RescueMe870210.jpgNo myth from Greek Classicism is complete without a good ritual sacrifice. One of the most famous of these stories is Iphigenia, the daughter of Agamemnon who was sacrificed by her father in order to appease the Goddess Artemis who had prevented the Grecian fleet from departing for their assault on Troy.

Ma-Yi Theatre's production, Rescue Me: a postmodern classic with snacks by Michi Barall takes an irreverent re-examination of the Euripedean classic, Iphigenia in Tauris. The Tauris version of the play, as humorously explicated by the goddess Artemis (David Greenspan), begins with Iphigenia (Jennifer Ikeda) being spared from her sacrificial doom at the last moment; the goddess interceding and replacing her body with that of a deer, and whisking her off to the remote and "barbaric" land of the Taurians, where Iph now labors as a priestess of Artemis. Longing to return to her homeland of Greece, Iph pines over her misfortunes and monotonous life, ironically preparing human sacrifices (preferably Grecians) to the goddess and begs the fates to be rescued by her brother Orestes. Orestes (Julian Barnett), as it turns out is closer that Iph realizes. He arrives at Tauris with his bosom buddy Pylades (Ryan King) to steal the statue of Artemis from the Temple of Tauris to finally rid himself of the Furies (who persecute him for killing his mother to avenge the murder of his father... yes it's all very complicated and vaguely reminiscent of a soap opera). They are captured by the Elvis-impersonating Taurian king (Leon Ingulsrud) and his assistant (Paco Tolson) and are ordered to be sacrificed to the goddess. Will Iphigenia sacrifice her brother? Will Orestes and Pylades escape harm? Will Orestes rescue his sister Iphigenia?

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Brief hiatus

Dear readers,

So BTB has been up and running for over four years now, and I think it's time I finally take a little break. But don't fret! This certainly doesn't mean we're gone indefinitely -- in fact, I plan to return during the summer. In the meantime, posts may go up periodically, and I'll still be accessible by email.

Thanks again, and stay tuned!

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See the thing is, I have my father's manners and my momma's attitude. Middle class attitudes about professional workplace behavior (from my upper-middle class White father) coupled with a sassy, damn-the-man, management is management, work sucks and then you die, outlook on employment (from my poor mixed-ethnic mother).

Employers never know what they are going to get with me, or what to make of me. I know that. They sense that beneath my manners and my smile lie something else. Contempt. Maybe even hatred. I can see it in their eyes. And they are right. Because I do have my fathers 'good' manners, all but one. I have my mother's smile. The simpering smile and words that say, 'Yes, sir, No sir' in all the right ways, but something is amiss. There is something in that smile that says, "I'm going to do what you say and work this measly job because I need it to survive, but don't think for one minute that I like it, or that I respect you and don't you dare insinuate that I should be grateful. This smile is a reminder of the power imbalance between us that while unspoken, we both know is here, and I won't pretend it's not, and I won't let you play pretend either." I know that smile, and I know the rage I feel when I’m on the receiving end of it.

I'm tempted to reach out and shake the person and say, "Don't you know who you are talking to? I know that smile! I give that smile! How dare you give it to one of your own?" and then I feel a wave of shame. At who I am, who I have become and that I am unrecognizable to my own people. My mother married out of her class, married up they call it. She raised me with a deadly fear of slipping back into the poverty that she grew up with, and a push toward a more middle class existence like my father. Always in the back of demands to get good grades and go to college was the threat, her life as the example, of what I might become if I didn't "shape up and get my shit together."

"I'm never going to be like you!" I would scream when I was angry at her, at her need for me, at her lack of ability to understand how we were different. And instead of reprimanding me for disrespecting her, my mother would get silent for a moment and look down in shame. Then she would say, "That's right, don't grow up to be like me. Go to college and have a different life. I know you are going to have a different life than me."

And just like after being on the receiving end of the simpering smile, I would wash my rage down with shame. My mother pushed me to forget my roots. She told me that the world would reward me if I did. But she never told me what I would lose. What it would cost. And how confusing it would be.

So I did what she said. I went to the private school that my father's parents paid for. Fulfilling all their dreams and trying to find a way to squeeze mine in there too. Then I went to graduate school at a University on the east coast, thinking that was another way to fulfill both their dreams and mine. And when I was scared that I would flunk out and be a failure, my mother would tell me that she always knew how smart I was, and that my life would be one filled with books, and to remember, that she cleaned toilets so that I could go to school and be smart someday, and she just knew I was going to make it.

