Introducing the PhantomFemme

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PhantomFemme is a Queer-Crip, intersectional Feminist riff, in words and music – sometimes together and sometimes separately, on the story and character of the Phantom of the Opera.  It is the name I’ve (finally) come up with to describe my gender/Disability/Deformed identity, so I took it as a stage/pen name as well.  I’ve loved the Phantom since I was ten, because his story, especially as told in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical,  spoke powerfully to my own experience of being different as a Disabled person.  But it also spoke to my desire for creative resistance, and gave me a powerful example and a rich symbolic language with which to enact my resistance!  Thus, Phantom was a key catalyst in inspiring my activism.  But it/he also gave me a life-long love for music and the performing arts, and an abiding awareness of their potential for transformative power.

 

It also, however, sent me on a long, and probably not over yet, journey of thinking/feeling through gender. Because, deformity/bodily difference is very gendered in Phantom, and, at least on the surface of it, in some very problematic ways. The masculine figure of the Phantom gets to be deformed, but Christine, the feminine figure who is his love-object, doesn’t. But that leaves a girl who’s Disabled and Deformed in several kinds of dilemma, especially if her particular deformity (or one of them anyway) is more than usually? disruptive of her ability to perform normative femininity! LOL Oops! Yeah. Look up the term “hirsutism” and you’ll know what I mean. Anyway, clearly the story needed/s some creative Queering in order to bust open that dynamic without loosing the magic we all love so well. Or rather, the Queer possibilities already implicit in the story, especially in the Andrew Lloyd Webber stage-musical (as originally staged by Hal Prince and designed by Maria Bjornsen), need/ed to be creatively brought forward and explored. So the figure of the PhantomFemme is my on-going attempt to do that through my music and my writing, and through their live performance!

 

My art as PhantomFemme is also how/where I explore the connections and interconnections between different modes of othering and oppression – gender, sexism, racism, environmental racism, ableism, classism, etc, as I very much understand all those systems as being inter-related. But don’t worry, it’s not all serious :-)! Resistance is just as much about creating joy, fun and celebration as it is about calling out the bad shit, because that’s how you create hope and the space to imagine new and liberating possibilities. So there’ll be plenty of just plain entertainment too. After all, I enjoy a good party as much as the next Femme! 🙂 Although, I generally prefer my parties to involve black capes, organ music, and lots and lots of candles.

 

All that being said, not every single song/story/poem I do is obviously or explicitly Phantom-related/derived, or even implicitly so. LOL I do have other interests/sources of inspiration as well! Although, many of those other fandoms/interests/inspirations have themes and/or traits in common with POTO. It does mean, however, that Phantom provides much of the symbolism and imagery I use in my music, lyrics, poetry and other writing, not to mention in my costumes and staging.. 🙂 But, yes, there will, of course, be a significant number of pieces that are explicitly POTO-related! Naturally! LOL Like I could resist? Though, obviously, I can’t actually use material from the show itself, as that would piss off the powers that be. Yeah, I know!

 

As for what you’ll find on this site, I’ll mainly be posting general life updates and updates on my work. But I’ll also be posting reviews and opinions of events, books, movies, etc, that I find awesome and/or inspiring. 🙂 And, of course, reviews and squees whenever I manage to go to Phantom!

 

So that’s who the PhantomFemme is and what she’s about. Feel free to check out my Facebook, and/or follow me on Twitter at @phantom_femme. And, of course, do check out my work and enjoy! (Sub-pages for my music and writing coming ASAP.)

 

P.S. If you feel that PhantomFemme describes your political gender/ability identity too, then absolutely feel free to use it! I cannot exclusively own an identity! Indeed, part of the reason I use it as the name for my artistic practice is so that the term and the idea are out there in the world and available to others. 🙂 Maybe just add a number or your location or something to it on social media so the world can tell us all apart?

 

P.P.S. A word about my use of the word “Deformed”, as I realize my describing myself that way may shock some folks. I use it here capitalized to indicate that it is more than simply a descriptor, although it is that – a word that describes the lived experience of my body in this culture. But it is also a word that I’m claiming as a political identity, like Disabled, Femme, Queer, etc,. I was inspired to do this by Mia Mingus’s absolutely amazing blog-post “Moving Toward the Ugly: A Politic Beyond Desirability”, which has been hugely influential in helping me think through the PhantomFemme!

 

P.P.P.S. I am in no way affiliated with Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, the Really Useful Group, or anyone officially in charge of Phantom, and I plan to keep it that way. LOL I don’t think they and I would dig each other’s politics, especially with regard to copyright and intellectual property!

