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“You find peace . . . by realizing who you are at the deepest level” – Eckhart Tolle

Posts tagged ‘Los Angeles Lady Arm Wrestlers’

#RadWomenUnite: Amanda McRaven

 

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© Tess. Lotta

Courageous, community-minded, gorgeous, and smart as hell, Amanda McRaven is a powerhouse. She embodies the bust-through-your-fears guts and enterprise that define the folks featured in my Rebel Beauty Project.

A holder of an MA in Community-based theater, an MFA in Directing, as well as a BA in English and Drama, Amanda brings her social justice sensibilities to her work as a director, educator, writer, and collaborative theater creator. A Fulbright Award recipient, her dedication to collaborative and socially-conscious performance is apparent in all the work she does, including teaching Performance Studies at California State University, Northridge, creating works with her theater company, Fugitive Kind, and serving passionately as the founding member and Executive Producer of the LA Lady Arm Wrestlers (LA LAW).

I met Amanda in 2015 though Facebook (yes, good things can happen on FB)! I was researching local feminist-based groups in LA for which to offer my photography services as a give back, and I landed on an event for an LA LAW bout at Brokechella. As a feminist artist and activist, the trifecta of LA LAW’s fundraising, feminist, and social-justice mission instantly aligned, and I happily discovered that the Brokechella shoot served as my initiation into the larger LA LAW family.

Framed as volunteer-based, synergetic performance ensemble, LA LAW reads as a democratic collective steeped in post-structuralist feminisms: think a wild, unapologetic, egalitarian, inclusive mashup of Intersectional Feminism, Queer Theory, and ensemble theater modalities in the service of fundraising for local nonprofits and providing audiences with top shelf comedic, physical performance theater. It is brilliant. It is super positive. It mirrors the personal philosophy Amanda draws on for all her endeavors.

Read on to discover what fuels this Rebel Beauty.

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Tell me a little about LA LAW—what drew you to founding the Los Angeles Lady Arm Wrestlers?

LA LAW was a love note to my hometown of Charlottesville (Virginia), where the movement started. When I moved to LA, I wanted to bring that piece of home with me. And I had known Jess at Bootleg for many years and knew it would be the perfect home for it. So I pitched it, and here we are 5 years later, having raised over $30,000 for our community.

Considering the incredible amount of work that goes into LA LAW, what keeps you coming back—what makes it all worth it for you?

Oh wow. Every single event I have a moment where I am looking out over the crowd, and I am seeing everyone buzzing and exuberant and absolutely alive and astonished and it overwhelms me. I stand there for a few moments in bliss, just letting all that joy in and marveling what it is. I still don’t know. I think it’s a combination of so many different kinds of liveness that people are hungry for. And the community. I spend my life creating community through art. That will always always keep me coming back.

What drew you to the performing arts? What is one major element that keeps you excited about creating?

I have been performing since I was 12, when I signed up for Musical Drama Class on a whim and got cast as Annie in Annie Get Your Gun. I haven’t stopped since then. Performance is the one kind of creativity that is a live exchange between strangers: creators and witnesses. That liveness is my lifeblood.

As a founding member of Fugitive Kind, what are some of the inspiring and also challenging aspects of creating and developing a theater company?

As an Artistic Director of a tight ensemble, you are the head of a family. The inspiring aspects are also the challenging ones: understanding where all the hearts are in the room on a given day and leading them to create powerfully together by first being human together. It’s a lot of work to keep us all together in a healthy and rich way, but it’s so important. I have worked with many of them for over ten years now and it is a magnificent journey to know each other so well. The challenge, too, is to not get myopic. To always consider, “can this story intrigue an audience of people we don’t know or are we just making ourselves happy”?

I imagine that sustainability is a challenge. What do you want people to know about the importance of theater, in general, and especially in a town like Los Angeles?

That it’s a fantastic place to make theater—lots of heart and love. Actors are hungry for physical, live, ensemble work. They spend much of their lives doing commercial work, so we have this vast landscape of theatrical talent that is quite remarkable when you tap into it.

You mentioned that yoga, meditation, and mindfulness inform your teaching and directing modalities. Tell me what you draw from these practices? 