Do my parents know the kind of pressure they put on me? Did they know how alone I felt? How alone I still feel? I wasn't prepared for the world I was confronted with. People who took my accent and my femininity as a sign that I was stupid. People who expected me to come from a wealthy family, to have things I didn't have, to understand jokes and customs that were completely foreign to me. Grad school was a whole 'nother world that I didn't believe existed. I read about people like this in sociology classes, but I didn't think they were real. As trite as it sounds, I kept remembering that line about class from Dirty Dancing when classism would smack me in the face on a regular basis in ways I wasn't used to, "I know these people Baby, they're rich and they're mean."

It would enrage me, when taking a look at my pale skin and blue eyes the wealthy students of my school would assume so many things about me and my life. That I was just like them. Of course not all of them did. Some of them, schooled in the subtle signifiers of class would take note of the lack of tailoring to my clothes, the lack of expensive highlights in my hair or designer accessories and simply sneer. I wasn't prepared for the way it made me feel. Low. Dirty. No good. My mother always taught me that my intelligence and my education would allow me to jump my class if I just acted right. She didn't teach me that people would hate me because of who I was and where I came from and how to deal with that. So full of self-loathing herself, her way of dealing with classism was to pretend that it could be dealt with easily, and was not anything I needed to pay any mind to. Do people know what it's like to grow up as the product of a mixed-class marriage? How to deal with such different world views, both presented as truth, but with so much left unsaid? I wish I could find other people talking about it. I know they have to exist. I know I can't be the only one.

For my father, there was no question that I would go to college and succeed, like he had. I was certainly not going to disappoint him or anyone else in his family. I would live up to their expectations because that was simply how things were done. I could not disappoint or disgrace anyone in the family. My mother's expectation was also that I would go to college and succeed, but not because I was carrying on a family tradition. It was to break tradition, break new ground, not end up drunk or drug addicted with a shit job and children and a no-good alcoholic father who either beat them or didn't take care for them like the rest of the women in my family. I wasn't going to be like that. My mother was going to show them that she could make it and so would her children. We would live to vindicate her. To show the world that she really wasn't mixed-race trash. That she was better than that. I sure as hell better not let her down. The life that awaited me if I didn't 'make it' would be punishment enough.

All these things go through my head when I try to navigate financial decisions. Where will I work? What will I do? How will I pay my bills? What can I afford? I am never without the weight of my family's history. Their expectations and my own. When I don't live up to my own expectations of success I hear my mother screaming about getting my act together, I see my father shaking his head and disappointment, and I hear my father's parents asking me questions about my life with a sneer. They didn't want my father to marry my mother. Thought she was a whore and told her so to her face. I am never without that thought when they talk to me, their voice equal parts suspicion and hope. I know they want to know, will I turn out like my mother? Or will I be the granddaughter they want, expect and invested time and money in? Will the schooling they paid for pay off? Or will I disgrace them just like they thought, because what do you expect coming from that kind of mother?

Oh momma. I want to put your fears to rest. Dad, grandpa and grandma, I want to make you proud. I want to not care about what I know and what I don't know. What I was taught as a child, and what I've learned as an adult. I want it not to matter. I want to believe that middle-class dream my father dreams and wakes up to, which is that with the right education, will come the right job. He left out that it helps to be white, male, and upper-middle class (or higher) for this dream to come true. He's a banker’s son, and he wants to believe that this is the land of opportunity. I want to believe that my mom's admonishons were right, that if I did right, the world would do right by me. I want not to believe her rantings that would say just the opposite, that the world was shit, and would find a way to fuck me over any way it could because that's how it is, and don't nobody give a damn about me so I better get used to it.

I want the American dream. A full time job that I enjoy, am good at, that has a good benefits package - health insurance, vacation and sick days, a job with a wage that allows me to support myself and do things I've always wanted to do, like treat my chronic fatigue, get sick without fear and anxiety, join a gym, eat healthy, maybe even have a house someday, get money back on my taxes. I'm doing my best to act right and get my reward, but sometimes it feels like it's such a long time coming, that I fear it isn't coming at all.

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There is a time and a place for everything, and it's called college. Once enrolled, everybody finds their one “extra-curricular activity”, commit 4 years worth of free time towards it, and never speak or it again post-graduation. For some, it's heavy drinking and drug use. For others, “sexual experimentation”. For me, it was writing and directing plays. I figured I had my whole life to make campy sci-fi horror films with queer overtones. It couldn't hurt, I thought, to cut my teeth on that ancient live action medium, the disappointed grandfather of film and television, and if you can't see where this foreshadowing is headed, then let me cook you dinner sometime because I'm guessing you struggle with frozen dinner directions.

