Directed by Xandria Nirvana Easterday Callahan
October 11-14 & 17-19, 2019
at Theatre Puget Sound's Theatre4
An Interview with the Director
Albatross Theatre Lab: What first drew you to Sagittarius Ponderosa?
Xandria Nirvana Easterday Callahan (they/them): Sagittarius Ponderosa is a show that’s not a tragedy – it's gentle piece about the nature of family and the humanity in us. It pulled me in with a sense of reality. The first few times that I heard people talking about the magical realism in the play, I didn’t understand why, or what magic they saw in this play. To me, it strikes such a cord of being real, of being a slice of life; it feels as if this is a story that is ongoing – it began before us and continues after us, and we are only witnessing this small piece of it. The magic in the play is in the reality of it – it shows us the magic in the world we already live in.
I fell in love with Archer’s gentle and quiet expectance of being home with his family, and having to adjust to a culture shock that is a step back in his personal timeline – a shock that isn’t about what is new, but rather what is old, a world he thought he had escaped, and instead he is faced with the reality of family always being important, and a part of who he is.
ATL: What does directing Sagittarius Ponderosa mean to you?
XEC: To me, Sagittarius Ponderosa is about chances. It is a chance for me to pour heart and soul into a piece of art that speaks to me. A chance to try my hand at something I might not normally do, while being surrounded by people who I know will support me in my successes and in my mistakes, and who I trust to give me honest feedback and opinions.
It's also about a duty: I have not seen anything like this piece, I have not heard of anything like this piece. I feel like it shows a side of transness that we don’t see portrayed in the media often, where being trans is just part of being, it's part of life, and everything else goes on as it goes on. Archer’s identity and the question of coming out to his family is not the driving point of this play, because it is not the driving point of his life. Perhaps there is a prequel of Archer’s coming out story, of his self discovery, but that isn’t the slice of his life we’re seeing. I feel like I have a duty to do something with a story that gives us the feelings, the difficulties, the fear, and the grief a trans person can face, that have absolutely nothing to do with being trans.
I attended a talk-back recently for a show where the lead was a lesbian and she had a girlfriend in the show. The show itself wasn’t about her queerness – her girlfriend was a secondary character – and someone asked “why did you make them queer?” The playwright replied “because I’m really fucking queer,” and that was the end of it. That is such an important piece of why we need to do art like Sagittarius Ponderosa. Archer is trans because people are trans, because the default is not cis, and trans people experience loss and grief and having to come home to family for thanksgiving, just like cis people. It's important to me that we tell these stories too.
ATL: Has this show helped you grow as a theatermaker? If so, how?
XEC: I cannot begin to measure the ways that I have grown. It is always easiest for me to look at how I’ve grown as an artist through how I’ve grown as a stage manager, which is the label I’ve had the longest. I was a stage manager before I came out as a lesbian, before I came out as agender, before I accepted and started to celebrate being fat. And on the very first day of rehearsal I thought to myself at least 5 times, “ah, now I understand why directors do that,” and I have only continued to think of those things. I believe in following my instincts in so many aspects of my life, including theater, and directing for me has become especially about following my instincts. To tell this story does not have to be hard; the words are there, we just have to say them.
I most recently stage managed for Leah Adcock-Starr, and I don’t know if I would be as sure on my feet in directing this show if I hadn’t spent a month in the rehearsal room with her. She led a calm and collected room that made us all feel secure. I knew that was what I wanted to do, and that the way for me to do it was not to copy her exactly, but to emulate the confidence that I could find my own way of making a space that was gentle to us; gentle enough to give us freedom in creating this piece, which is full of hard emotions, hard discoveries, and the realities of life.
I have learned an immense amount about trusting myself as an artist. I have spent more than a decade basking in the energy and talent of directors I admire and cataloging the things directors do that make actors uneasy, nervous, and generally not okay. Being in rehearsals for this show has solidified in me the idea that to create a wonderful show, you must have a cast that feels safe to do so. While that’s a belief I have held for most of my career, this show has taught me to speak out and to have a say in the room about making that a priority.
I have learned to take deep breaths, to close my eyes, and to trust. I’m used to being the person in the room people look to for answers, about things like where the bathrooms are and how long the show runs. Now I have learned that I can be the person to have answers about characters, circumstances, the core beliefs and the deep mindset of the play itself. I can trust myself to feel and be a part of the story, not just a facilitator of its telling.
ATL: What do you hope audiences take away from Sagittarius Ponderosa?
XEC: If people walk away from the show thinking that its going to be okay, then I’ll feel I’ve done my job. Obviously I’d like them to walk away thinking about more than that, but the crux of this play, boiled down to the barest, is that it's going to be okay.
I think its also worth considering the people in your life who are scared to be themselves around you, not through any fault of yours, but because each person in our lives goes through something different than we do each day.
I hope people leave thinking about the family they have and to think about them from a perspective not their own. We are often very selfish – it's in our nature. We only see the world through our own eyes, and so rarely take time to consider the inner workings of the people who care most about us. What does a child think? What does a mother need? What is grandma planning? Who are the people in our lives who we see everyday and are overlooking because of it?
ATL: Anything else you want our audiences to know?
XEC: Sagittarius Ponderosa is not a tragedy, but rather a story about how we deal with tragedy. About how our lives are not linear – one event does not wait patiently for the previous to finish – and that each person is unique in the way they exist in this world and how they see it around them. It's never to late to learn, or to grow, and that when we survive the fires in our lives, we are stronger for it.
Catch Xandria's work on stage: tickets for Sagittarius Ponderosa are on sale now. Get yours today!