“I’m not a very traditional person other than being Caucasian. That’s about it,” says trans actor Becca Blackwell, who was routinely told by agents and producers, “You’re a really good actor. I just don’t know what to do with you.”
So Blackwell created their own work, They, Themself and Schmerm, a personal, solo show described as “part classic stand-up comedy special, part teen zine vomit confessional,” which will receive its Connecticut premiere at Wesleyan University’s World Music Hall in Middletown on Oct. 5 at 7:30 and 10 p.m.
The show began at the urging of a friend, who advised Blackwell “to figure out how to take your space.” Says the actor: “Well, that’s harder when you’re a marginalized person. But I joke that once I started taking testosterone I started taking more space — which is the cool thing about that drug.”
Blackwell, who was adopted into a religious Midwestern family, raised to be a girl, and later molested, was plagued by the question, “How do I become a man and do I even want that?”
And the significance of the word “Schmerm” in the title of their piece about finding an authentic self?
Blackwell was comfortable about the fluidity and ambiguities of gender, but others had problems grappling with new perspectives, especially when it came to pronouns and names. “It literally came out of the weird blender of sounds with people trying to pronounce something: she, her, him. You could see their mouths going through some duress. And ‘schmerm’ sort of came out of people not knowing what gender I was.”
Charise Castro Smith entered the Yale School of Drama intending to study acting, but when she graduated in 2010 it was apparent she also had a promising career as a playwright.
“I always loved, and was interested in, writing,” she says. “Right before I started at Yale, I had written a play and put it on in my first year there at the [Yale] Cabaret. It was then I realized playwriting was something that I wanted to pursue.”
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel, who was head of the playwriting program at the time, became her mentor and within a few years after graduation, she was solely working as a writer.
Now Smith’s El Huracán is receiving its world premiere as the opening show of the Yale Repertory Theatre season, continuing through Oct. 20 at the University Theatre in New Haven. The play centers on “an unforgivable act,” which happens to a family when Hurricane Andrew devastated much of Florida in 1992 — and years after.
“This is a play about forgiveness and it is the play that is closest to — and draws most from — my own life,” Smith says. “It’s about an immigrant family in Miami — a mother, a daughter and grandmother — who are dealing with the elderly woman’s declining health. I was 9 when [Andrew] happened and my family was on vacation in Vancouver, but when we came back a few days later, my grandparents’ house was completely destroyed. It was crazy for a kid coming back to see a home and a city that I knew so totally different and chaotic.”
The play is set during the storm and 27 years later, which invites the question: Do you need time to forgive?
“In this play they certainly do,” she says. “Forgiveness is hard and real forgiveness takes more time than we wish.”
And His Favorite Musical Is …
In the musical The Drowsy Chaperone, now in previews at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam and continuing through Nov. 25, John Scherer plays an unnamed gentleman of a certain age — simply called “Man in Chair” — who lives alone in his modest apartment. Whenever he gets a little blue, he takes out a certain LP and gets lost in the pleasures of his favorite original Broadway cast album of a fictitious musical from the ’20s.
Scherer has been in his share of musicals both at Goodspeed (By Jeeves, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and George M!) and on Broadway (Sunset Boulevard, LoveMusik). So what was his go-to album when he wanted to escape from it all? Perhaps Cats, Mame and Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, all of which he toured?
“I loved listening to Camelot and The Music Man when I was a boy,” says Scherer. He confesses, though — show queens prepare to gasp — that he preferred the film soundtrack to Hello, Dolly! with Barbra Streisand over Carol Channing in the Broadway version.
“I was a real theater nerd as a kid,” the Buffalo native says. “I’d get the vocal selections from the music store and from the library and read all the theater books, like annual Best Plays or Theater World, and just go through the pictures. I didn’t know much pop music growing up.”
And the attraction?
“There is a sense of safety, of escaping into another world — which is what happens in The Drowsy Chaperone where the Man in Chair disappears into the art form.”
Scherer says he disappears into his music now with CDs and downloads. “I’m not obsessed with vinyl recordings like my character is.”
Though he no longer has a turntable, he’s still got the albums.
“It’s nice to know that they’re still there.”
Have You Heard?
… Tony Award-winning LaChanze, now starring on Broadway in Summer, based on disco queen Donna Summer’s life, grew up in Bridgeport and received her stage inspiration as a youth when she attended the Bowen-Peters School of Dance in New Haven. (Angela Bowen, who shaped and inspired hundreds of young artists in New Haven from the late ’60s to the early ’80s, died this year at 82.)
Ever thought of running a restaurant? Frank Rizzo will be leading an “in conversation” program on Oct. 26 at Hartford’s Mark Twain House & Museum with restaurateurs/chefs Carole Peck (Good News Cafe in Woodbury), Steve Abrams (Max Restaurant Group) and Tyler Anderson (Simsbury’s Millwright’s, West Hartford’s The Cook & the Bear, Hartford’s Porrón & Piña). This trio will be sharing some delicious behind-the-scenes tales from the kitchen to the front of the house.