I was sent forth by Gaia to slay a giant.
Eight legs. Dark heart. Venom in my tail.

My instinct was to grab goddesses with my hooked stingers.

Now I live in the firmament. A constellation.

I devoured Libra’s stars and made them my claws.

My destiny is to share the night sky with Orion.
I am chasing him into eternity.
You’ll never see us at the same time.

I watch earth with a stubborn hope.
Some day to return.

To kill every injustice with my ferocity.
Inject my toxins into each bigot,
drive intolerance to extinction with my rancor.

One loves more deeply with a dark heart.
Considering the expense of each emotion.

Watch me gleam in the cimmerian heavens.
I am making my way back to you with


Vows for a Feminist Marriage

I promise to love you without limits.
Breaking down the gender binary
one square inch of bubble wrap
at a time.

I am yours through sickness
and through health, yes,
but also through
smashing the patriarchy.

Together we will combat
microaggressions with
unassailable tenacity
and tenderness.

I promise to love and honor you.
We will obey the rules we write.
And not what has come before.

We will build a world for our children
that doesn’t mute the pink and blue
but brings forward all the colors
of their rainbow.

Whether taking a sledgehammer to glass ceilings,
or explaining the necessity of intersectionality,
or making sure that female superheroes line the shelves, too—
I am yours and you are mine.





The poem was commissioned by Kacey Shiflet by contributing to education fund to attend Naropa University’s MFA in Contemporary Performance. Want your own custom poem? Learn more here:

Crisp Sentiment

I am not an easy person to love.

My heart is brittle.

Accessible only
to the most skilled
and delicate of

A thin wire tool
scrapes away
the detritus
of heartbreak.

The accumulation
of self-loathing
and skewed
of self-worth.

Perhaps warmth
will reside within again.

On a sherbert-colored day.

When the wind discovers its arms.




We fear what we can’t define.

I come to you, cupping my breasts:
these sometimes strangers
negating my newfound pronouns.

Have you ever bound your chest?
The first time, I did it with elastic bandages:
another actor walking around my chest,
securing the bust espionage with
metal fasteners. It took three rolls.
Safe beneath a tuxedo shirt, mustard vest
and green velveteen coat (with tails),
I felt a sense of power and freedom
that ended up meaning more than
I could comprehend at the time.

I have two binders now; they are safer.
They flatten tissue without the harsh
compression of fluids. I pull them
over my shoulders and delight
in the flatness of my chest.

A passerby yells
“Hey, white boy!”

And my heart leaps
outside of the binding.

Stepping Behind the Scenes of The 39 Steps*


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As many of you know, I’ve been working on The 39 Steps. Playing Clown #2 in this production has been one of the most rewarding acting experiences of my life. Seriously. 

The reason I’m able to transition so seamlessly between my nineteen characters is because of crew member Evan Ray. I jokingly refer to him as “my handler.” Honestly, there aren’t adjectives adequate enough to express how wonderful he is, but I’ll try: Evan is one of the sharpest, most intelligent humans I have ever met. His meticulous organizational skills are mind-bending, he is always at the ready with a bottle of water and a fan so that I don’t keel over and he has the magical ability to keep himself and me calm throughout the backstage frenzy. He is as much a part of building my characters as my acting craft. 

Please enjoy this post he’s written about his process behind the scenes.


Guest post by Evan Ray:

*Can you find the Alfred Hitchcock references hidden in this essay?

“How far is Winnipeg from Montreal?,” Hannay exclaims from his box in the audience. As Mr. Memory sorts through his extensive intracranial filing cabinet, I head toward the stage right clothing hooks. That was my cue to prepare Katie’s next costume change, the second of over twenty (it’s hard to count!) that will occur throughout the show. There are many instances like this one in the backstage orchestration of The 39 Steps, components of our own behind the scenes blocking that has formed both consciously and unconsciously in rehearsal and run. The play requests a high degree of organization from its stage crew and we make it our goal to bring that to the table (wings and booth?) in return. In a review of paper tech at the start of tech weekend, our stage manager, Kathy Stanley, produced a prompt book that likely contained more lighting, sound, and backstage cues than actual dialogue. My own script is full of graphs and charts reminding me how to position costumes for the most efficient quick-changes and notes about finally remembering not to leave the loops on that one dress over the hanger.

In spite of all our planning, an equivalent amount of creative problem-solving and quick thinking is necessary in a play notorious for rapid-fire action. If an actor is exiting the stage with a torn curtain—or a chair in three pieces, as the case may be—it is the backstage crew’s job to figure out what to do about it in that moment, especially if the prop will be needed later in the performance. For me, this synthesis of careful coordination and quick improvisation is one of the things that makes being backstage for The 39 Steps both an intense and intensely rewarding and enjoyable experience.

