In response to North Carolina's recent passing of the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, commonly known as HB2, Stephen Schwartz urged fellow theatre practitioners last month to follow his lead in denying any organization based in North Carolina the right to produce their work.
Transgender artist Shakina Nayfack is tackling HB2, which bars transgender citizens from using public bathrooms that do not correspond to their biological sex, in a very different way. She is taking her show, Manifest Pussy, on the road in North Carolina as a subversive act. Manifest Pussy combines her two earlier solo shows, One Woman Show and Post-Op, which together chronicle her transition story, leading up to and following her gender confirmation surgery.
“I thought, ‘I get it,’” says Nayfack of Schwartz's idea, “because as a financial statement, it’s important. But for me personally, theatre is such a tool for changing hearts and minds and it’s such a vehicle for social and political change, vis-a-vis entertaintment.
“The focus [of Manifest Pussy] is on demonstrating the ridiculous nature of this bill,” she continues. “This is a protest piece and a protest tour.”
Nayfack says she is also motivated to show her support for the LGBT community in North Carolina. “I’m going to do my show for the people who feel oppressed by their own state,” she says. “There’s such a value that comes from seeing yourself and your story reflected onstage. I remember the first time I saw Kate Bornstein perform, how I felt like it was someone like me. Or the first time I saw Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
“I can go down there and just do my show for whoever wants to see it,” she continues. “I can at least motivate them and let them know they aren’t alone. We’re not all turning our backs on them; in fact, we have their back.”
So far, Nayfack has booked seven venues in seven different cities and says, for the most part, people have been warm and receptive. She has been inundated with emails from strangers expressing gratitude, who are excited to see her perform. Sadly, she has also had to deal with transphobic comments on social media in the lead up to her tour.
“The stuff that’s hardest to deal with emotionally is when derogatory, de-humanizing insults come from other women,” says Nayfack. “I’ve gotten some really aggressive and offensive tweets so far.”
But Nayfack is concentrating on the task at hand. “The idea is to keep it really community-focused,” she explains. She and her band plan to crash on couches and stay with locals throughout North Carolina; they will host conversations with the community and will return the money made at each show to a local LGBT organization that is working to challenge HB2.
Her North Carolina tour will begin and conclude with performances of Manifest Pussy at Joe's Pub June 8 and June 23. Performances are set to take place June 11 at Fayatteville's Rock Shop Music Hall; June 12 at The Pour House Music Hall in Raleigh; June 13 at Asheville's Altamont Theatre; June 14 at Juggling Gypsy in Wilmington; June 15 at Upstage in Charlotte; June 16 at The Crown in Greensboro; June 17 at Chapel Hill's Local 506; and June 19 at The Pinhook in Durham.
The show features original songs composed by Julianne Wick Davis, Joel Waggoner, Zoe Sarnak, Joe Iconis, Nikko Benson, Sam Salmond, Michael R. Jackson, Teresa Lotz, Lauren Marcus and Shaina Taub. Click here to donate to the Manifest Pussy tour.