Making a ‘clean’ start: Majestic production examines trans trauma

by | Jun 17, 2022 | Arts and Entertainment | 0 comments

During the course of the play “how to clean your room (and remember all your trauma),” its lead character, a transgender person of color named Spencer, works to tame the mess that is their bedroom – clothes are hung, trash is thrown away. Along the way, Spencer tries to come to terms with the trauma that has marked their life.

It’s not an easy task. And Rue Dickey, who’s directing the Majestic Readers’ Theatre Company production of the play this weekend, is hoping that audience members can add a little bit of their own to the mess.

Here’s Dickey’s notion: As audience members enter the Majestic Theatre’s Community Room, they’ll see a desk with pencils and pieces of paper on it.

If audience members have personal traumas “that they’re not ready to unpack and throw away themselves yet,” Dickey said, they can write them down and add the piece of paper to the mess in Spencer’s bedroom. As Spencer goes about cleaning their room during the play, the papers supplied by audience members will get thrown away as well, said Dickey, a transgender person who uses they and he pronouns.

And Spencer has plenty of issues to deal with in the play by j. chavez, a transgender playwright in the Pacific Northwest. Spencer finds objects that trigger memories – some painful, some pleasant. Spencer lived closeted until they went to college, which proved to be a mixed blessing, Dickey said: At college, “they were allowed to be who they really were but fell into a toxic party culture and this toxic cycle of relationships.”

Spencer’s story resonated with Dickey. So when Jimbo Ivy, the supervisor of the Majestic, reached out to Dickey, asking them to pitch a play that could be performed by the Readers’ Theatre during Pride Month, Dickey’s choice was “how to clean your room.”

“It’s a really heavy story,” Dickey said, as it deals with “substance use and abuse, trauma – and the trauma that comes with being closeted.”

But the play also has a playful, humorous side. For example: As Spencer confronts their memories, the characters enter the bedroom – but, with just a couple of exceptions, those characters are portrayed by puppets: The actors playing those characters manipulate the puppets, and Spencer (played by quinn b. rodriguez) interacts with the puppets. (The play calls for elaborate puppets, “Avenue Q”-style, but the Majestic budget didn’t allow for that – instead, the production uses colorful, elaborate sock puppets created by cast member Rina Amaranthine.)

Dickey said the play ends on a hopeful note, and that was important: “That meant a lot to me, because I feel like a lot of the times when we do queer drama we focus a lot on queer suffering and I wanted a play with a – if not a happy ending in a Disney way – at least a positive ending.”

Dickey, who majored in theater at Oregon State University and who now works as the marketing coordinator at the Corvallis Community Center, is proud that ‘how to clean your room’ is “the first show that Majestic’s ever had that’s trans-written, trans-directed and has a majority trans cast.”

“I wanted to have a show that really celebrated and centered queer people of color and trans people of color specifically,” they said. “And I wanted it to be a relatable experience for folks in Corvallis because, as someone who went to college here, I know that we have a lot of the same problems in our queer community here.”

The production itself has a relatively simple set – it’s set entirely in Spencer’s messy bedroom – but features some technical effects, such as a full lighting design. One of the show’s conceits, Dickey said, is that Spencer likes to gaze at the stars – but when they’re under stress, the stars twinkle. “So we bought twinkling lights and put them in the dimmer box so that we can speed up and slow down the twinkling of lights.”  

Outside of the play, Dickey made national news earlier this year, as they searched for ways to respond to the state of Texas’ efforts to investigate the parents of trans children. Dickey has been writing tabletop role-playing games (think Dungeons and Dragons) for about a decade and sells their games on the website itch.io. The website occasionally runs fundraisers for causes like racial justice and support for Ukraine. In these fundraisers, game creators bundle their games into a single purchase, with the proceeds going to charity.

Dickey enlisted the help of game creators worldwide, hoping to raise a few thousand dollars for two Texas organizations that help trans people, the Transgender Education Network of Texas and the Organización Latina de Trans en Texas

Dickey’s effort got bigger than that – in a hurry.

The bundle Dickey assembled eventually attracted about 500 games from 300 or so designers. The effort earned more than $406,000 from 43,510 contributors. The money raised will be split between the two organizations.

Dickey’s mother was among the contributors who purchased the bundle of games, but there turned out to be a catch: “My mom bought it to support what I was doing. And then she texted me, and was like, ‘I don’t want these games. Can I give them to somebody else?’”

If You Go

What: “how to clean your room (and remember all your trauma),” a play by j. chavez. It’s the June production of the Majestic Readers’ Theater Company.

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 18 and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, June 19.

Where: The Community Room in the Majestic Theatre, 115 SW Second Ave. in Corvallis.

How much: Tickets are $11, $16 and $21. Click here to buy tickets.

Cast and crew: Rue Dickey is the director. The cast includes quinn b. rodriguez, Rina Amaranthine, Shawna Harvey, Jack Thomas and Riley Lucas.

Of note: The Majestic has rated the play, R, restricted, for adult themes, including mental health issues, suicidal ideation, substance abuse, transphobia and homophobia and strong language.

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