The clock reads 6:01 as I enter the mainstage door. I make brief stops at the sign-in sheet and green room and then start on the pre-show checklist. This consists of making sure the right props are onstage for the top of the show and the correct footlight is in place and “where did those biscuits go?” and the battery for the lamp is plugged in and “really, what happened to the shortbread?” and all of the money is in the right pockets and “seriously, who would have taken something from the prop table?!?.” Phew!

Compere jacket #2, British police cape, sideburns on a headband, three stuffed sheep—this is the eclectic inventory of items I pile onto my arm before heading to stage left to do final checks on the coat hooks and prop tables. “Fifteen to places.” We look over the stage one last time. Everyone makes sure the lamp works, independently of one another. No wonder the battery goes so fast. “Ten to places.” Water bottles are filled. “Five to places.” Are the safety lights on? “Actors in places and….

Here we go!” During the performance, it stays as busy backstage as it was before the show. My notes to myself, verbatim, often look something like the following: “Assist change to milkman SR (stage right), then hightail it to SL (stage left) with trench coat and bring compere jacket #1, dropping off clown hat along the way. Make sure sunglasses are in right pocket. Prepare coat with cape, take milkman costume quietly from Tristan, and assist Katie’s change to salesman SL. Then get to dressing room pronto for Bristol’s change to Pamela.” Yes, indeed, there’s certainly plenty to do and the pedometer in my phone doesn’t rest often.

Collaboration is key; this is especially evident in the middle of the show. A play itself is a giant feat of collaboration and the backstage crew is a smaller collaboration within the larger. Sometimes one action will involve many members of the crew, such as the shadow screen plane scene in Act I. Other things fall into a natural sequence; after a while you begin to notice patterns, walking past the same person in the hallway carrying the same things after that one scene.

Once the intermission checklist has been completed (tea is poured, chairs are placed, rope on the banner is properly set, etc.), it’s time for Act II. “Actors in places!”  We sometimes refer to Act I as “the busy act” (it is, after all, the act where I run from “flying” a plane to trigger the fog machine and then immediately open the mid-traveler), but there are still many things to be done in the second half. Sheep must be herded positioned, flannel nightshirts must be wrestled with, and then there is what seems to and may be a matter of seconds to strike and reset the stage for the final scenes.

Curtains close, lights go up—it’s time to pre-set for the next show. This means lots of sweeping (if you’ve come to see The 39 Steps already, you’ll probably know why), tracking down errant opera glasses, or trying to attain some semblance of order in that one chaotic stash of costumes that always accrues on stage left. The post-show checklist is as important as the pre-show one, as this is the time where that one pair of sunglasses can be located before it has had time to disappear into the woodwork, seemingly of its own accord, and make you spend fifteen minutes looking for it the next day. That’s right sunglasses, you know who you are. After double-checking everything for a third time, we head out.

Kazoos, kilts, and knives—where else can you find such diversity of prop and costume? This medley is representative of the play itself, with a storyline that winds through territories from spellbinding thriller to screwball comedy to romance to a puddle on the dark Scottish moors. And now, when you catch one of the last three opportunities to attend this show (available at or 360.221.8268!) and see all of the incredible onstage feats of acting, you can imagine the glorious frenzy occurring behind the scenes as well.


She stands taller than statues.
Her convictions resolute and austere,
come here to test your tensile strength.

She’s gone long beyond causes
cracking cavities with adamant pickaxes
and grinding inequities away like so much sawdust.

She dusts her hands with gunpowder
and ties her hair back
with the blindfold of Lady Justice.

She ignites the pro-choice interstate
(there are no network connectivity problems here.)

Just her:
standing taller than statues.

Sure Footed

Have you ever considered
that you are the one
who makes the wind blow
furiously around and
through the trees?

(When you anger,
is there thunder?)

Never doubt you are a force of nature.

The earth rejoices
in every powerful thought
and contemplation
of fighting the battle
or walking away from it.

Your mind: the war room.
Your body: the armor.

When you seek blood,
the elements collaborate
to manifest
the tearing of flesh.

Take strength from this.
Take strength from this.
Take strength from this.

Emancipating Gender in Theatre

This was going to be an essay about trains.

When I was ten years old, I saw the Robert Preston and Shirley Jones version of The Music Man for the first time. I was enthralled. I would march around the backyard with a tree branch conducing 76 trombones. I would bellow “W-w-w-w-ell, you got Trouble my friends!”