 

P.S.4. That being said, one of my dreams in life is to participate, in some significant capacity, in the mounting of an ecologically sustainable, fair-trade production of Phantom! After all, since, to me, POTO is a story about the need for justice, it’d be awesome if it’s staging could walk the walk as well as talk the talk. Plus, I’d just love to show that it can be done!

Charlottesville was my Fault

Ouch! But so true. It’s the lesson of Nevel Longbottom, though. Isn’t it? (paraphrasing Dumbledore) “It takes courage to stand up to your enemies. But it takes even greater courage to stand up to your friends!” So let’s all help each other cultivate that courage please? A really important start would be to creat circles of support for those who have friends or, especially, relatives that they’re going to have to confront. This can be really scary, especially for those who fear isolation. But knowing you’ve got a circle of supportive friends to whom you can go to decompress/debrief/just plain not feel alone after you’ve pissed off your other friends/family can make all the difference in whether some one has the courage to stand up or not!

Source: Charlottesville was my Fault

From Leroux to Stage, POTO Rethinking Normal?

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So a while back, I was re-reading (well, re-listening to actually, since I experience it through audiobook) my original Leroux Phantom, and I noticed something I hadn’t before. Actually, it surprises me that I hadn’t till now! Because, when I think about it, it’s likely been a key reason why I’ve always gravitated more toward the stage-version than the Leroux novel. LOL Sorry Leroux purists! And don’t get me wrong. Of course I recognize Leroux as the source of it all – the original, and I love it for that as well as for its own particular way of telling the story. But it’s always been the stage-version that’s most powerfully fired my love of Phantom, and, as I said, I think I now know a key reason, which as to do with the way the two versions handle the issue of “normalcy”.

In the Leroux novel, Erik (the Phantom) expresses a strong desire for normalcy. He expresses the wish to “live like everyone else” (chapters 22, 23 and Epilogue of Damatos translation) – to have “a nice, quiet little flat with ordinary doors and windows like everyone else, and a wife inside whom I could love and take out on Sundays and keep amused on week-days” (chapter 23). And indeed, the house on the lake, the furnishings of which are frequently described as bourgeois common-place, seems to be trying to replicate a “normal” man’s house as much as possible (chapters 12 and 26 of Damatos translation). The only unorthodox spaces described as being in Erik’s house are his own room, which is done up like “a mortuary chamber” (chapter 12), and the “torture chamber” (chapters 22 through 25). But these spaces seem to come less out of a defiance of “normalcy” than from a desire to punish himself by living like the corpse he has always been told he looks like (chapter 12), and to punish and discourage intruders (chapters 22 through 25). It is also expressed in his work on a mask that will make him look “like anyone”, i.e. with a “normal” face (chapter 22).

In the stage-version, however, this desire for “normalcy” is downplayed if not dropped. The Phantom here certainly expresses a desire for love and compassion, and a wish to be lead and saved from his solitude (Act I scene 6, Act II scenes 8 and 9). But he does not express the desire to be “like everyone else” that the Leroux Phantom does. Moreover, his lair in this version (in the original staging at any rate) is not an attempt to mimic a “normal” home, but rather a temple to “the Music of the Night”. And indeed, in the lyrics to that song, he puts forward an alternative to the harsh, daylight visual standards of physical beauty that have excluded and marginalized him, offering instead an aesthetic where sound is paramount, and where visual assessments are softened by candle-light. True, he wants acceptance. He wants some one “to see, to find, the man behind the monster” (Act I scene 6). But he wants this at least somewhat on his own terms. Thus, the stage-version Phantom can be read as being OK with not being “normal” as long as he’s not alone in it – as long as he’s not driven into maddening isolation by exclusion and marginalization.

And now that I think about it, I begin to suspect that this shift in the approach to “normalcy” is a key reason why the ALW stage-version was the version of Phantom to be the one to spark Phandom to life, not just in me, but in so many others born since the 1970s. Many of us were othered, especially in the education system. We were bullied or just plain excluded, either by our peers, our teachers or both, for having a Disability/being Queer/being Trans/being “weird”/etc. But, in us, that didn’t inspire us to want to conform and be “normal”. Because, in the people who othered us, especially the authority-figures, we saw, up close and personal, what society calls “normal”. And we didn’t like what we saw! It looked to us like what J. K. Rowling would later call being a muggle – rigid conformity (to dress-codes, to codes of behaviour based on able bodies and minds, to racism, to soul-destroying work environments, to consumerism, to sexism and what we would now call the gender binary) and a deadened imagination. And unlike our parents, we were the generations born post civil rights, post Black power, post Stonewall, post second-wave Feminism, post the beginning of the Disability rights movement. And while we weren’t exposed directly to these movements yet (that wouldn’t come till we escaped, er, I mean, graduated from highschool because, back then, we didn’t have the internet to easily and safely, i.e. privately, seek those movements out ourselves), we got their echoes. And those echoes told us it was the “normal” mongers that were wrong, not us.

