disneyland's 30th Anniversary) and professional stage management in New York, Los Angeles, and for national touring companies.

Deltra Ferguson (Writer) earned a Masters in Performance Studies from Northwestern University and a Ph.D. in Theater from the University of Oregon. She is the author of one-woman performances based on the lives of author Radclyffe Hall and song writer/activist Malvina Reynolds, and co-author of Transfigurations, with Eliza Roaring Springs. In addition Dr Ferguson has created a video about women and breast cancer and edited an anthology of performance works by the Young Women'sTheater Collective of Eugene. Dr. Ferguson now serves as board president of the Ashland New Plays Festival.

Eliza Roaring Springs (Writer) is Founder and Director of Encore Theatre, a seniors' theater company whose members transform stories from their own lives into musical theater for youth. Encore Theatre performances bridge the generation gap, building self-esteem and a sense of connection among elementary, middle, and high school students. Encore Theatre has also conducted month-long residencies at a juvenile detention center, with spectacular results that have drawn national attention and increasing levels of foundation and corporate support.

Elizabeth Reis, Ph.D (Researcher).is a respected scholar whose histories of the New England witch trials, women and religion, and the vicissitudes of gender in America have earned her numerous fellowships and awards. Professor Reis' publications include Damned Women: Sinners and Witches in Puritan New England (1997), Spellbound: Women and Witchcraft in America (1998), and American Sexual Histories (2001), as well as numerous articles, conference papers, and reviews.

Hannah Fox (Playback Theater) founded and directed the Young Women's Theatre Collective, a teenage theater company that uses actors' life stories to explore cultural and societal issues. With a B.A. in Psychology, advanced education in Playback Theatre techniques, and ongoing performance experience as an actor and dancer, Hannah Fox is eminently qualified to develop and test interactive theater activities to extend and amplify Transfigurations performances.

Plan of work

Work will commence immediately after funding has been obtained. We estimate that preparation of the educational materials will take 6 months. Rehearsals and playscript development, running concurrently, will take 3 months. Performance testing and any needed re-writes of the playscript and educational materials will take approximately 6 months. The final product will be ready for initial distribution soon thereafter. The entire project will be completed within 12 months, with the goal of producing 100 copies for initial distribution.

The key role of Foundations and Donors

Total expenses for the Transfigurations project are estimated at $28,000. A detailed budget is available. The Equality Project expects to raise a significant portion of this amount from individual supporters, and in-kind donations. We are also pursuing promising federal and state, foundation, and corporate funding sources. Ticket sales will offset a small portion of production costs. We are asking Individuals to participate in the Transfigurations project by making a significant financial contribution to the project. Your support will be vital to our success. Your investment will not only make Transfigurations a reality for transgendered people, their families and friends nationwide; your generosity will also inspire others to contribute to this pioneering project. Thank you very much for considering our request.