Introducing the PhantomFemme

Featured

Tags

, , , , , , ,

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!

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

Tags

, , , , , , ,

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

Tags

, , ,

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!

Last of #WSF2016: #Cities, #Ableism, #Disability and more!

Tags

, , , , , ,

So I know that, once again, I’ve been away from posting for a really long time! Really sorry about that! It’s been a really busy couple of months with school and, of course, extra-curricular political activities. But I’ve been meaning to get back here for ages! It’s just taken me a while to have the time and the spoons.

Anyway, before going on to all the current stuff, I wanted to finish my “coverage” of the World Social Forum from back in August. Because, I definitely didn’t cover everything before! Warning, though, that might make this post a bit long. Sorry about that, but there’s a lot to pack in!

So we did actually make the workshop on Friday morning that we wanted to, which was the one from earlier in the week that got rescheduled on “The Fight for the Global City”. And boy was it awesome! There were three panelists – two from Latin America, and one from India. And they talked about various struggles for social justice in their cities, but also about various initiatives to make their cities more just and sustainable. Unfortunately, it’s been such a long time since the workshop that I can’t remember the details. But I’ll look them up as soon as I can, and post links if possible!

The most interesting idea to come from that workshop, though, and the one that’s really stayed with me as something to think about, is the idea of struggling against and resisting what they called “urban extractivism”. They suggested that, under the current neoliberal capitalist economic system, cities are looked at, not as places where people live and have community, but as resource-deposits from which profit can be extracted. So, for example they talked about real-estate markets as a form of extractivism in which land and housing are viewed as resources to be “mined” (not the exact wording, but a similar analogy). Similarly, they talked about how, in this paradigm, urban populations are looked at as a resource to be extracted – as labour, as advertising recipients, as statistical data, as heads to be paid by the number of (as in hospitals and prisons where funding as allocated according to number of patients/inmates, so more bodies = more money). It was a really interesting way to think about those processes! We tend to think of extractivism as something that happens “out there” – in mines and oil and gas extraction sites, but not as something that happens in cities. If anything, we tend to think of cities as the beneficiaries of extractivism. So I thought it was really interesting how these speakers showed how it’s not that simple! And, of course, they noted that this urban extractivism is applied differently to different urban populations, falling hardest on the urban poor.

Then, in the evening (LOL if there was an afternoon workshop I don’t remember what it was), we went to the last of what they called the “Grand Conferences”, which were basically panels of speakers on various issues that had been focussed on throughout the forum. We’d already heard one on neoliberalism and health, which was interesting if depressing, and one on LGBTQ+ struggles around the world which was really cool!

The Friday night’s, though, was on ableism. And it was fantastic! The first chap who spoke did an absolutely brilliant run-down of what ableism is, and of the difference between ableism as individual prejudice and what might be called structural ableism. I really hope his talk was YouTubed, as it’d make a great “ableism 101”! I’ll try to find it and post a link. In fact, I’ll try to do that with as many of the talks as I can, as they were all fantastic!

Then, my friend Laurence, who’s a colleague from way back when I was doing my MA, gave a really great talk on Disabled struggles in the Francophone world. She spoke about the struggle to find a way to define the issue in French without simply borrowing either the English terminology or that coming out of the academy in France, as it may not translate well since different words, with slightly different connotations, are used in different French-speaking regions. For example, she talked about how slightly different terminology is used in France vs in Quebec. And the point is, as has been done so effectively in English with the word “ableism”, to find a term that takes the presumed natural superiority of the able-body and turns it on its head to show how it actually supports a hierarchy. So it was a really interesting talk!

Then the final panelist signed about the emergence of Deaf culture and Deaf arts, and her own emergence as a Deaf poet. Again, really interesting! And I was really thrilled to hear the issue of ableism given such a prominent spot in the WSF. Because, as the title of the panel pointed out, it’s the one system of prejudice that’s all too often forgotten, even among those who are trying to organize for justice and change! So it was good, and refreshing, to have that recognized and an attempt made to do differently. Granted, the attempt could have been more successful. Sure! But, A, at least it was there, and B, that just means there’s more to work on. And the logistical challenges – of making an event like that accessible with all volunteers, a minimal budget, and an organizational structure that tries to be as horizontal as possible – are formidable! So I certainly didn’t get the sense that the access failures that there were, and there were, came from lack of trying. And they certainly seem to be open to learning how they can do stuff better in the future!