Thus, when Phantom first opened back in 1986, it resonated powerfully with those of us engaged in these struggles, especially since it found many of us just as we were heading into our teens. Indeed, for many of us, the ALW Phantom provided the symbolic language with which we expressed and waged these struggles. We related to the Phantom’s experience of being excluded for his differences. But, like him as portrayed in the stage-version, we want/ed to be accepted for who we were/are – to offer alternative ways of being and find people to share them with, not to solve our exclusion by burying or excising parts of ourselves in order to be “normal”.

 

I think this is part of why so many old-school stage-version Phans like myself have such a strong negative reaction to the Gerik (the 2004/5 film adaptation of the Lloyd Webber musical).  As I’ve argued elsewhere, the changes it makes in the story shift it’s message from that of the stage-version.  Instead of calling out society for excluding and othering the Phantom on account of his  not being “normal”, the Gerik criticizes the Phantom, and Mme. Giry who helped him make his home in the opera house, for his “failure” to have been “properly socialized”.  It argues that what the Phantom needed was, not to be accepted for himself, facial difference, “madness” and all, but to learn to fit himself into “normal” society as best he could, and find there whatever place it would grant him.  But Phans of my generation know that argument way too well.  We got it from our teachers, guidance counsellors, our peers, the medical and other “helping” professions, and even, in some cases (though I’m thankful mine wasn’t one of them) from our parents.  Many of us have tried that route, too, in response to their pressure. We’ve tried contorting ourselves into the shapes and appearances society wanted in order to be accepted.  Many of us tried it for years or even decades before giving it up because, A, it doesn’t work – you’re never fully accepted because you can never be your whole self – never let your guard down lest your “abnormalities” show.  And B, some part/s of yourself always have to remain disavowed and suppressed, hated because they keep you from fully fulfilling the societal ideal and, as you think, being fully accepted.  Oh yes, we know well the mental, spiritual, psychic, and sometimes even (though, again, I’m grateful that not in my case) physical violence of that path.  And it really, really pisses us off to see our beloved Phantom, the story and character that saved so many of us by inspiring us to begin to fight for our own liberation, turned into, A, eye-candy, and B, an apology for the “normal” mongers! That is not the message of the Phantom so many of us fell in love with on stage and in recordings. His was and is a song of resistance!

 

  • Note: I by no means mean to speak for all stage-version Phans here.  However, though I very much speak from my own experience as a Phan of that generation, I strongly suspect it is an experience I’m not alone in.  I don’t have anything like data to support that claim, though, just a gut feeling based on my interactions (such as they’ve been) in the Phan community!
  • It is interesting to consider that, just as having been born post civil rights, etc, allowed us to have the “breathing room” to be able to respond to Phantom in a way that our parents’ generations might not have, the reverse is also true.  The Lloyd Webber stage-version of Phantom itself also comes on the heels of the flowering of justice-seeking movements.  And, while I don’t know that they can be said to have influenced it directly, those movements, especially the Gay rights and emerging Disability rights movements, opened up a critique of the hitherto unquestioned idea that “normal” equalled good and desirable.  And without that cultural space having been opened up, the stage-version Phantom’s move away from desiring “normalcy” to something potentially more radical might have remained unthinkable!
  • In his great 1987 work The Complete Phantom of the Opera, George Perry does note that a strongly Disability-positive program on the BBC did, in fact, have a direct influence on the imagining of the character of the Phantom during the process of creation of the Lloyd Webber musical, in particular with regard to its/;his creators being able to imagine a Deformed man having a fully healthy sexuality. So, in that sense, the emerging Disability rights movement can perhaps be said to have had a direct influence on the show.

Meltdown Bingo: Autistic Edition

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I came across this a while ago, and it was what really, finally made me think/allowed me to think that I might, actually, be somewhere on the Autism spectrum. I’d never thought so before, because all the Autism stereotypes – being hyper-logical, being extremely literal, being unable to grasp the concept of self and other, etc, – didn’t seem to fit. But this piece really fits a lot of my experience! Like, 90 percent or more of it’s right on! As in, I can’t think of the number of times I’ve been in many of the situations described here. So yeah, really helpful!

Source: Meltdown Bingo: Autistic Edition

Very successful Open Tuning Fest! #OTFest2017 #MusicTheatrePunk

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So the show on Saturday went awesomely! It’s always tough doing an out-door gig on a really hot day. But it went really well in spite of that! And thankfully it wasn’t nearly as hot as it could have been. Not like today! Yikes!