Rock Island

This was well before my household had a personal computer or the internet, so I couldn’t look up the lyrics of songs. I wanted to memorize all of the different parts to Rock Island, which is spoken word piece that opens The Music Man. Several salesman are sitting on a train and talking about their products and the scourge Harold Hill who is giving all other salesman a bad name by swindling towns out of money. The lyrics, performed percussively, mimic the sounds of a train leaving the station, picking up speed and slowing down at the next stop.

I used the interlibrary loan system to the libretto from another branch. Once it arrived, I set up chairs in my living room, switching seats as I learned all of the different parts. I was a quick study, and learned the entire number by the end of the week.

I shared this story at a rehearsal for The 39 Steps earlier this week. The 39 Steps isn’t a musical—it’s a play based on the Hitchcock film. It’s written for four characters: the handsome leading man, his three love interests (all played by the same woman) and two clowns, who play over 100 roles, ranging from policemen, to spies to underwear salesman on a train. The two clowns are traditionally played by two men.

(I’m going to warn you right now, this essay it not going to be told in linear fashion. We are going to jump back and forward multiple times, and that’s ok. If I were telling you this story in person, there would likely be moments of me saying “Well, wait, we have to go back ten years…but then remember the thing I said five minutes ago? Let’s go back there, now!” I thank you in advance for your patience.)

The reason that this essay was going to be about trains is that while we were blocking the train scene, it reminded me of memorizing Rock Island when I was a kid. One of the other actors looked at me and said, “Now, that’s a blog post.” And I added it to my to-do list without much thought.

It’s New Year’s day as I write this and I’ve spent the last couple of hours thinking that this needs to be more than a piece about trains and salesman. It needs to be about how my relationship to performing gender both onstage and off has changed. So here we go.

As I said before, the roles of the two clowns in The 39 Steps are usually played by two men. I want to unpack why this wasn’t the case for this show, why that’s a good thing and express my sincere hope that modern theatre starts/continues considering/putting into practice gender neutral/gender queer casting on a wider scale.

I’m going to use my personal journey with gender expression and performance as a (mostly) linear through line to demonstrate how many twists and turns I’ve experienced. And by doing that, we’ll eventually get to why I was cast as a man in The 39 Steps. (I promise!)

TomboyBack to ten year old me. I displayed the attributes of a tomboy (for lack of a better word), using the definition of tomboy as “a girl who enjoys rough, noisy activities traditionally associated with boys.” My best friend and I played with sticks as swords and chased each other around the backyard. We played Power Rangers, astronauts and aliens and when we learned and sang song from Disney movies, we stayed away from the princess songs and opted for the funny sidekick’s songs or the villain’s songs.

I am reminded here of a line from Sarah Galvin’s fantastic essay, My Whole Life I’ve Been Asked If I’m a Girl or a Boy: “I became Captain Hook as a child because Captain Hook was powerful—he could do things I had no evidence little girls could.”

I remember my mother preparing me for a video audition for a summer repertory theatre and saying I should audition for both Mary in The Secret Garden and Winthrop in The Music Man. The suggestion confused me: I was a girl, but I could pretend to be a boy?

At another audition, I insisted on singing Mister Mistoffelees from Cats. The folks sitting behind the audition table looked perplexed.

I began to look at the musical theatre cannon with a beautiful lens where I could go far any part I wanted to, regardless of gender. I watched Little Shop of Horrors and decided to memorize the Dentist’s song.

And then the big 12 came around. The summer I turned twelve, I went through puberty. I shot up several inches and it changed the way I felt in my body and how directors saw my body and how it fit into their vision of casting. That summer, I wanted to be the villain in the musical of Aladdin, but I got cast as the villain’s sister.

Spring of 1998. Sleeping Beauty. This was when the shit really hit the fan.

Sleeping BeautyFor the first time, I was cast as a romantic lead. I played the serving woman of the princess, who in this particular fairy tale version ends up with the prince. It was uncomfortable. I was having a hard time adjusting to my newfound height and breasts and periods…I felt lost. I looked to the older high school girls and their actions to see if I could mimic them for survival.

One of the things I saw the older girls doing was kissing each other on each cheek to greet one another. So, I kissed one of my friends on her cheeks when she came to see the show. Another girl witnessed this and spread a rumor throughout our middle school that I was gay.

