Of course, she was a redhead.
Dancing just behind Jason Alexander’s left shoulder on “A Capitol Fourth” with huge, intense eyes and a smile that could light up the night by itself. The other gals were good, but she earned her place because she committed, pumping out a focused beam of joyous energy right into the massive crowd and TV cameras.
She reminded me to watch the performances, not just watch the show. Vanessa Williams came on, tall and beautiful, and made Elmo real to the whole place by treating him like a cute three-year old, while below the ledge, Kevin Clash made Elmo everyone’s friend.
Meryl Streep was on A Prairie Home Companion, and watching her talk with Garrison Keillor you could see the precision in her performance. “Steal from the guys,” she told Kelly Ripa this week, “because they will never notice.”
Success always requires the creation of a persona who can succeed, one who can do the work and make the magic. In other words, increasing your performance always requires performance, be that the performance of one who can shift in the moment, or the performance of one who consistently and confidently knows who they are and how they can make magic.
I was talking with a friend today about a transwoman whose performance is less than her co-workers would like. She scares clients, growls and defends because she is trying to keep a ghost alive, the ghost of the man she was. She tries to cling to his power, his ex-wife and his status, and the harder she tries to cling, the more desparate and disconnected she seems to the people she was hired to help.
We can’t keep the dead alive by keeping their rotting flesh animated. But we can become alive by being absolutely in the moment, trusting that our training & rehearsal will support our comittment and our performance will shine.
The challenge, of course, is to find that system that supports us in the immersion and rehearsal required for that transformative performance. It’s really easy to be to big for the room, really hard to let loose and pull it back. Heck, the Washington Post reports that it took Christine Baranski a month of performances to get the mechanics down enough so that she could find her own Mame with wit and heart.
And for we trannys who learn to self-police like hell, doing that final surgery of pulling the stick out of our ass is even harder. It just feels so risky not to stay pulled back, defended and distant, even if we know it is our intense and present performance that makes everything — even us — real.
I know this. I suspect that transwoman who holds tight to a past that she knows is dying knows that it’s her committment to the performance, to being in the moment, that makes her real. It’s just that both of us know how easy it is to reach and fall, to shatter and splatter.
Jillian Todd Weiss reminds us that the most transgressive trannys aren’t the ones who stay on the edges in the typical roles, drag queen & sex worker, rather the most dangerous trannys are those who take more mainstream power while being visibly tranny. Freaks and fairies are easy to understand because they self-marginalize, but potent, smart, charismatic and visibly queer people, well, they need more marginalization.
I watch that redhead dancer, so focused and so potent, and I feel that same force inside of me. Then I swallow that energy, pulling it down to the pit of my stomach so no one can see it. I work hard to just stay hidden, to let others live their life and take care of their messes.
The fireworks over the Charles are ending now, the explosions pounding out of the television and into my chest. All that energy that I have to just absorb rather than letting it invigorate me, rather than taking the exuberance and living it.
Performance requires performance. And sometimes it takes a redhead in lots of eyeliner and false eylashes to remind me of all I keep inside, the performance and the voice I swallow rather than hanging out there.
And then, well, once more, power and freedom escape me.
Happy Independance Day, eh?