Mindfulness is EVERYTHING. I have heard it described as the pause before acting. In that pause are vast stories and the opportunity to speak kindly and honestly. Being an educator and a director is about getting the very best out of your team. It’s also about being fully and authentically present in the room. So directing is absolutely a mindful practice.

Share a little about the specific work you do with refugees, veterans, and formerly incarcerated women. What is important to you about this work—why these voices? 

Live performance has the great gift of literally being able to give voice to the voiceless. When you are raised up in the theater and you have a sense of social justice, community-based work becomes necessary. It’s how artists build houses and save lives. My work with communities to tell their own stories to heal, to celebrate, to protest, to learn to speak has been the most formative work of my life. I have a t-shirt that says We Will Save The World With The Stories We Tell. And we will. The only thing that will save us now is listening and hearing each other. We save the world at the community level, not with who we vote for for president. We save the world one act at a time. Community-based theater is my way of acting.

As a professor of Performance Studies, part of your focus is on the application of performance theory to social change. In what ways do you feel performance art/theater can participate in larger social justice narratives and movements? Is it just about staging resistance narratives?

Staging resistance narratives is a huge aspect of it. We see it happening now, in our current political climate, nearly every day. People showing up in pink pussy hats or standing in solidarity with Charlottesville. Performance has the power of VISIBILITY. Humans are compelled by image. Performance allows us to change the image. Taking a knee on a football Sunday will never be forgotten. We stage resistance for a long time, and one person is brave enough to do it on a national stage where we can’t look away and then the NFL does it. And then change happens. But it starts with one strong performance of belief, with changing the story so powerfully that it sticks.

When working on my MA in English, I wrote papers on feminist characters in Shakespeare. Considering your extensive experience working with Shakespeare as an actor and director and your passion for creating feminist, socially conscious theater, tell me how you feel the works of Shakespeare you have presented with Fugitive Kind align with this passion.

Feminist and queer approaches to Shakespeare are absolutely vital. We have a history of holding plays like Hamlet up as masterworks of human nature, but if you look at it, it’s not that—it’s the story of a man lost as to how to fulfill masculine social constructs.

Many of Shakespeare’s plays are in that world. But even so, he was someone who wrote females characters with such love and sometimes astonishing clarity. Like Tennessee Williams, he was pushing against the structures of his time as far as he could. I believe in confronting those structures head on and exploding them. What are we saying if we leave endings like Twelfth Night (or any of the comedies really) intact? Every single one reinforces a heteronormative dynamic that, frankly, I am tired of. What if these stories were told by women or gender non-conforming folks? Not women playing men, but women being women? I don’t at all think that every production has to do that, but it is something that I, as an artist at this stage in her career, must do.

I am no longer ashamed to make feminist theater and to call it that. I was a fierce fighting angry little feminist in undergrad, then mellowed because I was told to, and I learned to make theater and to break all the rules and make big luscious physical bold plays, but I wasn’t brave with what I did with gender. I was participating in telling the same stories, just in a cool form. Now, I fight to tell love stories between all kinds of people because love stories happen between all kinds of people. I fight to foreground women’s experiences.

Any final thoughts you would like to share with readers?

I am so honored to be part of the Rebel Beauty Project. When you are a woman who walks through the world in this body, the times are astonishingly rare that you are told that you are objectively beautiful and worthy of being in a camera lens. This is a powerful project. On the outside I am soft and fleshy, on the inside strong lines and edges. When I saw the photos we did together, I saw the me that I always am on the inside, but never get to see. It is a remarkable thing. Thank you.

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Dial In:

Amanda’s website

Fugitive Kind

Collective of Lady Arm Wrestlers

 

#RadWomenUnite: Marian Gonzalez

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© Tess. Lotta

Marian Gonzalez is an icon of Rebel Beauty. Not only does she hold a huge and kind heart, she possesses that addictive quality of effortless beauty—the kind of glow that grows from investing courageously in community, family, and one’s own freedom of spirit.