I grew up in the Midwest, and I’ll have to admit that at 12 years old, I didn’t have a good grasp of what “gay” meant. What I knew was that I was getting verbally and physically assaulted at school because kids thought I was gay. I don’t remember telling my mom and I don’t remember telling any teachers. I felt that I had done something wrong and now no one liked me. My middle school logic dictated that:

gay = finding girls attractive = getting bullied


not gay = finding boys attractive = being left alone

I didn’t stop to ask myself if I actually did find girls attractive. I just wanted to feel safe at school.

Since my family didn’t have a lot of money, I wasn’t able to make a huge overhaul of my wardrobe. But I found myself making choices to perform my femininity as much as possible, having dramatic infatuations with boys that I made sure I told everyone about except the boy. These crushes never worked out. They weren’t meant to. I just wanted to display/show/perform/prove that I didn’t like girls, so-can-the-bullying-stop-now-please?

In high school, I did show choir and participated in the big annual musical. I played Mrs. Paroo in The Music Man, Ruth in Pirates of Penzance and Fantine in Les Miserables. In the summers, I participated in programing with The Young Shakespeare Players. YSP produced un-cut versions of Shakespeare’s works with ages 8-18. I got to play the Earl of Northumberland in Richard II, Duke Vincentio in Measure for Measure and Iago in Othello. The kids who participated in YSP were not from my high school. They came from more liberal areas of Madison and its suburbs and many were homeschooled. Performing male roles felt safe there. And many other young women were doing it as well.

College gave me the space to think and learn and start becoming more of an individual. I took a class on God and Gender and my world cracked open. I became fascinated with Judith Butler and Gender Performance theory. A central concept of the theory is that gender is constructed through one’s own repetitive performance of gender.

“…if gender is instituted through acts which are internally discontinuous, then the appearance of substance (last 3 words italicized) is precisely that, a constructed identity, a performative accomplishment which he mundane social audience, including the actors themselves, come to believe and to perform in the mode of belief. If the ground of gender identity is the stylized repetition of acts through time, and not a seemingly seamless identity, then the possibilities of gender transformation are to be found in the arbitrary relation between such acts, in the possibility of a different sort of repeating, in the breaking or subversive repetition of that style.” (Performative Acts and Gender Constitution An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory by Judith Butler.)

Learning about this theory didn’t necessarily change anything immediately about the way in which I performed my gender, but I felt an overwhelming sense of relief. There was freedom in discovering there was an aspect of choice when it came to gender.

Beyond TherapyFor my senior project, I directed Christopher Durang’s Beyond Therapy. The title of the project was “Beyond Therapy: Beyond Social Constructions of Gender and Sexuality.” In the end, I was extremely proud of production and the conversations we had about gender theory in the rehearsal room (although I may have not been the most qualified person to lead those discussions.)

I moved to Whidbey Island the summer after I graduated college. I had just turned 22 and packed my life in my Toyota Camry, driving from Minnesota to Whidbey in two days. I became involved with the vibrant theatre community, and that’s where I met Deana Duncan.

Deana is the Programming and Production Director at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts. When I auditioned for Sweeney Todd in 2008, I had my eyes set on the role of Mrs. Lovett. As I came into the callback, she asked me “Would you be willing to audition for Pirelli?”

As actors, we’re trained to say yes whenever possible to directors. So I said yes to her without thinking. And I got the part.

PirelliIf you’re not familiar with the musical, Pirelli is an Italian barber who Sweeney challenges to a shaving duel. It’s a male role. I cut my hair shorter, bound my chest with Ace Wrap and used makeup to make my features read as more masculine. It’s higher tenor role, so I was able to sing most of the score as written, only transposing the lowest of notes. I had a pair of bright orange pants custom-made by the costumer. The experience was incredibly freeing as a performer. I got to simultaneously disappear and yet feel more like myself than I ever had before onstage.

Before season auditions in August, Deana and I were sitting at our good friend Matthew’s wedding talking about The Addams Family. I really wanted the role of Wednesday, which was written as 18-30 in the script. I felt confident that I could sing and act the role as strongly as anyone who came to audition, but acknowledged that the director might want to go with a more petite Wednesday (more about my experiences being a plus-sized actress here). I also expressed interest in playing Gomez, saying, “I mean, Pirelli…Gomez…they’re kind of the same guy.” We both laughed.

I went on to say that I wanted to list on the audition form that I was interested in/had experience playing male roles, but didn’t know how that would sit with a director who didn’t know me. And Deana’s eyes lit up. “You know, the two clowns in The 39 Steps, they’re traditionally played by men, but they wouldn’t have to be.”

I smiled and nodded politely. When I got a callback for the clowns in The 39 Steps, I was surprised by how much fun I had in the callback, rapidly shifting between different male characters. And by the end of the callback, I really wanted to be one of the clowns. I wanted to be one of the clowns more than I wanted to be Wednesday in The Addams Family. By the time I got home, there was already a voicemail from Deana offering me the role.