Anyway, the next day was the closing events – a sort of wrap-up conference to summarize and assemble everything that had been decided through the week in terms of actions going forward, and then a big closing concert. Mom and I didn’t go to that stuff, though, because, by then, we were both pretty exhausted! LOL We did try to go to the concert, but got seriously rained out! It was a great week, though. I’m really glad we went, and so’s Mom (LOL kind of in spite of herself)! And I very much hope I’ll have the chance to go to another WSF in the future now that I have a better sense of how the whole thing works. I think I’d get much more out of it next time, and be much better able to contribute! We’ll have to see, though. But I hope that might be possible, as, for all that it was incredibly exhausting, I had a really awesome time!

#WSF2016 Workshop: Building #Cosmopolitan #Solidarities for effective #Allyship

Tags

, , , ,

So the next workshop we went to at the World Social Forum was on Thursday afternoon (Aug. 12). LOL Again, we meant to go to one in the morning too, but sleep intervened! But we made the afternoon workshop we wanted to get to, and, again, were really glad we did. It was another great one! Though, at first, I wasn’t sure it would be. But it turned out very effective and productive!

So the workshop was on building what it called “cosmopolitan solidarities”. And the way they were using this language was to mean building solidarities between groups who do not necessarily share the same agenda, goals, or even underlying beliefs/political orientations. We seemed to focus on building solidarity and, ultimately, allyship among diverse groups and people. And it’s an extremely important topic! Because, if you want a broad-based movement, you need to build that kind of solidarity. And it hasn’t always been easy!

What was great, though, was that many folks in the workshop had a lot of on-the-ground, hands-on experience with doing that kind of organizing, so they were able to share a lot of wisdom. One guy in particular had some fantastic stories from the collective he had been part of! And another woman had a lot of insight from her days as part of the collective running a Feminist paper. And the woman who facilitated the workshop had a lot of experience, too, organizing with refugees and around the refugee crisis in Germany where she’s from, and where she’s, in fact, doing her doctorate on this very issue. So it was really great!

In the end, what we arrived at was not a set of best practices, because the one thing that really came through loud and clear was that there is no “one size fits all”, but rather a set of best attitudes or best mindsets. And I hope I can remember all the “ingredients” we came up with! Because, we ended up thinking of it as kind of like a soup – a recipe that could be blended differently depending on the needs of the situation. But we decided that the basic ingredients were: respect, flexibility, real listening, humility – being willing to admit that you don’t have all the answers, awareness of and responsiveness to the needs of the situation and the particular people in the group, reliability, but also awareness that people have to contribute according to their abilities, a sense of humour and an ability to have fun, creativity, and an ability and willingness to adapt. If anyone else who was there reads this, have I missed anything?

Anyway, although the above definitely isn’t news or anything Earth-shattering, it was still a really great, productive workshop. It was really fantastic to hear about everyone’s experiences in actual organizing so that it wasn’t just a theoretical discussion! And I really liked the list of best approaches we came up with. I thought it really useful as something to think with going forward into future work!

#WSF2016: #Decolonizing our #Faiths

Tags

, , , , ,

So the first session we actually made it to at the World Social Forum was on Wednesday afternoon. We meant to go to one in the morning too, LOL but it got moved to Friday morning amidst a great deal of confusion! At least we made the afternoon one, though. And I’m so glad we did, as it was really fantastic!

The workshop we attended, then, was called “Decolonizing Our Faiths”. It was presented by the Community of Living Traditions, which is an intentional community living just outside New York City. They are a community of Jews, Christians and Muslims working to live together in peace and fellowship while staying true to their faiths, and also while working for peace and justice in the wider world. It sounds like an amazing community, and the people I heard speak from it were awesome! I went because interfaith organizing is something I’ve been interested in for a very long time. I practice as a Christian, although I would definitely describe myself as a “cafeteria Anglican” LOL. And I know for myself what an important role my faiths, both as a Christian and as a Phantom Phan, play in informing my work for justice and peace! And I know, too, that that’s so for many others around the world. Yet, of course, I also know that one faith alone doesn’t have all the answers and can’t do it alone. So having different faiths work together for change is incredibly important! But it can also be incredibly hard because of all the histories of war, forcing conversion and other imperialist crap that has gone along with the institutions of our faiths for so many centuries, and which has built up a shit-load of mistrust, especially of Christianity because of its historic role of providing the ideological and theological justifications for Europe’s colonization and exploitation of the rest of the world. And this workshop was about exactly that – how faith communities can become aware of their histories of privilege and oppression, and how we can begin to work against them in our own traditions and beyond. It was really inspiring! The Community of Living Traditions are doing great work in that struggle!

