Drama Tops, This Is For You is the newest work from choreographer Elby Brosch and his collaborators Shane Donohue and Jordan Macintosh-Hougham. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Brosch (one of our 2019 DanceCrushes!) to talk about gender, creative process, and what to expect from his latest project.
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Can you start by telling me what you feel is most important about this show?
The ‘This Is For You’ part feels really important to me. Early in my transition, when I was coming out, most of the people in my life told me “I just don’t understand, I just don’t get it” and that was really hard for me. It’s hard to think of how to respond to that. It felt so powerful inside of me but how do I communicate that experience to someone else?
In the last five years of transition I have come to realize that, for me, the best way to communicate it is to relate it to things that everybody experiences. So much of trans experience is actually very relatable. For example: feeling uncomfortable in your body. It is super heightened for trans people, but every single person no matter their identity struggles with loving, feeling at home in, and feeling like they have agency over their bodies.
Also, societal norms. It’s been a really interesting, tricky thing for me in my transition that society had very clear expectations for me when I was perceived female. Those became really blurry in the beginning of my transition when my gender was less identifiable. When I started passing as a man, a whole other set of societal expectations were painted onto me, and they’re all just completely unachievable. Even though I align a lot more with one than the other, none of them are achievable, they’re just built for failure. All of society’s standards to be perfect: the perfect woman, the perfect man, the perfect job, the perfect family roles, those are something that every single person is dealing with in one way or another. That’s another way the trans experience can be relatable.
So tell me if I’m understanding correctly, the ‘This Is For You’ is for those people who need support in understanding the trans experience?
I mean, yes, but I am also making it for my queer family too. I want to make something that trans people can resonate with. I want them to see themselves represented and feel validated in their complexity and then I also want my mom to come and totally get it. Even aesthetically I’m really interested in this idea of being able to make something that is clearly understandable but also complex and abstract enough that it is interesting to someone who has seen years of dance and someone who doesn’t really go to see dance. I really want the “You” to be everybody. I want it to be queer people, I want it to be trans people, I want it to be allies, everybody.
What does your creative process look like? What’s in the room with you when you’re creating?
It’s us and our emotions. Shane and I are really close so we share a lot of what’s going on in our personal lives while we’re stretching and warming up. So often something will have happened related to my trans experience that I want to be able to communicate. It comes out of just wanting to tell my friend about it, you know? Then we’ll figure out a way together to get that into the work. We talk a lot in our process about our personal feelings and about the work. We’re constantly trying to question it, strip it down, and build it back up.
Ben DeLaCreme [much lauded local drag queen and burlesque performer] is our Co-Director and he has been in the room a lot recently. In the beginning of the process it was mostly me and Shane and now Ben has been there a lot and he is so good at asking questions and distilling what we’re trying to communicate in each moment. Jordan Macintosh-Hougham also joined the process about 6 months ago and it’s been so lovely to have them.
This piece contains past, present, and future. Ideal past and future as well as the problems and pains too. Shane and Jordan have really complicated roles to hold. Jordan has to hold all of the frustration and trauma of being a young trans person as well as the beauty and reminiscence of childhood. We’ve been working a lot with how to hold all of that in one character and Jordan is the perfect person to do that.
So are Jordan and Shane’s characters aspects of you and your experience?
They are. Shane’s character also represents toxic masculinity a lot of times too. He represents the perfect ideal that’s also really toxic so you love/hate it.
What is your idea of toxic masculinity? What do you mean when you say that?
I mean not showing any emotions. I mean pushing yourself to the absolute physical end. I mean purely objectifying everything all of the time. Taking without asking. Righteousness… like “I’m always right.” It’s strength, power, never being wrong, I can have anything, I can take anything. It’s scary. It’s really scary.
So Shane embodies that?
Shane embodies that especially in the beginning of the work but by the end I wanted to make some peace with that. In this cultural moment it’s so easy to say all masculinity is bad and throw it away, but I really think there are very beautiful parts of masculinity. I would like to show those with Shane and inside of myself as well. Because strength is really beautiful. Not that strength is exclusively masculine by any means, but masculinity can be strong, generous, steadfast, and helpful. It can be really beautiful and tender. So I want that to come through by the end.
Drama Tops, This is For You premieres Tuesday, January 28th at Washington Hall and runs through Thursday January 30th. Buy your tickets here.