I wasn't terrible at it. In fact, I thought I was rather good as far as auteurs go, but I lacked the most important of all the academic artist's tools: the ability to compromise and negotiate with faculty and other people who's wants/needs were considered more important than mine. My first serious production, Conquering Neptune, a dadaist space opera about a team of astronauts who succumb to space dementia while marooned on the planet Neptune, was rejected three seperate times. This fact becomes exponentially more pathetic when you realize that during this back and forth “aproval process”, I already had a cast, props, a score which I had composed myself, and a band, all waiting on me, the writer, to get my head out of my ass long enough to bite the bullet and rewrite the script to the nice professor man's specs so they request the appropriate amount of time off from work. But I was not to be swayed. This was college. This was my time to be reckless and fight for my perceived “right” to be obnoxious and subversive. I may have been the fool for not seeing a futile battle when I saw it, but the even bigger fool turned out to assuming that college professors were above editing naughty language and sexual themes in the first place.

The inky red condescension lurking about the margins of my first “final draft” indicated that the script was rejected for the use of “problematic language”. Hopefully, this was a reference to a moment where a character called another a “f-g” or made a race joke. I say “hopefully” because the dramatis personnae included a martian character, who the others would give wacky nicknames to, being unable to pronounce his real name. There was underlining or crossing out or any singling of what exactly it was that offended them so. I can only speculate, though I try not to, because if I turn out to be wrong it only strengthens my resolve to be complicated and unyielding. At the time, I believed such language was essential to the script and integrity of the play: after all, it was a farcical congratulations to the triumph of bigotry and prejudice in the face of horrible odds: even stranded on a remote fucking planet millions of miles away from Earth, people will find a reason not to cooperate.

My play ends with everyone dying. There's no redemption to be had. And I think therein lied my problem: nobody learned a lesson about how harmful words can be. Gran Torino exists for no other purpose than to let Clint Eastwood show off just how many slurs for Asian people he knows, but because he learns that's it not okay to judge people based on their race in the end, and befriends the Hmong next door and dies to protect them, it's okay. It's okay to illicit giggles from doofy hipster kids who've never heard the word “g—k” spoken aloud as long as there's some lesson, even if only the character learns it as the audience remains blissfully ignorant. But when Quintin Tarantino uses the “n word” in Pulp Fiction, suddenly he's a racist. Garth Ennis' The Boys, a comic series about a gay slur-spouting sociopath who blackmails superheroes with evidence of their homosexual relationships, was nominated for a fucking GLAAD award, because Garth Ennis had the foresight to add a line or two about how it's more hypocritical to call people out on problematic language and then be prejudiced again than it is to just use problematic language. But you'd have to put your head next to an artillery cannon and deafen yourself to drown out the complaints The Sopranos got for its too realistic for comfort depiction of homophobia. At some point, we as a society must accept that we can't have our cake and send it to sensitivity too. Not everyone learns their lesson. Not everyone gets their comeuppence. Years and years after queers have their human rights restored, people will still go on gay activist websites and call everyone a pedophile. The sooner you come to terms with that fact, the sooner you will be able to really apply yourself to the fights you can win. I can't do anything about the radfem who calls me a mutilated man invading her space. I can, however, beat the shit out of the guy who throws a slurpee at me. Pick your battles.

Wow, I'm..disturbed... today. I guess having my play script rejected a few years ago has hit me harder than I thought.

After receiving the rejection, I took a couple days to tinker with the script, and found that I liked it just the way it was, played Dragon's Lair and drank Mountain Dew all night, and re-submitted it with the disclaimer that I would give my actors the choice whether to say the dialogue as is or to edit it to better fit their diverse sensibilities. I waited for response. During that time, I had to replace four actors because I could not give them a definite, concrete schedule. But it will all be worth it, I thought, when the faculty relents and gives me the artistic freedom I so deserve. Little did she know, said the narrator who occupies my brain but doesn't pay rent, what fuckery awaited her in the art department lobby.

My second script was rejected for depicting “violence against women”. The aforementioned “violence” was the end, in which the astronauts mistake the people of the rescue mission for aliens, and die in the ensuing ray gun melee. Everyone meets the same grisly, terrifying fate played for inappropriate laughter. If you can find something “misogynistic” about that, when many cultures believing that dying together is the ultimate expression and test of camraderie, then I would plead for you to write a book about how you managed to free up that much of your time to devote to such mental acrobatics. I struggle to find enough time to exercise every day, and I'm practically unemployed.