So we talked about what decolonization meant, and how it plays/might play out in each of our traditions. We talked about the importance of recognizing the role that economic exploitation plays in driving inter-religious conflict, and, therefore, of being involved as people of faith in struggles for economic justice. We talked about traditions, not as dead continuations of history, but as living processes in the present – that it’s important to respect our traditions, but also to give them room to evolve. And we talked, which was cool, about how other things besides faiths can be living traditions! For example, we talked about how social movements, such as those of and for Black liberation, can also be living traditions, and how important it is to recognize and honour this. And we talked about the importance of having the really tough but necessary conversations, both within our own faith-communities and between them – the conversations about race, Zionism, gender, white privilege, Christian privilege, economic privilege, etc, – and of sticking with those conversations, but in a loving, respectful and supportive way. And we also talked about the importance of communities like the Community of Living Traditions as incubators for new ways of living together, which struck me as a really awesome idea!

For me, one of the most useful and powerful things to come out of the workshop was the concept, not of safe space, but of courageous space. I heard that and went “Wow!”. Because it’s true that, while we need to create spaces where people feel safe to speak their truths knowing that they will be respected, loved and supported, those spaces can’t be so safe that one is never challenged. Those spaces also have to be ones where we are able to have/find the courage to have those tough, uncomfortable conversations referenced above, and to have our comfort-zones pushed toward greater justice and inclusion. So that’s one I’m going to be thinking about a lot – how we create and nurture such courageous spaces!

#WSF2016!

Tags

, , ,

Well, this is my first time trying to post from my new iPad, LOL so we’ll have to see if it works! I hope so! Anyway, so Mom and I just got back yesterday from the World Social Forum, which was held this time around in Montreal. It was really awesome! LOL Though now we’re both totally exhausted. It was fantastic, but very intensive! Wow! But it’s the first time a WSF’s Ben held somewhere we could actually get to, so we really wanted to go!

So, as you may already know, the World Social Forum was originally conceived of as an alternative to things like the WTO, OECD, G8/10/20, etc, as a global forum for ordinary people – activists and social movements – to come together to build the future we want. And hitherto, it’s been held in the so-called “global south”, most famously in Cochabamba Bolivia. But this time, in order to challenge and start to break down the north/south divide, they decided to hold it in a country of the so-called “global north”. Thus, it came to be held in Montreal Canada. The cool thing was, though, that it really was global! We had people there from all over the world, and the issues covered truly reflected the concerns of the whole world! Obviously, the refugee crisis, the climate crisis, and global concerns around corporate grabs for land, water and seeds were in particular focus since those are so hugely urgent in so many places. But lots of more specific, regional issues were addressed too, including those from here in Canada and those specific to Quebec and Montreal.

LOL Unfortunately, because of time and energy, or rather lack of the latter, we only barely scratched the surface of all there was to do at the Forum! But we did manage to get to a bunch of really fantastic workshops and panels. And we did also manage to make the WSF Cabaret each night, which was totally awesome! They had some super-talented musicians there! Wow! 🙂 And we met a lot of really great people there too. That was one of the best parts – the networking! We met new folks there, and I also got to see colleagues I haven’t seen in years except on Facebook!

Anyway, I think I’ll post about the actual events we attended separately. LOL Otherwise, this post would get really long and I’d get really tired! But that’s at least the intro. LOL So I hope this works and that this post shows up!

What’s wrong with the Gerik?

Tags

, , , , , , ,

So I’ve been meaning to post this for a while too. I started it over on my other blog, but it struck me that it’s relevant here as well! So I thought I’d post links to the posts I did over there so the discussion’s accessible here too. 🙂 Hope you all find it interesting and useful!