So the water held out through my whole set thank goodness, and the tech behaved. And the songs I did seemed to go over really well too! I did a bunch from Dark Resistance, as well as some covers of a couple of my favourite songs. And the people working the PA/sound-board were really great! Thank them hugely! They did a fabulous job balancing me and my accompaniment tracks and generally making me sound smashing! 🙂 And huge thanks also to Ysabeault aka Sister Comrade (also aka Mom) who advised me on my costume. She did a great job making me look awesome as well as sound great! And I really rely on that because, although I’ve learned pretty well how to put together a sharp outfit that fits the style I’m trying to cultivate, it can still be all too easy for the idea I have in my head to not actually work in reality. And, as a Blind performer trying to work in a culture where image counts for so much, that help avoiding fashion gaffs is an incredibly critical piece of accessibility support!

🙂 Btw, one of the covers I did was of one of Ysabeault/Sister Comrade’s songs, the title track from her forthcoming EP World On Fire! Her own stuff’s much more country/folk, so I did up an accompaniment track to do it in my style. And it worked awesomely! And Sister Comrade came up on stage and sang it with me, which rocked! I’ll be singing on World On Fire when it comes out, too, so I thought it’d be great to bring that into my set!

Anyhow, we got some video, too, which I’ll get posted ASAP. So stay tuned for that! LOL It might be a couple of weeks at least, though, because I’ll need to renew my Vimeo Plus subscription to be able to host larger files again. And that’ll have to wait till pay-day! Also, the image-quality may not be great because it was an out-door venue. And, because of where the stage was set up, I was apparently kind of back-lit, which I know isn’t the greatest on camera! So I’ll have to go through the footage (with the help of some one with sight) and see if any of it’s workable. 🙂 But hopefully I’ll have some stuff to put up soon. And huge thanks again to Ysabeault/Sister Comrade for personing the camera while I was on stage, and to the person from the crew who ran it during our duet! Much appreciated!

My only regret about the day is that I wasn’t able to see/hear as much of the rest of the festival as I’d have liked. LOL, by the time I got off stage, Ysabeault and I were both really exhausted and starving! As I said, doing an out-door gig in summer heat can be tough. Plus, I’d been up late getting last-minute stuff done. LOL So we folded early! I did get to hear and support some of my fellow performers, though, which I was really glad about!

Anyway, that’s it for another year. 🙂 Though I’m looking forward to next year’s festival already! And huge thanks to Open Tuning and to Kop’s Records (the venue where I sang) for having me. I’m looking hugely forward to doing it again in 2018!

So I’m thinking of doing a podcast! Would love advice on getting started, though?

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LOL Yes, I know, on top of everything else I’m trying to do. But it’s a case of “if what you want to hear isn’t out there, do it yourself”! And for a long time now I’ve been really craving a good podcast that explores Phantom and Phanship from the kind of intersectional, but Disability-centred, perspective that I try to do here. Don’t get me wrong, I love hearing interviews with POTO actors and with Phan artists! And I’d love to do that stuff myself if/when I get this up and going. I’d just dearly love to hear/have a show offer a deeper analysis as well, though, given how incredibly rich Phantom is in its layers of meaning!

But, although I listen to a lot of podcasts, I’ve never attempted one before myself. And I’m so not technical!!! So I’d definitely love some advice, from those of you out there who’ve done this already, on how to get it up and going (ahem, on a budget which is, at present, non-existent). Like, I know, or at least I think, I can record episodes that are just me alone talking in Garage-Band, and edit them together with an intro and outro the same way I edit my songs. But is it OK in terms of podcast etiquette to pre-record like that, or are you expected to do all or most episodes live-to-air? Also, I gather WordPress has a widget for uploading podcast episodes to a page. But apparently you have to use an ftp to do the uploading? I’ve never used one before, and I have no idea if they’re accessible! LOL I barely understand the concept in fact. So I feel a bit out of my depth! I’m hoping I can use that widget on a sub-page of this site to post episodes, because, A, that would keep everything nice and straight-forward rather than having tons of separate identities floating around, and B, LOL I can’t afford a whole separate domain and hosting right now! But we’ll have to see how it goes as I figure out how all this shit works LOL!

Anyway, I’m hoping to get that started some time this year, maybe even this summer if I can. So stay tuned! And any of you experienced podcasters out there, 🙂 would love some guidance! Thanks!

OK! Venue and Time confirmed for PhantomFemme at Open Tuning!

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Wow! So it’s just two weeks till the festival! Two weeks from today, I’ll be preparing to go on and perform for all of you, and you’ll, hopefully, be preparing to come down to Seaton Village and hear great music! Seaton Village is the part of down-town Toronto that’s in the square bounded by, going clockwise, Dupont, Bathurst, Bloor and Christie. I’ll be one of around 130 incredibly diverse acts, ranging from acoustic singer/song-writer type things to full punk bands to hiphop artists, and from youth and amateur musicians to seasoned performers. It’s going to rock!