I met Marian in 2015, while shooting a bout for the Los Angeles Lady Arm Wrestlers. Known to her LA LAW compatriots and fans as the gothy Martian aristocrat Princess Zarkoja, Marian’s seemingly ominous wrestling persona is underscored by the comedic chops of a theater actor.

LA LAW wrestlers commit not only 100% to their character, but also, alongside equally dedicated volunteers, to the entire endeavor of their seasonal bouts, events that raise funds for local nonprofits. A member of three theater companies (Sacred Fools, Broads’ Word Ensemble, and LOFT Ensemble), this type of dedication is not new to Marian, and as readers will discover in this interview, it is just one spark that fuels her lovely and captivating fire.

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When and how did you become involved with Los Angeles Lady Arm Wrestlers (LA LAW)? 

In 2012, I participated in the first two LA LAW events as part of my friend Alyson’s entourage. Her character was THE TECHNICIAN. Her entourage was composed of adoring actors. I went in drag as Jimmy “Mouth of the South” Hart. We were both pro-wrestling fans, so she loved that. The next year, I asked if I could wrestle.

From what I witnessed, you are one of the fan favorites! How does it feel to experience that? Importantly, why do you continue to participate in LA LAW? Is it all about the match win? 

Zowie. You can’t see it, but I’m blushing. It is humbling to hear this. Occasionally, I’ve run into people who recognize me—while working as an extra, attending trans activism events, or riding the train. It is amazing anytime I hear someone tell me they like me. But, it makes me so happy that they come to our events and enjoy themselves. Every ticket sold helps people, and I like running into people who have helped.

I do have to say it makes me feel fifty feet tall when someone tells me they’re a fan. This is the closest I’m ever going to get to the inside of a wrestling ring for the WWE, and it makes my heart soar to not only do this, but that people enjoy it.

As fun as it is, a lot of hard work goes into it. I train year round for something that happens two days a year. It feels good to win. I guess I shouldn’t pretend to act like I don’t care, but the wins aren’t the reason I do this.

LA LAW is a big, nuts happening, but its purpose is also to help the community. And, we are a performance event. What matters to me is raising money for the groups we help, putting on a good show, and empowering women. On the night of the event, the show is what matters.

The ladies of LA LAW are all tough as hell. Arm-wrestling any of them is tougher than against any dude. If I lose, I lose. Maybe Zarkoja’s story that night turns to plotting revenge. I just want folks to have fun.

 You shared in regard to wrestling that, “Feeling like I have some control over my body has helped me deal with my dysphoria like almost nothing else.” It would be awesome to hear more of your voice on such an important point you raise. 

Every transgender person is very different. Our stories are greatly varied. One of the things so many of us do have in common is the horror that comes with our bodies changing in ways that we don’t want. Our vessels change in ways that are in defiance of who we are. Sometimes we figure it out early, and we know why puberty is so upsetting, even if there’s nothing we can do about it. Puberty hit and I had no idea why changes that delighted the boys my age made me so sad. It hurt all the more as I got older.

I didn’t understand that I was a woman, but I felt a definite and clear idea that I wanted people to think I was. I just knew that it would be unlikely that anyone would ever believe me. I had no idea what any of this meant. But, the world told me there were so few ways of what women should look like. I certainly didn’t look like that.

At most, I saw the drag queens on Sally Jessie Raphael were what I should have looked like. The guests revealed to be male on “Guess If This Is Really a Woman or Man” episodes on Jennie Jones were  what I should have I looked like. Yet, I certainly was not shaped like either of those! There was no hope. I didn’t feel suicidal, just sad. My vessel betrayed me. I think I may have been depressed.

Being me, it felt like everyone else had control over their bodies, like they had agency, like they weren’t just borrowing their bodies. They looked like they actually lived in them. I wondered what that must have felt like.

Being trans, any control you have over your body is sweet and joyous. Whether it’s stumbling across the right kind of shape wear that helps me stop panicking, or the doctor telling me that my prescription for hormones will be waiting downstairs, to suddenly feel like you have agency over your body feels like moving a mountain.

Tell me about the ways in which wrestling has helped you deal with dysphoria? What do you see as key empowering moments in your journey and why were they empowering? Does your LA LAW persona, Princess Zarkoja, tie in with your journey—how and in what ways? 

