'Ballast' :: Who We Are
Diversionary Theatre presents the world premiere of "Ballast" by Georgette Kelly, a highly poetic exploration of the waking and dream lives of two trans and cisgender couples.
"Ballast" gives us a glimpse into the lives of Zoe (Jaque Wilke) and Grace (Dana Levinson) as they navigate their relationship in the wake of Grace's gender transition. Their lives intersect with two strangers: Young Xavier (Maxton Miles Baeza), who begins to confront inner demons as he initiates his own gender transition, and his best friend Savannah (Jennifer Parades).
With much of the story taking place in the characters' dreams, this new play explores personal identity and how gender shapes our spirituality, desires and destiny.
Executive Artistic Director Matt Morrow has been following the play's development since 2012, when playwright Georgette Kelly was still studying under Pulitzer Prize winner Tina Howe in New York. "Ballast is even more topical and vital as our country comes to grips with issues our trans community face daily. This brave play takes the audience on a journey that is both epic in scale and deeply personal. Expect the unexpected."
Dana Levinson, playing the role of Grace, notes, "For me, I think what is different about this play, as a trans-actor, this is one of the scripts that just 'goes there.' When I learned about the audition and got the script in my inbox, my first reaction was feeling impressed by how on point the relationships were and how much of it is not the topic of transitioning, but how it affects not only them, but also the cisgender people in their life.
"Gracie and her wife Zoe, the conversations they have, so closely mirrored conversations I had with the cis people in my own life. This show is willing to explore the relationship, not through the medical transition, but after. The medical process takes so much time, focus, energy. Who you are-a sense of your self-is not realized or navigated right then. Suddenly it's like, 'Oh, we haven't dealt with this, who we are as a couple' and 'What is our relationship now and our mental health?' "
Through the rehearsal process, Levinson has come to appreciate the visuals and the theatricality of the show. "This is the kind of show, with the dreamscapes, that is wonderfully theatrical. I remember, before my transition, night time and bed and dreaming were deeply psychologically times. Brilliantly, Georgette Kelly [playwright] translated that and the script moves with a beautiful flow."
Levinson hopes this show will lead to more open dialogue. "I was just on a panel in New York, about being an inclusive feminist. When it comes to transphobia, even within the LGBT community, it comes down to societal rules and norms. We still police women and feminism and what it means to be a man.
"There is this sense among cisgender females, that transwomen come from a place of male privilege and therefore demand womanhood. But that is not at all reflective of the trans- female experience. I can't deny having had the male privilege experience (I could speak up in a room and not have to raise my voice, I could walk down the street at night and not worry), but the severe psychological pain, depression, anxiety, disassociation, gender dysphoria, the repression and severely traumatic upbringing? I would gladly give up the 24 years I had of male privilege to have had my gender affirmed my whole life.
"The knee jerk stereotype about privilege is understandable, but not based in reality. The statistics on the psychological pain and physical and sexual assault, means cisgender women will beat out transwomen, in terms of privilege, every time," continued Levinson. "Feminism is an intersexual issue and fem-phobia affects both trans and cis gender women. Both of us obviously have very different experiences of womanhood, as do straight and queer, or butch and fem women. The sooner we can talk openly and accept them all as real experiences and part of the spectrum of feminine, the sooner we can end misogyny and transphobia. Yes, this show is a trans story, but at the end of the day, it is a human story. Art humanizes otherness. I hope audiences walk away recognizing their common humanity."
"Ballast" runs Thursday, May 4 through Sunday, June 4 at Diversionary Theatre. Look too for several other new plays never before seen in San Diego during Diversionary's new Playwriting Festival, taking place from Thursday, May 18 through Sunday, May 21. For tickets and more information on the festival and "Ballast," call 619.220.0097 or go to diversionary.org