So where I’ll be in all this awesomeness is on the stage set up in the garage behind Kop’s Records. You can check out the Facebook event page to see where that is, and also to see who else is playing there. I’m the second act up, so I’ll be on at 3 PM. I’m really excited about it! It’s going to be a great afternoon! LOL Though, the next two weeks are going to be bonkers busy getting ready for it. 🙂 But I’ll be doing some great songs, both from Dark Resistance and, hopefully, beyond, and I’ll be sharing the stage with an awesome line-up of other bands! So check it out!

We’re also using this really cool app called Sched to share the festival schedule. So you can go onto the app, bookmark your favourite acts and when we’re on, and make yourself up a customized schedule that you can download to your phone, iPad, etc. And it has bios and info for all the acts as well! (Or it will as soon as we get everything filled in.) So you can find out all about us and decide who you want to hear!

Anyway, it’s going to be an awesome day. So be there!

Me at #OpenTuningFest again! #OpenTuningFest2017

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Uh, I really hope I’m doing this right (LOL this time)? 😦 This is my third try getting there to actually be text in this post instead of just the title! I’m trying out the WordPress app for my iPad, which I downloaded in the hope of making posting from said iPad easier. 😦 But, so far, not so much! So we’ll have to see if I get the hang of it eventually. Here’s hoping!

Anyway, LOL as I begin every post it seems, terribly sorry for being so long to update! Yikes! I checked my stats a while ago, and it’s been four months! Ye-Gads! But, A, school and “extra-curricular” political activities have kept me quite busy, and B, technical difficulties. 😦 Alas, the computer I was using has had to go into retirement, as it was starting to crash badly and often. So I’ve been getting set back up on a new system! The good news, though, is that said new system is much more powerful and has tons more storage-space. 🙂 So now I can finally get back into serious recording without fear of a massive crash, which is an enormous relief! LOL So I might actually, finally, be able to get Dark Resistance done now! Yeah, I know, not a moment too soon.

Anyway, as some of you know, I’ve performed for the past couple of years at the Open Tuning Festival in Toronto. And I’m really excited to announce that I’ll be doing it again this year! I don’t have my exact venue confirmed yet, so stay tuned for that here and on my social media (see my “Intro” post for links and handles). But it’s going to be a totally awesome day I can guarantee! 🙂 It always is!

Better yet, I’ve been volunteering on the planning team for this year’s Festival to work on accessibility. So this year, the day should be far more accessible than it has been! And, of course, we’ll keep working on it in years to come and keep improving. But I’m really grateful to everyone else on the team for really taking accessibility seriously, not letting themselves be (too LOL) daunted by the admittedly significant challenges of making a low-budget, DIY music festival (it’s all volunteer – no government funding or corporate sponsors) as accessible as possible, and for really taking to heart and trying to implement the recommendations I’ve offered. 🙂 You guys rock! And the Festival will be much awesomer and more fun for it!

Anyway, I’ll most definitely post again once I’ve got my venue confirmed. So do stay tuned for that! 🙂 And, of course, do come out to hear me and all my fellow acts on June 10th, as it’s going to rock!

It’s a new year! LOL So where the heck’s the EP?

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So, yeah, meant to actually kick off the new year with an update. LOL But got running behind! Because it may be a new year, but some things definitely remain consistent. Plus, lots of school stuff! Some loose ends to tie up from last term, and then, of course, my first comp to finish (LOL arcane Ph.D.-speak, in case I haven’t explained this before, for Comprehensive Exam, aka a great big project where I read a ton of stuff and then write something to prove I understood it)! 🙂 But the awesome part is that, the way I’ve worked my comp, I get to talk about Phantom!!! 😦 The sad part, though, is that it’s getting close to being done. And, in my next comp, I probably won’t get to talk about POTO again. At least, I haven’t figured a way to work it in yet! Unless…? Hmmm.

Anyway, I thought I’d update in case some one out there’s wondering where the hell the re-release of my EP is. LOL I know I have been! And, sadly, I can’t say, except that I definitely plan to have it out some time within 2017. For one thing, of course, it has to share life and time with my school work. And that can be a tricky balance! But also, it’s kind of gone through a complete, and somewhat unexpected overhaul!