I’ve been severely overweight most of my life. I dropped a lot of it. It felt good, but the shape of my body still felt weird.

Around the same time I came out and started presenting as female, I rediscovered pro-wrestling. Women’s wrestling was swinging back towards less of a novelty. They got to develop characters and storylines. They got to actually wrestle, and as hard as the men! Being the kind of lady I am, that on its own felt very Girl Power. The more I watched and cheered the more I noticed something about them.

Every one of those women were unmistakably female. They had broad shoulders and thick arms. They looked like me. It is one thing to believe to your core that what a woman is shaped like is what a woman should be shaped like, to believe that the horrible standards placed on women’s bodies is a deeply structured system that is good and pure to fight against. It is another thing altogether, a very difficult one at that, to feel so positive about one’s self.

Being strong, like capital “S” Strong, wasn’t just a male quality. It was a female quality as well, but it was still seen as a MAN THING. So, when I watched Bayley, and Charlotte, and Chyna, I felt at home. I’m strong, and I feel good about it.

I train six days a week for two nights with LA LAW. Someday, my life might need to take me in a different direction, or I won’t be physically able to do this anymore. But now, my body doesn’t feel like a thing I am borrowing. It feels like it belongs like me. And I know that I’m going to always feel that way forever! And, it is so nourishing.

I gave myself permission to be the woman I am. I want that for every woman. I want every woman to revel in giving themselves permission to be the woman they are. And if Pamela Martinez and Joanie Laurer could be superheroes and women, then I could be a super villain. So, the Most Exalted Princess Zarkoja, True Princess of Mars, is, like her name suggests, vain and bitchy. I love that asshole.

At our photoshoot together, you shared an experience of being misgendered Reflecting on this, in what ways has taking custody over your own body helped you with the ongoing effort of living safely and with dignity in the world?

Not all trans women pass as cis. Not all of us want to. But, if we want to be treated like humans, we sometimes still need to.

I don’t feel great talking about passing or passive privilege. I feel nervous about acknowledging my privilege. It’s not just that talking about it or acknowledging makes me feel like it will go away. But, it makes me feel gross to want it and have it. It feels kind of shitty to acknowledge as someone who passes that I don’t too much care if I pass, so long as people acknowledge that I am a woman. For the most part, that is true.

I just assume that about the world around me. I just assume that people are willing to treat me as who I am. But then, cis women often start talking to me about their cycles. I hear about how it makes them feel and how it’s a part of them (also, it turns out, I have a cycle, too. No one warned me this would happen, but it does, and it’s wonderful and awful and I love it). And, through all this, it is easy to say that I don’t care about passing.

But I do care. People treat you one way if you’re trans, but they treat you like anyone else if they think you’re cis. And, it can mean my safety.

Getting misgendered is a sharp stab that comes into my heart. It feels like an attempt to invalidate my identity to the world around me. Whether it’s subconscious or not, it says to me that even though the person they are seeing is wearing a skirt or makeup and has visible boobs, they don’t care and want to let you know that you are who they say they are. When it happens within earshot of others, my blood turns to ice.

It is one thing to own my identity and feel rooted firmly in my real gender. But, often it feels like it is a courtesy given to me by cisgender people. And, sometimes, it feels like they’ll take it away.

In the spring, I’d decided to change my hair. I had the same haircut since before I’d transitioned. I guess I’d been nervous about changing something that was seen as a signifier of female. So, I got brave and bold and got bangs.

After about a week, I noticed that I hadn’t been misgendered. I’ve made the joke that it feels like my face finally makes sense. If you’re trans, that joke is hilarious.

I still do get misgendered. It’s just far less now. Maybe bangs helped me reach a new level of I Don’t Care. Ugh. Privilege is gross.

I used to be afraid of showing that I was strong. I’d pretend that it was really difficult to carry the laundry or to lift my own suitcase. I’d be afraid that I’d be seen doing something like carrying the groceries and someone would scream that they just saw a man wearing makeup.

After my first time with LA LAW, I didn’t care anymore. I’d lift my own suitcase. And everyone else’s while I was at it! I was Big Barda! I was Bull Nakano and Becky Lynch! Finally, I get to be Pippi Longstocking, like I’d always wanted to be.

You are an actor and member of small performance art theater. When and how did you get into acting/performing?

I was a theater kid in high school. I got very lucky in my junior year when I found the one elective that had a space open. It turned out that I loved acting. It felt like a piece that had been missing.

Not a whole lot came from it afterwards. I didn’t consider studying acting at all. Then, a friend asked me to help be the run crew for a show at Sacred Fools. That was fourteen years ago. I didn’t really start getting serious about pursuing this career until after I came out. I don’t know how to want to do anything else.

Tell me about a few of the personally rewarding aspects of participating in a theater group/company.  

My wife and I met in the theater. Certainly, that’s one of the most rewarding aspects.

Getting on stage and becoming someone else and collaborating with other people to make a thing that makes people smile or feel—these aspects have a spot in my heart, especially with the laughter. Laughter is one of the most honest things a person can feel, and it makes people feel really good when they laugh. The sound of laughter coming at me from something I’ve done makes me feel like I’m doing something right on this planet for other people.

You can choose your friends, and you can choose your family, too, sometimes, even if you don’t intend to. If you’re queer, sometimes you definitely end up needing to choose your family. I’ve found friends that I’m very close to and people who are family. We’re there for each other always. They’re theater nerds like we are.

Do you feel small theater is important to or has an impact on the larger Hollywood industry? Is it more about the craft of acting that is important?

Certainly, it sometimes seems that the prejudices in casting and representation so prevalent in Hollywood influence the theater community. After being told I did good work in a callback, I’ve had producers tell me I’m not being cast because the show isn’t about “topics like that.”

Obviously, so many of us want to be able to work in film and television. However, there are so many actors and so few opportunities. Theater is fantastic in that you get to actually perform and collaborate with other artists to design and produce something that will affect someone in any way. You grow as an artist from so many people putting so much of their souls together to make one thing.

What are a couple things  you find challenging about theater acting and how do you handle these challenges? 

Yeah, it’s hard to be trans, a lady, and brown if you’re an actor. People are often only willing to see you in certain roles. And then are often reluctant to produce works that call for people who aren’t specifically stated as being white, straight, and cisgender. It can be hard to even get an audition sometimes. People still even list breakdowns of characters as Male, Female, and Transgender.

I don’t know how well I handle it. It is pretty easy to feel dragged down. The best way I know is to keep charging forward the best I can. I’ve created my own work in the way of a performance artist routine that’s kind of like a vaudeville routine. And, also, through the opportunities I’ve had with LA LAW. I keep looking for places where I can fit. This helps sometimes.

You and your wife have been married for twelve years, an impressive amount of anniversaries compared to many relationships. How do you feel marriage—working at a long term, committed relationship—has changed you for the better? In what ways has marriage to your wife challenged you to grow? 

I couldn’t have figured out who I am without her help. Certainly, I wouldn’t have felt confident enough to explore my identity without her support. Coming out is scary.

I’m terrible at communication, sharing what I feel and think. This isn’t helpful in a marriage. Working on it has been a difficult process. Growing emotionally has helped me engage with her and the world in a healthy way.

Learning patience and a willingness to listen to the needs of someone who is not me has come hard. I really wouldn’t have been able to come out without her. Learning to be honest and open with her means I learn to be open and honest with myself.

Any final thoughts to share? 

For all that I’m feeling empowered and confident and joyous, I’m scared a lot these days. More than usual. Every year more and more trans women of color are killed. I’m past the average life expectancy for someone like me. Every day I’m alive feels like a statistical anomaly, and it makes me mad. It makes me impatient with creeps, too.

As much as my mortality is the constant background noise, it occupies so little of my mind. I just try to be careful. Most of my headspace is about monsters from history, and trying to figure out which bits of local lore I tell people is real or imagined.

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Dial In:

Marian was recently cast in her first film role in the upcoming Just a Little Bit Longer. On August 19th, she’ll be performing in Fast n’ Loose at Sacred Fools.

Find out more, including her podcast, click here to find Marian’s website!