Friday, October 14, 2011

Story Time

This post has to do with a few things that are relevant to my interests, but mainly it's just a story of something that happened to a friend.

Back in May of this year I was working my last show in college.  It was a spectacular show (aimed at the entire family (which is a rare thing in college)) and I think it was still one of my favorite shows to work.  It had a cast of 35 and I was assistant stage manager.

(Side note: having already stage managed a show earlier in the year, everyone was fairly shocked that I was only asming this show under Liz, stage manager that many people considered less experienced.  Generally it was predicted that I would explode at Liz and have an extremely hard time working under her.  In reality, I kept her grounded and we made a great team and despite all our troubles: a giant cast, switching directors a week before tech week,  a technically difficult show, and lots of injuries; I had a great time and the show came off superbly.)

One of my (I used this term loosely, see this post) actresses was a woman, Raena, who I had worked with on six shows before and someone I worked with on the student theatre board.  Over the course of our interactions together, we had become friends.  Unfortunately, she was a member of the ensemble, and by nature (ie they were in rehearsals less often) I interacted with her less than the lead roles.

Two weeks before our show was set to open, I heard some actors talking about Raena in the theatre lounge, which was the theatre department's space for everyone to just relax and hang out.  I was sitting in the theatre lounge with them and they were talking rather openly.

Man: Did you here about what happened in Kathy's advanced playwriting class?
Woman: A little bit, do you know any more details?
Man: Well, Raena wrote a play about a gay guy and a lesbian and they were discussing their relationship issues.  It was an extremely frustrating situation and at the end of the play they both kissed.
Woman: And Kathy flipped out?
Man: Yeah, she said that if Raena was going to write plays like this then she needed to do her research and how serious feminist would be offended by what she wrote.
Woman: ...But...Raena is a lesbian.
Man: I know.  But Raena was shocked and didn't really know what to say.
Woman: Did anyone else say anything?
Man: No, they didn't want to publicly out Raena, especially since that class isn't completely theatre majors. (Side Note: I honestly believe if the class had just been theatre majors that someone would have spoken up).  But after class Raena went up and talked to Kathy and explained that she was a lesbian and that she didn't find it was an offensive situation.
Woman: Did Kathy apologize?
Man: No, she didn't.

I apologize for using Man and Woman, but for the life of me, I cannot remember which two actors were talking about that, and, even if I could, I use pseudonyms anyway.

The conversation devolved into discussing what a bitch (their words, not mine) Kathy had been.  Now, Raena was someone I considered a friend and she was also in my show, so I honestly did need to know if she was okay.  I had a student theatre board meeting with her next and resolved to ask her about it afterward.

After the meeting, I hung back to talk to Raena and we sorta fell in walking with each other.

Me: So, how are classes going?
Raena: They're going okay.  I have a pretty hard schedule.
Me: Yeah, I know.  I'm impressed.  It's way more difficult than mine this quarter.
Raena: It's weird because I like most of my classes but I am so done with one of them.
Me: Which one?
Raena: Advanced Playwriting with Kathy.
Me: Oh, I'm sorry.  (hesitantly) I had kinda heard about that.
Raena (resigned): Yeah, I figured.  Everyone in the department's heard about it.
Me: I really am sorry.  Are you okay?  What happened?
*Raena explained the premise of her play and Kathy's reaction*
Raena: Afterwards I had a class with Joe and you know how Joe is, he spotted that I was upset and talked to me about it after class.  I told him what happened and he told me that he'd talk to Kathy about it.  I told him he didn't have to and that I would talk to her after I felt better, but he said, as a gay man, that it was something he wanted to do.
Me: That could have ended badly.
Raena: No, Joe talked to Kathy and of course Kathy immediately went to Barb (the department chair).  Then, that night at the dance show, Barb came up and talked to me about how inappropriate telling Joe had been and that I was making Kathy and her look bad.
Me: Oh god, she didn't.
Raena: It was so inappropriate!  And Joe is my advisor! If I can't talk to him then who can I talk to?
Me: You should be able to talk to Joe.  Barb's just being completely unfair.
Raena: Of course the next day I had Joe's class again and he could tell that I was upset again, so I talked to him and he said he's talk to Barb and explain the misunderstanding.  I said that I would go talk to Kathy and I dropped by her office and told her that I needed to talk to her today about things that had been happening, and if it wasn't today that it needed to be soon.
Me: Wow.  I am so sorry.  I can't even believe all of that.  You just got completely caught up in professor politics.
Raena: I know and I'm just sick of it!
Me:  I'm glad you went and told Kathy you need to talk about this.  I really hope that it works out for you.
Raena: Me too, because I can't take much more of this.
*We had reached the student union building at this point and I looked at my watch, realizing I had a meeting to get to*
Me: Feel better and let me know how it turns out.
Raena: Thanks so much Kaylee! *she hugged me* I really appreciate it and I will let you know how it turns out.

Looking back at the conversation that we had, I said very little and I actually feel bad about leading Raena on in the beginning instead of just cutting to the chase and making sure she was alright.  Really, I said so little of any substance at all, but Raena was so grateful to me for just asking if she was okay.  And I have to admit that I'm really glad I asked; not only because as a stage manager I needed to know anything that would affect her in rehearsals and the show, but also because she was my friend and needed someone to talk to.

I do feel a little weird about it though since, while Raena was my friend, we weren't super close and we didn't hang out much, but she opened up to me nearly instantly.  And, she wasn't the only actor who has poured there heart out to me just because I asked questions that needed to be asked.

Later that day, before rehearsals, I saw Kathy talking to Raena and it looked like everything was going all right.  Right before rehearsals that day, Raena came bouncing up to me and told me: "Kaylee, everything's going to be okay.  She didn't really apologize completely, but she did say she was sorry that I had gotten caught up in department politics and that it wouldn't happen again.  She also said she was sorry that I got offended, but she was trying to give me a critique like I would get in the real world."  I told her I was glad for her and I really was.

But, the thing was, this really was the best Raena was going to get.  This professor who claimed to be opened minded and feminist put this strict set of prescriptivist beliefs on Raena.  Bcause she was offended, she made the assumption that Raena couldn't possibly know what she was talking about and, by doing so, invalidated Raena's entire sexual orientation.  I honestly think feminism is a good thing, but I have seen first hand, how, otherwise reasonable, people can harm someone by putting "feminist" rules on sexuality and gender.


  1. Maybe it's just because I don't know the whole premise of the play, but I totally don't see how a feminist would be offended by the prospect of a gay guy and a lesbian kissing.

    Not to mention, holy shit, those professors (Barb and Kathy, not Joe) acted incredibly badly.


  2. I'm honestly not sure why Kathy found it offensive. Unrealistic maybe, but I'm not even sure saying that it's unrealistic is fair. I think maybe she was offended because Kathy thought that Raena didn't understand that gay guys and lesbians aren't attracted to each other? Or something, I have never really understood why someone would be offended.

    Also there were a lot of politics going on between the professors at that point and poor Raena really did just get caught up in them. But it was so incredibly immature.