Anyway, as those of you who are Phans know, probably the most controversial thing ever to hit the Phantom community is the so-called Gerik, aka the 2004 movie adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical (Gerard Butler, who played the Phantom in the film,+Erik, the Phantom’s name in the original novel = Gerik). LOL Phans either love it or hate it! Though, all of us do have to give it credit for bringing lots of new young Phans into the Phandom. And thank goodness they don’t stop at the Gerik but, with the typical rabidity of new Phans, quickly familiarize themselves with other, better incarnations of the story – the Leroux and Susan Kay novels! LOL You can probably tell from the above which camp I’m in?

Yes, the Gerik bothered me immensely from the very first time I saw (heard) it, but it would take me years – literally – to fully unpack why. What struck me most was the contrast to the way I reacted when, after seeing the Gerik, I saw the stage-version again! The Gerik brought me down. It deeply depressed me. Whereas, the stage-version gave me the same powerful sense of what the Eastern Orthodox call “bright sadness” – sadness, but with the uplift of a powerful message of hope – that it always has. But, as I said, it would take me a long time to process why I reacted so differently – to begin to articulate what it was that bothered me so deeply about the movie. And I have to give my Mom huge credit for helping me finally work that through too! She really likes the Gerik! And it was in arguing with her, struggling to articulate why I increasingly disliked it, that I was finally able to put the problem in words. Actually, to put it into one word: ableism. For, what I ultimately realized was that the Gerik, through the changes it makes to the Phantom’s and Christine’s back-stories from the stage-version (among other things), takes the critique out of POTO, leaving the 2004 movie to present an almost Disney-like parable in support of a cisgendered, straight, able-bodied, sanist normate (to use Disability scholar Rosemarie Garland-Thomson’s term for that construction of the Western ideal subject). In effect, the Gerik took POTO and made it ableist! And this was a horror to me because, for me, Phantom, and especially the ALW musical, has always resonated as a call to exactly the opposite – a call to resist the normativity that allows society to get away with excluding people like the Phantom!

So I did a comparative analysis on my other blog to show, from the texts of the two works, how this is so – what it is about the changes in the Gerik from the stage-version that make it ableist. And I thought I’d share that analysis here, because it strikes me as very relevant to what this, my main blog, is about too! 🙂 Feel free, though, to ignore/bracket off the overt Christianity if that’s not your thing. I am a Christian (though admittedly an eclectic and, by some standards, heretical one), and my understanding of the Gospel message very much informs my Phanship and vise versa! But I totally get that that’s not so for everyone. So this first post simply compares the Gstage-version and the movie, focussing on the ways in which changes to the Phantom’s back-story serve to deflect the social critique so powerful in the stage-version of the musical. Then, in this second post, I focus on what those changes, as well as alterations to Christine’s back-story and to their joint back-story, do to the love-story that is at the heart of Phantom – in particular, at how they tame it from the radical power that it has in the stage-musical. Finally, in this post, I explore what those changes do to the Final Lair – the final scene of the stage-version and the penultimate scene in the Gerik (from the end of the song “The Point of No Return” to “It’s over now the music of the night”) – and how they alter its meaning. And no, that’s not a typo! The posts really do skip from “Tale of Two Phantoms part 2” to “Tale of Two Phantoms part 4”. No fear, you haven’t missed one! I skipped ahead and wrote part 4 so I could get it posted without having written part 3 yet because I felt it was so important. So stay tuned for part 3, either over on Phantom of the Cross or here! Actually, stay tuned for it on both, as I’ll definitely post a link either way.

Anyway, I’ve been meaning to post that for a while. I hope it’s useful, and that it gives you all lots to think about – whether you’re a Phan or not, a Gerik Phan or not, or an old-school stage-version Phan like me!

Awesome production of #SpringAwakening #musical by @DeafWest #Theatre!

Tags

, , ,

LOL So I’ve actually been meaning to post about this since the end of April. Yeah, running behind! Sorry about that. What can I say? Things have been busy! Finished up classes, had an awesome visit with family🙂, and then did a very successful gig at the Open Tuning Festival! LOL And then, after that, I’ve been just plain tired. And am still supposed to be getting work done on the first of my comps for my doctorate! Which I am, though probably not as much or as fast as I should. LOL Oops!