To say I didn't take the second rejection well is understating, frankly. To say that I told the professor in question that I felt he was clinging to a job in academia to make up for a lack in talent and artistic understanding would be the truth and sort of embarrassing for me to admit now. But that's what happened. I took particular offense to this because at that moment, in the same department, there was a slasher film being produced by a number of students. A golden age “rise from the dead and kill a bunch of teenage girls who'd rather be left alone to play Mystery Date or drink malt liquor at the beach or whatever the director thinks teenagers do on the weekend” slasher film.I fear I can't delve too deep into how films like Friday The 13th and Sleepaway Camp profit from the psychosexual desire to punish women deemed “impure” inherent in the patriarchy. I'm so late to the feminist critique of slasher films party that I'm being mistaken for a cab driver. This horse is dead, Jim. However, I feel I would be doing you a disservice by not pointing out how mainstream society's approval of films depicting women being brutally murdered (the Friday night showing of Freddy Vs Jason wasn't an all-male audience, I'm just saying) can provide you with a clue as to why anti-abortion activists are so prone to expressing themselves through violence and not frustrating, ultimately unfruitful facebook activisim like the rest of us “well adjusted” folk. Yet it is not beyond me to understand why the faculty would allow such a movie to be made on campus with school resources; it's a professionally and marketablly viable career path. Isn't that what college is really for? Teaching how you to get a job with all that education? There's definitely more of a market out there for people who want to simulate stab wounds on a woman's naked body than there is for schmucks like me trying to bring space opera to live theatre. The guy behind making that student film now produces a web series comedy, I think. I haven't kept in touch, though I should. He still owes 10 bucks for a pizza we split three years ago. Jerk.

I lobbied my case to the faculty, and even read excerpts from the slasher film script that I stole from one of the cast, but to no avail. It was explained to me in no uncertain terms that the women in my play must come to no harm. If there was a ray gun fight at the end, they had to live. I asked if he thought that safeguarding an audience from a depiction of a women being injured wasn't somehow perpetuating the stereotype of women being fragile, delicate toys that must not be allowed to play with the boys lest they be broken, thus undoing all of the work we as artists were putting forth to envision a world free of needless prejudice and stereotype. He replied that if I felt that strongly about striking a woman, that perhaps I should get into hardcore S&M. I replied that it's actually BDSM, and I already am. He told me to rewrite my script again, and submit it to another professor.

If I had owned a camera phone back then, all of that might have been worth it. But it wasn't. I stewed for another week or so, debating the merits of giving in. I lost more actors, more musicians. The remaining rehearsal time that I had available wasn't enough to rehearse, and I was performing unsatisfactorily in my other classes to the point that my mother was getting letters from the school warning me that I was failing two courses, despite the fact that I was in my 20's and paying for college on my own. Moral of the story: if your professor asks for your address on the first day of class, give them your friend's dorm room number.

By the time I submitted it for the third (and hopefully) final time, I didn't care anymore. I knew the play was unperformable in the time and resource constraints given to me, and the only thing keeping me from a nervous breakdown was the hope that someone, at some point in this approval process, would find it in their busy busy day to tell me that my writing was good. If nobody was to ever see this performed, the least they could do is give me the peace of mind of knowing it was good enough to show in the first place.

My script was rejected for the third and final time, not because of language or violence against women, but for a scene in which one of the astronauts pleasures themselves with their ray gun. To this day I can't stand what was funnier: the look on his face when he said this, or the fact that I had already forgotten that such a scene took place, because throughout this whole story, AT NO POINT DID I MAKE A SINGLE FUCKING REWRITE TO THE SCRIPT.

I submitted the same script to the same team of professors, and each time, I received a different complaint, with no mention of previous grievances. This could be, of course, because I gave them fresh, clean copies each time, with no evidence of prior critiques. But I try to write that off as a fool's deduction, for if I was led to believe that the people tasked with my education were that absent-minded, I would have to go back to school and do it all over again out of fear that I had been taught wrong by accident.

That year and every after I cheered at pride rallies and let friends bum gum off me at gender equality workshops. I wrote essays on gender and met prominent people in the LGBT community who I pretend to know of or have read about because I think it makes me seem more interesting to be so aloof and oblique. All in hopes that one day, I will have accrued enough cred to earn the right to depict a woman being marooned on a distant planet without being labeled misogynist or homophobic. But alas, years later my bag is no heavier with tokens than before. Why, thou ask? Is it perhaps because the system of “see no evil, hear no evil” intended to blindfold society to its own inequities more often than not silences the tolerant and not the bigot? Or is it because my zest for campy horror and science fiction enables me to express a hatred and desire to cause women and queers harm that I wasn't even aware of? Make sense, world. Make. Sense.

Three years have passed since that winter of the astronaut pleasing herself with a ray gun. I am troubled not by actions of my past, but the indecision that awaits me in the future. Namely, I'm adapting Conuering Neptune for podcast, and pondering if it the slight betrayal of providing some sort of lesson or moral to my story will be worth the comfort of knowing that nobody would suspect me of phobia. Also, if true and unconditional equality of gender will mark the end of slasher films or, conversely, if a decrease in popularity or public approval of misogynistic slasher films will have any effect or influence on violence perpetrated against women in the meatspace. And finally, am I a woman dreaming she is a javelin thrower, or a javelin thrower dreaming they are a woman?

The answers to these questions (and many more, like “why did I wake up with an empty wine bottle on my pillow”) will have to wait until after I pick out my outfit for WonderCon.

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