Deana recently visited the Off-Broadway run of The 39 Steps and took a backstage tour. When she told the producer that she had cast a woman in one of the clown roles, he raised an eyebrow.

“Are you sure you can do that?” He asked.

She replied that she checked with the licensing company that held the rights for the show and they had given her the go-ahead.

“I went with talent,” she explained.

I went with talent. I love those words. What wonderful words.

This is why I applaud this particular casting decision. Yes, it means I get to be a part of an amazing production. But what it also means is that she looked outside of what tradition casting was for this show—she expanded her vision of what the play was and chose actors who best served that vision, instead of locking herself into the way casting had traditionally been done for this show.

I’m delighted to be seeing more decisions like this one. The hit musical Hamilton tells the story of America’s Founding Fathers with a show-stopping group of multiracial actors. Creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda was quoted recently as being open to having women play the leading roles:

“I’m totally open to women playing founding fathers once this goes into the world. I can’t wait to see kick-ass women Jeffersons and kickass women Hamiltons once this gets to schools.”

Gender blind casting is sometimes a necessity in education settings—they’re simply aren’t enough men or boys to play the male roles, so girls get cast in those roles. How fantastic if what was once a necessity became more of a casting convention.

This past summer, I saw an all-female cast of 1776 on the Seattle Musical Theatre stage. 1776 is one of my favorite musicals, but it’s a show that only has two roles for women. I was deeply moved by this production, because the story didn’t lose anything for making the choice of having an all-female cast. The highly-committed performances of all the actors elevated the musical to new a new artistic level for me.

At most auditions I’ve been to post-college, there have been at least twice as many (if not three times) female actresses auditioning than male actors. In the script itself, the ratio is often reversed: two male speaking roles for every one speaking role for women. In a 2012 study conducted by The Guardian, Charlotte Higgins found that “…there is a stubborn 2:1 male-to-female problem in English theatre, which runs from boards of directors through to actors.”

Groups like The Kilroys are making great strides to increase awareness of female and trans* playwrights and challenge theatres to create gender parity in the plays they choose for their seasons. But what if theatres started to make decisions like “Regardless of the season we pick, we commit to hiring the same amount of male and female actors.”

I want to see more female Hamlets. An all-female cast of The Importance of Being Earnest. If we continue to produce theatre by dead white men, I want to see more and more gender blind casting and what that casting does to the story. Does it uncover other themes? Does it challenge what the original author meant? Does it inspire audiences to see gender in a completely different way?

genderqueerIn my recent interview with theatre artist Ada Karamanyan, we discussed what it means for casting directors to have gender neutral or gender queer actors come into the audition room.

Ada responded: “To me, that’s just like putty in your hand from a casting perspective, if you have somebody come in and there’s a…not to put it in a box, but let’s say androgyny to it or a lack of a construct of ‘this is a very feminine person’ or ‘this a is a very masculine person’ but you have a could really do anything with it.”

I am heartened by local companies like Copious Love Productions who have added the following language to audition notices: “Copious Love STRONGLY encourages all ethnicities, actors of color, ages and gender identities to audition for any role that interests you!”

As a bisexual, genderqueer performer, I see audition notices like this and it makes my heart sing. I’m thirty years old, and I feel more like myself than I ever before. I am more comfortable in my own skin.

I saw my first Drag King show last weekend. It was fantastic and I can’t wait to get up on that same stage and perform. I want to start working my way through my new musical theatre bucket list as a performer. It includes Sweeney Todd, the Street Singer from ThreePenny Opera, Harold Hill, Pippin, Judas from Jesus Christ Superstar, the Dentist from Little Shop, and The American in Chess to name a few.

I woke up this morning to see that one of my favorite writers, Ijeoma Oluo, had posted this on Facebook: “Let’s emancipate gender this year.”

Reading her words lit the fire under my ass to write this essay. So let’s do it. Let’s emancipate gender in theatre.

To the girl walking the pink inflatable dog

I saw you standing in front
of the building at the corner
of 2nd and Jackson. You were
walking your pink dog

b a c k
& f o r t h

and scolding him.

Wagging your finger, you said:
“You really need to listen
to me and BEHAVE!”

Delivering your lines
with all the steadfastness
of a character
in an Ibsen play

I stood,
watching your
scene play out.

(Wishing I could take part.)

You perceived
an audience
and glanced over
your shoulder:
pursing your lips,
smiling at me,

getting back
to the task at hand.