Anyway, I heard about this production back at the Cripping The Arts Symposium. And I’ve wanted to post about it ever since, because it sounds absolutely awesome! Heck, I’d love to see it! 😦 Though, apparently, its Broadway run is finished now. Bummer! But I’ve heard there’s a national (U.S.) tour planned? That’d be awesome! I really hope it’ll make some stops, either here in Canada, or somewhere in the States close enough for me to go. I’d love to support it! Anyway, it’s by the Deaf West Theatre Company out in California (San Francisco I think), and it’s their take on the musical Spring Awakening. It’s apparently been a huge hit, too, even winning a whole whack of Tonies! LOL How did I not hear about this before?

So Deaf West are a company that do their shows, including musicals, in both English and ASL simultaneously. Apparently they’ve done Big River and Pippin previously. But what makes their production of Spring Awakening revolutionary is that they’ve allowed it to directly address ableism. And the brilliant thing is that they’ve done it without altering any of the original script or lyrics! Spring Awakening was not originally written for Deaf/Disabled performers, nor was it intended to address issues such as ableism. But Deaf West have taken it and made it work!

The musical is adapted from a play from the 1890s about the challenges of coming of age in an ultra-repressive society. Thus, it’s characters deal with their emerging sexualities, and broader desires, in a context in which to even discuss such things is strictly forbidden, and obedience to systems/figures of authority regarded as the marker of well-adjustedness. And the musical preserves the “Victorian” setting of the play. But it makes it more than a simple period piece by, between scenes, having the characters grab microphones and sing their thoughts and feelings in a contemporary rock idiom. So it’s already intended to speak as much to our own time as to history!

Then, Deaf West took the radical step of, rather than creating a world on stage in which everyone magically knows Sign, as they’ve done for previous musicals, deliberately making some of the characters Deaf and some hearing, adding a layer to the issues around communication and silence already present in the story. They were inspired to do this by the Deaf history occurring around the time the original play was written and in which the musical takes place. For, just prior to that, in the 1880s, the body in charge of Deaf education (which, I’m assuming contained no Deaf people at that time) decided that children should be taught to speak and lip-read, and that ASL should be suppressed. And this, too, ads a new layer to the issues around normalization and conformism already addressed in the musical. You can read more about the original play, its musical adaptation, and Deaf West’s awesome reworking of it here.

The brilliance of this production is that, by picking a story which already addressed issues of intergenerational communication, normalization, conformism and resistance, Deaf West were able to create a musical that’s accessible to both Deaf and hearing actors and audience. And, because this was done so organically, it resonated with both audiences all the way to 8 (I believe) Tonies! And, contrary to much of the commentary I heard from folks at the Cripping the Arts Symposium, I don’t think this is just because it happened to be the 20th anniversary of the ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) at the time. I think it’s because the story itself in its musical adaptation was a natural fit. So, when the audience saw/heard it, the universal design didn’t feel like an adaptation or an add-on, it felt like an organic part of the story-telling. And, while that’s easier to achieve with new shows, because it can be written in right from the get-go, it’s much harder to achieve with a revival of an existing show!

So, naturally, I’m now absolutely dying to see what could be done to create a universal design production of Phantom! Because, like Spring Awakening, it’s a story about the consequences and effects of exclusion. So it, too, should be a natural fit! But there would, admittedly, be some major challenges. One of the big ones, of course, would be that it’s very much a story about music and singing. So I have no idea how ASL could be organically incorporated! Also, the show’s original aesthetic – Victorian high romance, yet at the same time very sparse and almost minimalist – would present some interesting challenges to physical accessibility. And that aesthetic is a great part of what Phans love about the show because of the way it works a richly layered symbolism into the experience. So it’s really important, IMHO, that that symbolic richness and aesthetic be respected! (ahem, 2015 touring production directed by Lawrence Connor that totally trashed said aesthetic, and not even for the good reason of trying to make the show accessible.) So it’d require real creativity to adapt POTO for universal access! 🙂 But I’d love to see some one take a crack at it. Because, a musical about the need for justice and inclusion shouldn’t exclude in its design and staging! #POTOWalkTheWalk

Another awesome conference-thing, and an awesome show to go with it!

Tags

, , , ,

So I had the opportunity over the week-end to take part in another totally amazing event.  Though, actually, I wasn’t there in person this time, but listened in via Livestream.  LOL I didn’t quite manage to squeeze in before they closed the registration, so I couldn’t actually be there!  But it actually worked out well, as I’m not sure I really had the energy to do another intensive week-end.  So it was actually great to be able to listen from home!  :-) Thanks, therefore, hugely for making that available!  Much appreciated!

