If you could speak to your younger self, what kind of advice would you give? It’s a question that most people hate answering, but Edmonton playwright Even Gilchrist’s new contribution to One Yellow Rabbit’s High Performance Rodeo turns it into an experimental theatrical experience. A two-man show starring actors Geoffrey Simon Brown and Émanuel Dubbeldam, the play humorously dives into the arbitrary social constructs of gender roles. Loosely mirroring Gilchrist’s own experiences as a trans man struggling with the constantly moving goalposts of masculinity in his younger days, it depicts his journey towards acceptance through a trans man’s imagined conversation with a vision of an idealized cisgender self.
“This play is about experiencing having a body in a society that focuses so much on what certain bodies are supposed to look like,” says Dubbeldam. “It’s about the challenges of existing in a world where things like ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ exist, and exist in contrast to each other.”
As far as essentially playing Gilchrist, who was already a friend of his, Dubbeldam said the initial pressure and apprehension to get it right evaporated as soon as he stepped into the rehearsal hall and saw that not only was the play built to apply to the universal human experience, but that it possessed a kind of over-the-top, chaotic energy that should provide the audience with quite a few laughs. For example, a promotional image depicts his co-star jabbing a knife in the direction of a Boston Red Sox figurine – one of the show’s symbols of masculinity – and it also involves the destruction of a cake, a prop that needs to be re-baked for each performance.
“It’s a beautiful mess, and we had a blast rehearsing it. There are some heavier, more emotional moments, and there was concern about wanting to do [Even’s] experiences justice, but the thing that strikes me the most is how universally relatable it is. Because the people on stage are such caricatures of ourselves as humans, it almost feels a little bit more like clowns, so it didn’t feel like I needed to play Even.”
Dubbeldam – who plays the younger transgender protagonist and is also trans himself – mentions that some of his most touching experiences performing the play so far have been seeing people of “all walks of life” approach him after the show and talk to him about specific moments in the play that reflected their own experiences growing up and meant a lot to them. Everyone will think back to their teenage years as the protagonist begins constructing his identity, trying to find the “correct” balance between fulfilling societal expectations and what will genuinely make him happy.
“I feel like that’s so impactful for a show that could seem extremely niche to have that kind of reach,” he says. “Sometimes it can be off-putting to go ‘Well, the show isn’t for me, I’m not trans,’ but truly everyone will glean something from it. And the show is a riot, it’s such a fun show to witness and be a part of. And there’s cake!”
And how Dubbeldam himself would answer the show’s central question?
“It depends on which version of myself I’m talking to, but I think the biggest one is to trust your gut.”
We asked Dubbeldam to make us a Re:Construct Mixtape, and he provided us with a mix of both songs that he enjoys and songs that reflect some of the themes of the play below. Re:Construct runs Jan. 20 to 22, 2023 in Calgary at the Royal Canadian Legion #1 | TICKETS
ALASKALASKA – Tough Love
Brian Eno & Rick Holland – A Title
CAKE – End of the Movie
Chairlift – Amanaemonesia
Dan Mangan – Lynchpin
Miniature Tigers – Mansion of Misery
Mother Mother – Body
Of Montreal – Beware Our Nubile Miscreants
OK Go – In the Glass
Sufjan Stevens – Should Have Known Better