The photo on the left is from two years ago after completing my final performance of Johnna Adam’s World Builders. Working on the show, I had an odd sense of finality that gave an already meaningful process even more significance. Each moment was precious because I felt sure that I’d never play such a great role again.
In a way, I was right. I will never play a male-presenting role again (unless that male-presentation be strategically required by the perils of the Forest of Arden). Will I ever act again? There are few roles for trans women, and I don’t expect the offers to play cis women will start pouring in any minute, either.
Yet despite the uncertainty of my future as an actor, I feel full of hope. Maybe it’s because the role of Max, a part so deeply defined by repression, was the right role for me at the right time. Every night, I had to disclose the secret’s of Max’s terrifying inner world, and every night, thanks to my glorious scene partner Aisha Spielmann, that disclosure was received with love:
MAX: You’re very accepting.
WHITNEY: Well, sure.
MAX: It’s unexpected. Thank you.
WHITNEY: It sounds like a pretty cool world, actually.
Who knows? Maybe acting that disclosure every night helped me to disclose my own truth. The journey from the picture on the left to the one on the right will always be a mystery to me. Inscrutable.
There is a picture that occurred between the one on the left and right that also gives me hope. It’s a picture from one year ago, when Mercena saw my play The Sea Concerto and somehow made it through most of the two-act grown-up play, and afterward looking like this:
Here’s an excerpt I wrote about watching Mercena after the matinee:
“After the show, her mind seemed set on fire. She dashed about the lobby, talking a mile a minute about the play, and thrilling to the sight of each actor. But my favorite quote, as she was jumping in my lap from excitement, was upon learning that there would be a second show that night:
‘I want to see the show tonight!’
…Later that night, she was still so energized by the play that she told a seven chapter story while running around the house.
Today I am listening to Kelly O’Donnell’s gorgeous World Builders soundtrack, and remembering the ache of possibility I felt backstage waiting each night for the play to begin; the ache of possibility watching my daughter’s mind of fire with a play I’d written (and Heather, co-directed); the ache of how theatre brings these anniversaries to us and, in the words of a different Flux character, reminds us that life isn’t long, “but man is that damn thing wide.”
So you see, this ache in my chest isn’t just sadness. Or, if it is sadness, maybe sadness means something different than I’d understood before. Maybe the ache is the understanding.