 

Anyway, the event was a symposium called Cripping The Arts In Canada that was jointly put on by Tangled Art + Disability and the British Council of Canada.  And it was all about how to promote Deaf and Disabled art and artists, and how to create an environment where Deaf/Disabled arts and culture can thrive.  It was really fantastic!  Unfortunately, LOL there were some issues with the Livestream as there can be with technology, so I didn’t catch everything.  Plus, I wasn’t able to listen to the final day on Saturday as I needed to try to get an article done (thank God they’ve given me a further extension on it LOL, as that didn’t quite happen).  But those sessions I did hear rocked!

 

Some of the highlights included a fabulous keynote talk to open the symposium on Thursday morning by Ruth Gould of DaDaFest from Liverpool in the U.K. And Wow! It sounds amazing! It’s a Deaf and Disability arts festival that’s been running for 15 years now, and these days gets over 100-thousand (I believe she said) visitors! Amazing! So it was awesome to hear about that and all they’ve accomplished. Then, that was followed by a really interesting series of panels and discussions on funding and finding/creating accessible spaces for Deaf and Disabled arts and artists. Lots of really useful and inspiring stuff that I’ll post more about later!

So then, on day 2, the symposium switched focus to looking at what is/are Deaf and Disability arts. Lots more really awesome discussions! Unfortunately, I missed most of the opening panel due to technical issues with the Livestream. But, from the end of it that I caught and the tweets I read, it seemed to be discussing the issue/s of non-disabled people using disability/disabled characters/disabled people in their art, and whether/to what extent that’s speaking for us rather than with us. Very important, especially when there are so many awesome Disabled and Deaf artists out there struggling to have their work recognized! Then, that was followed by a talk on Disability podcasting and its role in creating and bring together Disability culture/s. Again, very cool! Some great podcasts I’m dying to check out now!

Then, in the afternoon, there was a really interesting panel on a topic dear to my own heart and process – the role of pedagogy in Disability and Deaf arts. So it really explored the issue of the extent to which Deaf/Disability arts are/should be/can be about helping people learn and open their minds to issues around ableism and other forms of social in/justice. And it also considered what role curators of Deaf and Disability arts can/should play in making those arts pedagogical/bringing forth their pedagogical aspects. Very interesting for me as a an artist whose work frequently engages political/justice issues while trying to avoid being didactic!

Then, on the Saturday, they had what was described as a “community brain-storm” to try to come up with solutions for some of the issues raised throughout the symposium. And, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to listen to that because I needed to work on that article. But I was really glad, nonetheless, to hear they were doing it! It’s really great that they tried to bring practical solutions out of the week-end as well as just great discussion. And, apparently, they’ll be producing a resource-guide/handbook type thing out of that brain-storm session. So I’ll definitely be keeping a listen out for that!

🙂 Then, that night, they capped off the week-end with an absolutely amazingly awesome Disability arts cabaret called “Cripping The Stage”. And, being a cabaret, it featured everything from stand-up comedy to performance-art to hiphop. And all the performers were, as they say in the U.K., bloody brilliant! The performance pieces were really powerful, and the comedy had me laughing my ass off! And no, this time I wasn’t performing myself alas. Bummer! But hopefully in future I will. I’d love to have that opportunity! It’d be a huge honour to be on stage with such incredibly talented fellow Crip artists and performers! And I really hope they do this again, both the cabaret and the symposium itself! A lot of great stuff came out of both, and it’d be great to keep the momentum going!

York University 11th Annual CDSSA Conference!

Tags

, , , , , , ,

So Friday I attended another really awesome conference, and I thought I’d post about it.  It was the York University Critical Disability Studies Students Association’s 11th annual conference.  And, as always, it absolutely rocked!  I’ve been going for years, and have even presented at a couple of them.  And they just keep getting better!  The organizers did a great job as they always do.  The awesome part is that, right from its inception, the conference is entirely student-driven and student run!

The theme for this year was “Cripping Canada”, so all the talks and workshops looked at disability in our Canadian context in some way.  But many also looked at Canada in its global context, and where disability is in that broader picture.  Really cool, critical, thought-provoking stuff as always!  I left with a lot to contemplate!

So it opened with a really wonderful introduction by an Indigenous elder that included a smudging ceremony – which was really awesome!  Then we went into the first session.