When I first started putting my music out there, I was really into symphonic metal. And that’s definitely still a huge influence, as you can see if you visit my “links” page! I love the way it blends that hard-rock edge with a classical, music-theatre, or even operatic sound. That’s so awesome! And I love the way it, in doing so, kind of takes classical, music-theatre, and even opera out of the realm of the preppy. Which, love all those other genres though I do, they can all too often be! But I’ve been finding lately that, although it’ll likely remain a huge influence for all those reasons, I don’t want my own stuff to be straight-up metal, even symphonic metal. For one thing, metal’s a very virtuostic genre instrumentally! LOL And, what can I say? I’m just not that good a player on any instrument. But also, I’m finding that I really want to leave room in my music to incorporate a softer sound as well – to really bring some of the sound of the 80s and 90s pop-rock and music-theatre that I grew up on into my own stuff. LOL Yes, shameless nostalgia! So sue me? But there’s a joie-de-vivre about those genres (or there can be anyway) that I really want to incorporate. And I especially want to bring that stuff into the EP/album I’ve been working on because it’s somewhat autobiographical – or maybe mythobiographical to borrow Audre Lorde’s term, and those were really the sounds that I grew up on and that shaped me. 🙂 But don’t worry, I won’t neglect the pop/rock and music-theatre that’s emerged since then! In fact, I’m dying to finally hear Hamilton. Can you believe I haven’t yet? Yikes! And I’d welcome any other recommendations of what’s good out there, too. LOL Half the reason my musical tastes are so far behind the times is because I’m totally lazy about getting out there and finding new stuff! That all will have to influence later work, though. LOL I’ve got to get this album finished first!

So, as you can perhaps tell from the new tag-line on this site, I’ve decided to call my sound and (hopefully) performance style music-theatre punk. And hopefully that encapsulates all the things I love about that genre! – the sound, the acting and story-telling aspects, the influences from both Broadway and the West End, and the importance of costuming and stage-craft. But hopefully it Crips both rock and music-theatre a bit, too, by allowing me to work with my limitations – of musicianship, but also of movement on stage because of my Disabilities – instead of having to disappear them as I would if I were to try to do any of those genres (though especially music-theatre) “straight”. In fact, I’ve kind of re-conceptualized the EP as a one-being musical! And it might even go in for a name-change, thus my having not mentioned the title so far. We’ll have to see! Although, Oo! I think I just had a good idea in that regard! 🙂 Not telling yet, though. You’ll just have to wait and see!

So yeah, that’s where that’s at. As I said, I plan on getting the EP, which, having been re-conceptualized thus, is more likely to end up full album sized, out within 2017. But, within that, I have no idea! LOL I’m not even going to hazard a guess, because, every time I’ve given a release-date before, I’ve run behind and missed it! And I know it’s going to take a shit-load of work to really do it right. And I have no idea how long that’ll take, especially as it has to share life with school! And it really does. Because, my academic work, especially the Critical Disability stuff, is a huge part of what fuels my creativity as weird as that may sound.

🙂 So that’s the plan. And now, off to get working on it! So keep watching this space for further updates!

Loving call-out of #ableism from @PhantomOpera. #PhantomoftheOpera

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So a week or so ago, while reading through my Twitter feed, I came across the following tweet from the official Phantom twitter, @PhantomOpera, which represents the show worldwide (although the London, Broadway and U.S. tour productions do all have their own). And I really wanted to respond, because I found it really disturbing coming from an official voice for the musical! But I knew I couldn’t possibly condense why into 140 characters. I really wanted to say something, though, because I didn’t think this should be left without a response! It was part of a discussion on why the Phantom comes out for curtain-call in his full costume, including the hat and mask, when both have been removed during the Final Lair. And @PhantomOpera’s answer was that they wanted to end the show with his “iconic” look rather than his “broken” look, to which another discussant asked if they thought the Phantom is broken. To which @PhantomOpera replied, and this is what I find problematic:

“A little bit. I think the character behaves less refined when he doesn’t have the wig & mask & that’s not a good image to end the show with”

You can (I hope, if I’ve done this right) find the tweet in question here, and you should be able to call up the rest of the discussion from there.

What I find so problematic about this tweet is that it, in fact the whole discussion at least as far as I saw, equates the Phantom’s revealed “deformity” with his being “broken” as though there were some inherent correlation between the two. It makes this correlation by suggesting that he is less “broken” when he conceals his deformity in order to appear more “refined”. And this is classic ableism! Yes, the Phantom is broken, and, yes, he does have low self-esteem (see further tweets in the discussion which describe the wig and mask as props to bolster the Phantom’s low self-image). But this is not “just” because his face is “deformed”. That’s how ableism operates, though. It locates brokenness in the individual body of the person with the bodily/mental/cognitive difference, and, therefore, treats depression, self-esteem issues, feelings of isolation, etc, simply as part of their “condition”. It treats those feelings/psychological states as part of the person’s individual set of problems rooted in their bodily “deficiency” rather than as legitimate responses to the way society treats them. Thus, the “cure” is understood to be to make the person as “normal” as possible so that they can love themself and fit in, not to change society at large to one that can accept them. This is because, to put it baldly, ableism believes that it is the person’s body that is wrong, not society’s inability to embrace them. And therefore, it maintains that to change society would be neither possible nor, in fact, desirable. Thus, in the case of this tweet-discussion, then, it seems to be suggesting that the Phantom’s self-loathing and depression derive from his having a facial “deformity” rather than from society’s exclusion of him – an inevitable, if tragic, reality (Christine’s ultimate acceptance of him being a one-off, miraculous exception) which, if he were “sane”/”well adjusted”, he would have learned to accept. And the phrasing that he “behaves more refined” when hiding his “deformity” implies that his doing so is a good thing – a step toward “normalcy” even if he is, ultimately, too “broken” to achieve it fully.

