THIS IS THE AUGUST: When Different Waves of Feminism Collide & the Social Politics of YouTube – In Conversation with Playwright Hillary Rexe
by Bailey Green
“Subjectivity is a powerful fucking place. What happens when the specimen that you have under the magnifying glass speaks back? We are children of the universe, no less than the sun or stars. It’s about time you started acting like it.” – Kim Katrin Milan, from her speech at SlutWalk (Toronto, 2012)
Before the dialogue for This is the August begins, this powerful quote on the second page of the script sets the tone. Playwright Hillary Rexe was moved to tears when she found Kim Katrin Milan’s speech while browsing through YouTube. “I found it while I was in my last draft, and it spoke to me. I wanted to inform the piece based on discourses of intersectionality and empathy,” says Rexe.
This is the August tells the story of three people. There’s Edie – a queer, sex-positive, millennial film student focused on building her YouTube brand. Bea – a baby boomer, out lesbian and a once successful documentary filmmaker who begins the play as Edie’s professor and lover. And Sam – Bea’s kid, a gender-neutral artist who paints galaxies and values their privacy.
The play grew out of conversations Rexe had with friends about second and third wave feminism and where they diverge. “[I was interested in] the places they collide or connect. For example, gender and gender identity do collide,” Rexe says. “Bea is a second wave feminist documentary filmmaker, who in her time was really revolutionary but she can’t wrap her head around this person who she thinks she knows, her 23-year-old kid.” The second divergence Rexe addresses in the piece is around sexuality. One of the ways this is explored is with Edie’s YouTube channel content, which often concerns her personal and sexual history. Bea cannot understand why Edie would want to make an object of herself. But Edie sees her work as sex-positive.
“I have so much empathy for Bea, because the good work of [second wave] feminism isn’t done, but the way she hears the characters in this play is ‘your ideas are dated, we’ve all moved on from this’,” Rexe says. “All three are volleying to each other and they just fail, but ultimately all three want to be understood and they have commonality.”
Rexe has an extensive background in editing prose, poetry, novels and has often focused on facilitating other people’s creative work. This is the August is her first play, and Rexe didn’t want to draw any hard and fast conclusions about the political topics that the characters battle with. “There aren’t easy answers,” Rexe says. “This is the first piece that, beyond my ego and shyness, I actually want to finish this and put it out into the world.”
Rexe’s piece explores the social politics of YouTube and how people present a version of themselves on YouTube versus how they interact in their public life. The production features Edie in real life and real-time recording her videos and then in the transitions, the audiences sees her edited videos. “YouTube dramatizes the need to please and be liked and wanted. You’ve been given this elevated place in the world, why did I get this and what did I do to keep this?” Rexe says.
Casting the show was an amazing experience for Rexe. She had set out to find a gender fluid, queer, or neutral person to play Sam who was also sexy, could sing/play music, who was local and who wasn’t white. “People laughed in my face,” Rexe says, “but I didn’t feel comfortable just casting any actor. So we posted on Jobs for Queers, and Heath V Salazar, and the magical unicorns that they are appeared.” Lauren Beatty, who identifies as queer and femme, is also a YouTuber. “I felt really lucky to find queer performers to play queer parts. Lauren is often cast as straight, and she’s said that it means a lot to her to represent her community,” Rexe says of Beatty who plays the character of Edie. Kimberly Huffman is “fantastic” as Bea and rounds out the cast.
“[Megan Piercey Monafu] is such a gift,” Rexe says of her director. “There has never been a time that someone has asked a question about set, aesthetic, anything, and Megan didn’t have the exact words in my mouth.”
For Rexe, this piece is the beginning of new ideas and projects. She praises her team, “the greatest joy in turn has been working and collaborating with such beautiful people who are so dedicated and invested to my script.” This is the August is just the beginning.
This is the August
Company – Young Prince Collective
Directed by Megan Piercey Monafu; Written by Hillary Rexe; Performed by Lauren Beatty, Kimberley Huffman, and Heath V. Salazar; Set Design by Allie Marshall; Original Artwork by Andrew Classen; Sound Design by Dave Clark; Stage Managed by Maricris Rivera; Produced by Curtis te Brinke, Rashida Shaw, Hillary Rexe, and Dana Herlihey.
Live music, painting, and YouTube videos engage and provoke in this darkly funny performance about the intersection of our real and online selves, especially when one goes viral.
Edie is a YouTube star who has just gone viral. Bea, her girlfriend and professor, is a documentary filmmaker who focuses her lens on marginalized women. She wants Edie to stop vlogging about her sex life and focus on more “important” work. Together they passionately negotiate their identities with, and without, each other: Millennial and Boomer, student and professor, lover and adversary. These conflicts of identity come to a head when Edie meets Sam – a multimedia artist who defies definition.
“Vlogs or docs? Second or third wave? Empowerment or power? Either/Or? Both/And? Throw love in there and what have you got? Something like a Venn diagram of sexuality, gender, and feminism today. But This is the August is no simple diagram; it’s a smart, funny play, rich with the complexities of contemporary life in the west.” – Guillermo Verdecchia
The Theatre Centre BMO Incubator
1115 Queen Street West
Saturday August 6th 12:00 PM – 1:15 PM
Sunday August 7th 8:00 PM – 9:15 PM
Tuesday August 9th 9:15 PM – 10:30 PM
Thursday August 11th 6:45 PM – 8:00 PM
Saturday August 13th 5:30 PM – 6:45 PM
Sunday August 14th 12:00 PM – 1:15 PM
More Show Info: