Labels are for soup cans! Join the party— The T Party— at Forum Theatre this January for their exciting remount of the world premier of their gender-driven conversation starter The T Party. Having absolutely nothing to do with the political party— as the show was being conceptualized and work-shopped before the party was formed— this provocative, evocative conversational piece of theatrical work is a compelling and connective cabaret of gender-binary defying stories, statistics, and events— with true events that happened locally— inviting theatergoers across Washington to join the conversation. Truth transcends gender; transform your thoughts and open your mind; the experience is awaits. Written and Directed by Natsu Onada Power, this ensemble-based piece is not just a conversation but a theatrical experience that invites the mind to acknowledge labels as they exist and then stick them where they belong— on soup cans, not human beings.
Creator and Director Natsu Onada Power brings the conversation directly to the audience with this production of The T Party, the first segment of the show is an interactive and immersive experience. Theatergoers are invited to attend the “Forum High Class of 2015 Prom” where there is karaoke and a chance to take prom photos in the lobby as well as the live dance happening on the floor. Members of the ensemble as well as various “volunteers” (which vary from show to show) take part in the prom atmosphere as members of the high school class, there’s even voting for the Prom Court. Power’s creates a typical high school atmosphere but things become dicey for on-lookers when situations arise that can and do happen when LGBT issues are brought into question. Power’s intention of exposing the audience to the reality of the show’s main topic by having them become a part of it is powder keg initiation for the show that follows.
With a cabaret feel to its existence, the show flows from segment to segment with the overarching connectivity of Transgender themes woven throughout. Initially it can be concluded that the “T” in the show’s title is meant to represent the term Transgender, but the show becomes a much more deeply involved experience that transcends the boundaries of the gender binary as well as transforms the way transgender issues are discussed. A fully active ensemble piece, Power brings entertainment and reality in a perfect blend to the stage for the audience to fully understand the topics being discussed.
Forum Theatre covers a plethora of performance mediums in this show including but not limited to, sketch comedy, singing, acting, and dancing all of which include an impressive amount of projections, lighting designs, and sound infusions that underscore, augment, and highlight critical moments throughout the production. The best way to experience all the performance has to offer is to attend; words on a page cannot do it social justice nor even come close to recreating the conversation that audience members become a part of simply by watching. The impact the performance has will vary from individual to individual but the main message is the same; a person is a person no matter how they identify their gender.
The Design Team includes Mary Keegan on Lights, Frank Labovitz on Costumes, Thomas Sowers on Sound, and Alex Leidy, Ryan Smith, and Sophia Adams creating projections. These six creative minds work in tandem with Director Natsu Onada Power to enhance the overall performance experience throughout. Whether it’s the sensual atmospheric music that Sowers selects for the romantic tango sketch— featuring ensemble members Allie Villarreal and Sara Dabney Tisdale— or the flashes of nature juxtaposed against pornography featured in the “Bear Club” scene designed by Leidy, Smith, and Adams; the members of the creative team are at the top of their game to really actualize the concepts being discussed within the work.
The full ensemble features eight performers, all of whom take on various gender roles throughout the production, and everyone involved feels as if they are telling a story. Under Power’s direction, the local and true stories of transgender individuals in and around Washington DC become reality to the audience, told with reverence and honor. The individuals of the ensemble hold a high level of regard and acceptance, teaching those principles as they explore the topic. The most impressive thing about the performance is the ensemble’s ability to unite and speak as one on acceptance, even when they are not on stage at the same time or in the same scene.
The ensemble even throws in a fully developed musical theatre number, Choreographed by Francesca Jandasek. Performed to the song “One” from A Chorus Line, the process of Phalloplasty— the construction of a penis— is explained step by step with music being sung and the ensemble kick-line dancing they way about the stage. This is a striking, and haunting moment in the performance as the steps are repeated over and over, echoing the sentiment of the original moment in A Chorus Line where the monotony of one’s life in the chorus line is realized.
The show is also laced with humor— the dolphin dance statistics number showcases gender non-conformity in nature while bringing a humorous element to the show— and is balanced with serious and touching moments throughout. Stand-out performers, though everyone in the ensemble is well worth mentioning, include Nehemiah Markos for his role first as the Emcee during the Dolphin Dance, and later as primary school educator Miss Nehemiah in the “where do babies come from sketch.” This sketch is the perfect example of hilarity in handling gender related questions for children.
Rafael Sebastian and Brendan Quinn are featured in a scene that blurs the lines of gender and the expectations of what people see when they encounter a man in a dress. This compelling scene, aided by the narration and commentary of Allie Villarreal, is one of the most touching featured in the performance despite taking place in a high-octane bar environment.
Conversation is the easiest way to learn about something new that you don’t understand, and Forum Theatre is bringing that opportunity to everyone as a statement in the Washington DC community; the performance is powerful, moving, and intelligently aware of the social issues it is addressing; a must-see.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours without no intermission (but the first half hour is interactive and you can come and go as you please)
The T Party runs through January 17, 2015 at Forum Theatre in the Silver Spring Black Box Theatre— 8641 Colesville Road in Silver Spring, MD. For tickets call the box office at (301) 588-8279, arrive before the show at the door for “Pay What You Want” sales or purchase them in advance online.