Daily Egyptian

Weekend performance on campus to tell stories of queer and trans teachers

By Isabelle Rogers

The stories of trans and queer teachers in Australia will be told during a seven-character performance titled “Heavier Than Air” over the weekend in Morris Library.

A.B., a communication studies doctoral candidate, was contacted by two professors at the Monash University and RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia to condense their research on queer teachers into a performance.

The professors, Stacy Holman Jones and Anne Harris, conducted 14 interviews with Australian trans and queer teachers over a period of two years. A.B. adapted the interviews into a show with seven characters performed by two people.  

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The play will be staged from noon to 2 p.m. on Nov. 11 and 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Nov. 12 in the Morris Library Rotunda. It is free and open to the public.

A.B., who identifies as a queer person and goes only by her initials, said she immediately agreed to help tell their stories and sought out retired communication studies professor Elyse Pineau to direct the performance.  Alex Davenport, a communication studies doctoral candidate, is the assistant director.

Pineau said she has been supporting the ongoing work of her colleagues and students during her three years of retirement, but directing this performance has strengthened her ties with the communication studies department.

“For me to be able to come back and work with these folks on issues that matter and matter globally, that matter in very personal kinds of ways, represents this department’s longstanding ongoing commitment to an exploration of social justice issues, and particularly issues of gender,” Pineau said.

Pineau said the performance and exploration of social justice issues is at the core of communication and performance studies.

“Performance is a way of learning about others by bridging empathically to others, by taking on their experiences, their stories and a form of public pedagogy,” Pineau said. “When one shares that with an audience, you’re hoping to get them to think deeply and connect with the lives of the people that you’ve been exploring and getting to voice in that moment.”

A.B. said the performance tells the stories of six queer-identifying teachers and sheds light on both the challenges and benefits queer teachers’ experiences bring to the classroom.

The show follows the teachers through a range of school settings and explores the struggle of being hyper visible yet invisible at the same time.

A.B. is one of the two actresses in the play, alongside performance studies graduate student Charlie Hope Dorsey.

“Having the chance to embody different characters with different experiences, I feel like it makes me a better teacher, it makes me a better performer, it opens me to understanding better ways of being in the world,” A.B. said. “I think that is really foundational to what I want to do with my life and teaching, so it’s really good to try that on and to engage in it in this particular way.”

The performance is really personal to her, A.B. said, because she is a lesbian teacher that has endured abuse due to her sexuality.

“When we tell stories about people, they become personal.” A.B. said. “It’s harder to scream things at people’s houses and do really horrible things when you hear their stories and identify with them. I personally want to do this as a way of raising awareness and increasing people’s exposure to people’s stories about LGBTQ folks.”

Davenport and Pineau said they hope the performance will spark conversations about the LGBTQ experience because they see this performance as activism.

“Oftentimes, for people who work in teaching, their stories are not the ones that get told,” Davenport said. “In order to be able to talk to [queer students] about the future and how it can develop, an important part of actually making that future better for any number of identities is actually being able to have those hard conversations.”

Pineau said the Rainbow Cafe and the LGBTQ Resource Center on campus will be at the performance to provide further resources to help communities reflect on the stories they will hear during the play.

“The challenges, the oppression, the discrimination, the harassment, the pain of people whose gender identity falls outside these kind of stripped binaries is very important,” Pineau said. “It is important to do it here because this is where we are right now, so with the direct impact of our community, we change the world by changing the place we are.”

Staff writer Isabelle Rogers can be reached at irogers@dailyegyptian.com or on Twitter @isabellearogers. 

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