As I said, I find the above really disturbing, especially from an official voice for the show! Because, to me, Phantom is and should be about countering and resisting ableism. Yes, the Phantom is broken, but not by his face. He is broken by a lifetime of marginalization and exclusion by a society that’s decided his face is too different to be accepted. He is depressed, yes, but because of a lifetime of being told he’s unloveable because of his “deformity”. He behaves in a deranged and violent manner because he can’t take it any more – because Christine’s fear and seeming rejection, coming on top of this lifetime of experience, were the straws that broke the camel’s back. This doesn’t excuse his behaviour or make it OK. But it does put it into its social and, yes, political context. His problems do not inhere in him. They do not inhere in his face. They were created in him by a society which ranks people’s worth – which ranks people’s very right to exist and survive – according to their ability to measure up to a standard based on the young, White, able, “healthy”, cisgendered, preferably “beautiful” body.

But the answer to that is not to conceal the brokenness. It is not to mask oneself to try to measure up to the very standard that excluded you! As the Final Lair itself suggests, it is to recognize the social, psychological and spiritual harm done when we marginalize and other those who do not measure up to that narrow ideal, and begin to make reparation. That is why that line “Pitiful creature of darkness, what kind of life have you known? God give me courage to show you you are not alone!” (Act II scene 9) is so powerful! Admittedly, the gendering can be way problematic – a discussion I’ll definitely have here at some point because it’s absolutely necessary. But, even so, it is the moment when Christine recognizes that it is society that has done this to the Phantom, not his own inner nature. And it can, as I have argued elsewhere, be read almost as an apology on the part of her whole society and an attempt at reparation! And this is also what makes the Phantom’s choice to then let her and Raoul go free so powerful too – not because he has refused that reparation out of some recognition that it’s really all his own psychological fault or problem. But, rather, exactly because he has accepted her reparation. He has recognized and accepted her compassion and, with the strength that has given him, taken at least a small step toward refusing to buy in any more to society’s dehumanization of him. He has finally understood that Christine simply loves the other guy, and that her not loving him romantically truly has nothing to do with his face. And that understanding, combined with her compassion for and comprehension of how he has been marginalized, gives him the strength to stop behaving in a dehumanized way – to stop passing on to her and Raoul the violence he himself has endured.

Considered this way, then, I would argue that the Phantom with his “deformity” and brokenness, yes, but also re-found dignity revealed is exactly the image with which to end the show! And I wonder how audiences would respond, given this, to him coming out for curtain-call unmasked and without the wig, or perhaps to re-unmask while taking his bows? Because, I suspect that audiences would get it, and that that could actually be really powerful! At the very least, though, I’d like for those who represent the show – actors, crew, media spokespeople, etc., – to understand the Phantom’s actions and behaviour in their proper context, and to please not use ableist tropes to present the character as exotically tragic or tragically exotic. Don’t re-marginalize, either the Phantom, or those of us for whom his story resonates as our own!

Note: I’ve put the words “deformed” and “deformity” in quotes to indicate that these are socially constructed concepts that derive from the belief that there’s only one “correct” way for a face to look. Recently, however, I have seen a number of activists reclaiming the word “disfigured” and using it to make the same argument with regard to both congenital and acquired facial differences. Because, as they point out, both are othered for their differences in appearance, and in both cases that stems from the idea that there is only one proper and pleasing human figure. And I totally cheer on these activists’ awesome and courageous work! Indeed, I recently heard the term “facial equality” coined by one such person, which I absolutely love! I use the language of “deformity”, however, because that is the term used in the show (Act 1 scene 10, Act II scene 2) and which, therefore, has tended to be used in the Phandom.

