Eloquent and animated, performer Rebecca Kling clearly enjoys discussing her work. "Trans Form combines spoken word and multimedia," she says, sipping tea at Starbucks, "it's the second show I've written outside of school." Chatting about Trans Form's inspiration, as well as theater as a vehicle for social change, Rebecca's passion for theater grows increasingly evident; it's creation surely integral to her sense of self.
Windy City Times: What was the impetus for your new show?
Rebecca Kling: Trans Form came out of the work I did at the Charged Bodies Mentorship Program, which itself came out of a weeklong workshop at Links Hall where I sort of stumbled on the idea of transitioning as this mythic process of defying gods and defying fate and defying convention. When I was fortunate enough to get the Critical Fierceness Grant through Chances Dances in Chicago this past year to expand the piece, I realized I wanted to delve into the mundane or the personal or the everyday, keeping components of the piece I worked on last year, but also expanding upon it and trying to process where I'm coming from, where I'm going and what the hell I'm doing.
WCT: Describe your writing background.
RK: My writing background comes from performance art at Northwestern and from years of being a student and a teacher at the Piven Theatre workshop in Evanston. I also have a blog. After coming out to a friend, she said "you know, this is something you really need to be writing about, because fifty years from now, you're gonna wanna be able to look back and see where you were coming from," so that was my original impetus. I'm sort of embarrassed that I have a blog. I'm not yet able to claim...
WCT: Blog pride?
RK: Yeah, blog pride. But I do have one, and a lot of the material in this show comes from that. I tried to start writing a couple times a week, and that's been a really positive experience both personally, being able to share with this online community, and in terms of the piece. I've been able to pull things like, going to the Daly Center to get my name changed, having issues with doctors, transitioning at work. Writing about it and coming back and going, "ok, this is how I was feeling at this time, and this is what can be extracted that can be useful or interesting onstage," has been really helpful.
WCT: You're writing about loaded issues. Do you feel safe putting such personal material onstage?
RK: I'm spoiled in that I'm coming from a community of family, friends and coworkers that has been extremely supportive of my transitioning and my identity. They've known me, in many cases, since before I transitioned, and so shouldn't be surprised that I'm trans or that I'm an artist or that I'm sharing these things onstage. That's made it both easier, but at the same time somewhat harder. For example, writing about when I was a child and knowing my parents are coming to the show, I had to suppress the desire to hide things. I had to make a conscious choice that this is the narrative of myself I want to share, and if my parents or roommates or coworkers see it, they are going to see that part of me.
WCT: Who is your ideal audience?
RK: I have two. First, I want people who are queer or trans or somehow feel they don't fit into mainstream gender and sexuality to be able to see a performance about something that isn't talked about often. Just this afternoon, I sent out postcards to thirty gay/straight alliances around the city, because I vividly remember how much I would have liked to see something like this when I was in high school. At the time, being trans was [ seen as ] something much older people dealt with, so the idea that as a young adult, that could be part of my identity wasn't presented to me as a real option. So, I want to share my story in that way, to sort of lead by example. [ Second, ] I think the division that sometimes happens between alternative and mainstream theater is counterproductive. I'm conscious that most of the artistic community in the professional theater world is certainly very liberal and very accepting, but I've also got a lot of fear that being trans or just outside the normal ideas of sexuality or gender relegates you to this [ lesser ] section of theater. I want artistic peers of mine to be able to share something that not only is very personally and politically validating for me, but is also artistically sound. It's been powerful to have artistic peers who are not queer say, "this component is beautiful because it speaks to the larger human experience, and this component could be tweaked to get there."
WCT: What can theater do in terms of social change?
RK: I think theater can do everything. I feel really strongly that the act of storytelling is the most effective way to cross any sort of border between people. The very first thing we do when we start talking is share our stories. One of the most primal experiences is retelling something that happened. Theater as an expansion of storytelling, which I think, is integral in any sort of social change. The way to become human to someone is to have them understand your story, your history, your complexity. Theater is certainly not the only way to accomplish that, but I think it's one of the most powerful.
Rebecca Kling's show, Trans Form, runs Dec. 11-12 at 8 p.m., and Dec. 13 at 7 p.m at Links Hall, 3435 N. Sheffield. To purchase tickets visit linkshall.org . To learn more about Rebecca Kling go to fridaythang.com/trans-form.