Sunday, February 21, 2016

Artist on the Ace Spectrum

Demisexuality: A sexual orientation in which someone feels sexual attraction only to people with whom they have an emotional bond. Most demisexuals feel sexual attraction rarely compared to the general population, and some have little to no interest in sexual activity (

I am demisexual. I always have been and, as far as I know, I always will be. When I was going through puberty, I didn't have crushes like my friends did and, being the (sometimes arrogant and sometimes just distracted) person that I was, I didn't worry too much about it. I was lucky. Due to a lack of education on the asexual-spectrum, many others on the spectrum (who I know personally or who I've read about) go through a period of feeling "broken" or "wrong" in some way. But that's a soapbox for another time.

So what does performing opera have to do with being demisexual? Allow me to explain.

Being on the ace spectrum doesn't make much difference in my everyday life. In fact, it's something that I rarely think about. However, I've been thinking about it a lot lately and confronting it in an entirely different way while working on Bard College Conservatory's production of Oliver Knussen's Higglety Pigglety Pop!   

Let me give you some background: the opera is a rambunctious setting of Maurice Sendak's book of the same title. It was commissioned in the 1980s, but its final form came about in 1999. We will be presenting its NY Premiere as part of a Double Bill which also includes Mozart's The Magic Flute (March 4 & 6, 2016 at the Richard B Fisher Center for the Performing Arts). The role of the Pig-in-Sandwich-Boards was originally written for a bass voice, but in our production, I'll be singing it (one octave above what was written) and I've been asked to infuse a good amount of femininity and sexual energy into it. Vocally, I'm having way too much fun with it. Dramatically, I've been hitting walls. This led me to investigate why.

Going into this role, I was consumed by the complexity and difficulty of the score. Knussen is nothing short of a genius and his music proves it. So I spent (and am still spending, to be honest) a lot of time just getting notes and rhythms. But now that I'm past the learning stage and heading into the final stretch of staging rehearsals, I've been working the most on my characterization and physicalization of the role. Our version of this character requires an amount of feminine sexual prowess that I've only had to evoke once before: while performing scenes from Bizet's Carmen.

I have to be honest; I find it difficult at times to evoke sexual energy on the stage. I find that this happens more often when the character is female and/or more mature. When the character is male and younger (Cherubino, Orlofsky, and most pants roles in general), I don't have this issue. But on the rare occasion that I play an overtly sexy woman, I have to work harder to get everything just right. My acting method depends heavily on the use of substitution and I think it boils down to the fact that since I have experienced far less sexual attraction than most, I have a lot less material to draw from for these kinds of roles. I just really never considered the connection between my demisexuality and my difficulty with these roles, but now that I have, it makes so much sense!

I think it's really great to take on these roles that present new and particular challenges because it forces me to examine not only the world around me, but also the world inside me. We are each such interesting, unique, and complicated individuals and it's a thrilling journey to discover the details of that reality. I'm excited, too, to realize this now, because it will help and inform me in the future when I have far more difficult (or far more visible/criticized) roles.

I'm so excited for this role and for this Double Bill in general! If you're in the Hudson Valley (or even in NYC), please consider coming up to experience this sparkling and poignant show! Tickets and info here.