Note 2: The above might, perhaps, make it sound as though I am arguing that the Phantom is better unmasked because that is the “truth”. But that is not quite what I mean to convey. Indeed, I love the Phantom in his full regalia and, in fact, find it smoking hot, especially when played by an actor with the right voice and stage-charisma! But, to me, though I suspect to other Phans as well, the power of his “iconic” look does not come from the fact that it hides his “deformity” and makes him more “normal”. Because, in fact, it does neither. It neither makes his mind and heart less broken by the exclusion he has suffered, nor does it allow him to successfully “pass”. However, and this is something I’ll discuss more in future posts, because it is an attempt to claim dignity even without being able to successfully pass, the Phantom’s Phantom persona and, therefore, regalia can be understood as a form of resistance. And that, for me, is what makes it so potent.

Solidarity with #StandingRock! #NoDAPL #WaterIsLife

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So now onto some of the current stuff. And I know this is way over-due! But, believe me, although it’s taken me a long time to get around to posting about it, I haven’t been oblivious! I’ve mostly been following through Democracy Now‘s superb coverage and on Twitter. But I really felt I had/have to post something too!

What’s been happening at Standing Rock is unbelievable in the twenty-first century! We should be way beyond sending cops armed with military-grade and military style vehicles and weapons to brutally repress and displace people who are only trying to defend their land, their water – not to mention the water-source of several million other people, and the burial grounds where their people have been laid to rest. I mean, how would you feel if some corporation barged into your community and basically said “we
re going to do this project whether you like it or not, and we don’t care if it endangers your drinking water, and by the way we’re going to bulldoze your cemetery, too, because it’s in the way”? But then, that doesn’t happen in White, middle/upper-class communities. Does it? And the fact that it’s happening anywhere should be unbelievable in 2016, except that we should be way past where cops can just shoot people for traffic “violations”, too. But we’re not! And when people get rightly pissed about it, what do we do? We send in the cops with armoured vehicles and rifles! We should be way past this shit by this time, but, sadly, we’re not! Racism and colonialism are alive and well! And what’s happening at Standing Rock is a classic instance of both, with environmental racism on top.

And it’s not just Standing Rock either. We have similar struggles here in Canada too! Although, so far, things haven’t been escalated by the “authorities” to quite such a degree yet. I hope? If I’m wrong in that, then please correct me! Though, I hope to God not! But, here, too, we have extraction projects being pushed through the lands of Indigenous people who’ve said a loud and resounding “no” – TransMountain, Northern Gateway, Kinder-Morgan, Line 9, Energy East, and, of course, the tarsands themselves. Not to mention the Site C dam! And the government is still trying to persuade/arm-twist communities in the paths of these projects to accept them, in spite of Justin Trudeau’s promises to respect Indigenous rights. In many ways – not only this, but on Bill C51 and electoral reform too – he’s behaving very much like his predecessor, all the while trying to conceal it behind his good looks and affability.

The good thing is that the folks at Standing Rock and all these other sites of struggle have world-wide support. They’re most definitely not facing this shit alone! Protests in support of Standing Rock in my home city have been large, loud and powerful! And they’ve made a point of making the connection/s between Standing Rock and those other struggles, and, indeed, to the struggles of other marginalized people for justice and dignity – Black Lives Matter, the struggles of migrants/undocumented people, the struggles of Queer and Trans people, especially Queer and Trans people of colour. So efforts at “divide and conquer” aren’t working thank God!

Anyway, my thoughts/prayers/good energies/etc, are most definitely with the land and water protectors right now. I’m in absolute awe of their courage and determination! And I hope, for all our sakes, that they succeed! Because, not only would DAPL contribute to the worsening of the climate crisis by allowing for the expansion of fossil-fuel production, which is absolutely the last thing we need right now, but, as the defenders point out, if that pipeline breaks, which is a “when” not an “if” given the track-record of these kinds of projects when it comes to safety, it would contaminate the water-supply for 17 million people. And for what? So already rich people can get richer? Because the fracked oil that it will carry is not for local use. It’s all for export (they’re still desperately hoping there’s a market for it in Europe or Asia)! And the same is true for the pipelines here in Canada too. They’re all meant to carry oil to ports for shipping over-seas. And meanwhile, Indigenous and other marginalized communities’ lands and waters get polluted and wrecked, disrupting subsistence ways of life, and causing major health impacts. In the words of a song by one of my favourite hiphop groups, WTF?!!!

But the land and water defenders have said they’ll keep defending as long as they have to to stop this evil – this totally unnecessary destruction. And thank God for their devotion and dedication, and may God/Spirit give them what they need to do it! And we, their allies, will continue to support them in whatever ways we can too. because, we’re all in this together! In the words of another song by that same group:

“Protect Mother Earth don’t settle for less!
This is Turtle Island don’t you ever forget!
Resist till the colonizers settle the debt.
This is Turtle Island don’t you ever forget!
We got one planet let’s protect what’s left.
This is Turtle Island don’t you ever forget!