The first session had a panel in one room and a workshop in the other, and I opted for the workshop.  It was by an organization called Deliciously Disabled, and was on disabled inclusion, or not, in Queer communities.  It was really interesting!  Although, frankly, I wish the presenter had cut a lot of the preliminary stuff on disability, ableism and sex in general, which, honestly, every one there already knew, so we could have had a lot more time for questions and discussion.  I wish we’d had a lot more time to actually talk about disabled participation in Queer communities – what’s happening, what’s not, if and where there are safe, accessible spaces for Crip people to participate in Queer communities and how to access them, etc, because that stuff’s not so well known.  At least, not to me anyway.

So then we had a break, and went into the second session – which was just a panel this time, no workshop.  So this panel was on intersections of disability and race, both here in Canada and beyond.  The first speaker discussed transnationalizing disability studies so that it’s more attentive to the way disability is situated in its global contexts – to, for example, the role that war plays around the world in producing both disability and disabling conditions, and also to the role/s that transnational relations of power play.  It was fantastic!  Then, the second speaker talked about issues around mental health and encounters with the Toronto police, and how those issues and the people who live with them were represented in a series of articles in the Toronto Star.  Again, really interesting work!

Then we had lunch, which, blessedly, was provided by the conference, and which, blessedly, was not all vegetarian and vegan LOL!  And, over lunch, LOL I got roped into going to join the meeting of the York AODA Alliance (a York-centered group working to see the Access for Ontarians with Disabilities Act actually implemented)  that was happening then.  And, actually, it was really great!  There weren’t many of us there, but it felt very productive.  Apparently the group’s only just getting up and going, so there hasn’t been much activity yet.  So the meeting was still largely set-up.  Plus, of course, it’s the end of term, and everything’s about to really scale back over the summer.  But hopefully stuff will get going in the fall!🙂

Then, after lunch, we had the keynote.  It was given by Dr. Tanya Titchkosky, and it was absolutely mind-blowing!  I wasn’t familiar with her or her work before then, though she came very highly recommended by my colleagues.  But her talk was absolutely amazing!  Seriously, she just wrote my manifesto as an artist for me!  Her talk, as best as I can sum it up – and this completely fails to do justice to it, was on engaging disabled imaginaries to unseat normative “man” from his privileged position as difinitive humanity.  And, when they’ve got the transcripts of the conference posted on the website, I can’t reccommend highly enough that you go and read what she said!  In fact, I hope they are, or some one is, given permission to post the recording so you can actually hear her speak it!  Because, part of what made the talk so powerful was her way of delivering it.  She is a great speaker!  She has a wonderful cadence, and a real gift for pacing, inflection and emphasis, without in the least talking down to her audience.  It absolutely rocked!

Then we had another break, and went into the first of the afternoon sessions.  There was supposed to be another workshop during this session, but, unfortunately, it apparently got cancelled.  So it was just the panel.  Bummer, as that workshop was one I was really looking forward to!  But the panel was really awesome too, and, in fact, would have been a really tough choice between it and the workshop anyway.  So it worked out!  Anyway, the first speaker gave a really interesting, delightfully informal talk on “Taking Back Self-Harm” from medical discourse, and giving voice to the actual experience of those who do it.  Really interesting, and not a topic you hear discussed often!  Then, the second speaker, again, talked about intersections of disability, race, class and gender from her experience, both as an activist/organizer, and  as some one who’s done front-line work with people with cognitive “disabilities”.  Once again, really cool!

Then, the last panel of the day was on disability in the education system.  So speakers looked at, for example, the construction of “behaviourally problemed students” in the Ontario public school system, and at ableism in early childhood education, both toward students and toward educators with disabilities.  And again, examinations of how race, class and gender intersect/ed with disability figured strongly.  In fact, that was very much a theme throughout the conference, which was fantastic!

So, alas, that was the end of the conference for this year.  And, as this hopefully gives a hint of, it absolutely rocked yet again! 🙂 I’m already looking hugely forward to next year’s.  I can’t wait to hear what the theme is and what folks will do with it!  And, in fact, I hope I get the call for papers in time, because I’d love to actually present again, depending on the theme and if I have a relevant topic to speak on.  As I said, I’ve presented at their conferences in the past, and it’s been super fun!  So I’d love to do it again now that I’m back in school!