Listen: 20180131_TheNakedI (Combs)

MPR’s Marianne Combs reports on the latest production of Twenty Percent Theater Company’s "The Naked I." The show brings together the stories and experiences of people who self-identify as trans, queer, or otherwise gender non-conforming.

This report includes interviews with Executive Director Claire Avitabile and participants from the show, TJ Carley and Freya Richman.


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SPEAKER 1: Tomorrow night, 20% Theater Company presents, The Naked I. And that's I as in first person singular. The show brings together the stories and experiences of people who self-identify as trans, queer or otherwise gender non-conforming. Marianne Combs reports, the biennial production has become a platform for a marginalized community.

MARIANNE COMBS: To understand the importance of this show, we need to go back to 2009. 20% Theater Company's Artistic Director, Claire Avitabile staged a play called, The naked I: Monologues from Beyond the Binary, written by Tobias K. Davis. It's considered the trans version of The Vagina Monologues.

CLAIRE AVITABILE: And it was wild. There were people who took a bus up from Indiana. There were people who drove from all over the Midwest to come see this thing that was supposedly going to reflect their lives. And it did. And we received a ton of positive feedback and lots of people emailing and calling to ask us to do it again, to ask us how they could tell their own story.

MARIANNE COMBS: Two years later, with the playwright's blessing, 20% Theater put out a call for submissions for a new production called, The Naked I: Wide Open. They were overwhelmed with more than 100 monologues, short scenes and poems all reflecting on what it's like to be trans or gender non-conforming. Again, people came from all over the state and the region to see this new production.

CLAIRE AVITABILE: At that time we were just prepared to do the show, and that was it. But then during post-show discussions, people were saying, can you tour this? Can you bring this to my school? Is it published? Where can I buy it? And so we did publish it. And we realized as a company that we can't stop doing this work.

MARIANNE COMBS: This weekend and next, 20% Theater will stage its fifth Naked I involving 60 artists. This one is called, The Naked Eye: Recognize/d.

SPEAKER 2: I always wondered how they could so elegantly manage.

MARIANNE COMBS: At a recent rehearsal in Northeast Minneapolis' warehouse district, Rick De La Concha runs through her piece morning rituals while the other performers and directors watch.

RICK CONCHA: I was too young to partake, no hair long enough to wrap, no chest big enough to cover, no perils or long days as relentless as theirs to unwind from.

MARIANNE COMBS: The pieces in this year's show range widely. One performer shares the frustrations of being a trans grandparent, while another signs a performance on what it's like to be trans, Black and deaf. T.J. Carly is performing a heart wrenching piece about his experience transitioning from female to male and then being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. He describes it as being betrayed by his body twice.

T.J CARLY: I knew that something was wrong. And I felt in some ways almost a little punished. Like this is what you get for what you've done.

MARIANNE COMBS: Carly says he's not an actor, even though he's been in Naked I performances three times now. He says, that's the great thing about this show. It recognizes that everyone has a story to share. Freya Richmond says she first saw The Naked I in 2012.

FREYA RICHMOND: The seeds of my own gender transition were already germinating, and I heard about what this theater was about, and I heard about what this performance was about. And it was a way for me to open a conversation with my family and for myself about where I felt like my life was headed.

MARIANNE COMBS: Two years later in 2014, she auditioned and performed in The Naked I. Another two years later, after she'd completed her transition from male to female, she wrote and performed her own piece. This year, she's directing, Another Trans Woman, helping her to stage her own story. Richmond says, for many people, this show is a lifeline.

FREYA RICHMOND: I felt like I was making it up as I went along. And when I discovered 20% Theater, I discovered that there were a lot of people who knew exactly what I was going through and were there to lift me up and affirm who I was.

MARIANNE COMBS: The Naked I: Recognize/d opens tomorrow night, and runs through February 11 at the Minsky Theater in Minneapolis. Covering the arts, I'm Marianne Combs, Minnesota Public Radio news.


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