I Am Not a Girl is the story of Erica who questions who she is, including her gender.
I Am Not a Girl is the story of Erica who questions who she is, including her gender.

Based on an anonymous true story, Vancouver’s Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard Productions Society presents the new play, I Am Not a Girl.

I Am Not a Girl is the story of Erica who, born into a large family in the 1970s, questions who she is, including her gender. A journey of self-discovery through a world of drugs, sexual encounters, failed relationships, and finally a life-changing transition to male. With the support of her mother, Erica faces the challenges of becoming Eric.

In this Q&A we find out more from writer and director, Ren Kennedy and the plays’s star, Kia Vance.

This interview has been edited.

What is I Am Not A Girl about?

Ren Kennedy: The show is about a young person who struggles through the normal journey of any child/teenager, but soon finds that they are deeply unhappy with the way their body looks. Realizing that they have been born into a body that does not reflect their truth, with the help of their mother they embrace the arduous journey of the physical, emotional, spiritual and mental transformation that results in finally being at peace with themselves.

It is a love story first and foremost, between a mother and child, that in turn becomes a love story of one human being coming to terms with and finally loving themselves, allowing them then to love others.

What have rehearsals been like? What has been difficult, and what has been fun?

Ren Kennedy: The rehearsal process has been unique in that our two actors were rehearsing for two months before our third person in the piece arrived. Sara Southey and Kia Vance who play Mom and Erica/Eric respectively made sure the work, blocking, memorization was all mastered so that when Sebastian (“Bash”) Hirtenstein arrived two weeks before opening in the role of Bash, we could thread him into the piece through improv and the vision that I had, but was unsure if it could actually work in practice. However due to their diligence and Bash’s amazing skill and professionalism it took shape quickly and turned out better than I could ever have imagined.

The material is heavy and the hours have been long and grueling at times, so we’ve all had our challenges to keep the energy and keep the positivity. But we always manage to pull together even amid the mini-blowups that are certain to occur due to the volatility of the piece.

What has been fun is watching how seamlessly Bash was able to thread into the tapestry that Sara and Kia had woven together. To see the work become flesh has been a source of great pride and joy for all of us and Bash has very quickly become our fourth musketeer, which is wonderful and necessary in a piece like I Am Not A Girl.

Another challenge of this piece was the casting of Erica/Eric. We had wanted a trans-male actor who would be willing to play both Erica and Eric, but it was simply too much to find an actor willing to take such a huge step backwards, often amid loss and unspeakable pain. The people we spoke to were happy to play Eric but Erica. So we turned to other actors in the LGBTQ community, opened casting and found Kia and we are very fortunate to have her. She is a wonderful actor and although we have been asked repeatedly about our choice to cast her, we feel confident we have made the right decision.

What intrigues you about the script?

Ren Kennedy: I Am Not A Girl is my debut as a playwright and it was with great trepidation that I accepted the job. Bill Hubbard and I co-wrote the new version in about two months. We started with 80 pages of monologues and after months of careful edits and re-writes ended up with the 55-page script, including more dialogue, monologues, visuals, dance/movement and original music.

The thing that hooked me about this story was it was based on months of careful research and that it was an homage to a close family friend who is trans-male. It felt like a passion project, which has always been my desire to help others to bring their stories to life. I especially love the relationship between the mother and the child which I believe rings true. There are no perfect archetypes in this work. There are people, deeply flawed and doing their best to cope with the ever-changing of terrain of gender identity, all the while finding the love in the moments of agony and confusion, finding the love amid the fear, the turmoil and volatility; always finding the love- this is what intrigues me most and of course, love wins in the end.

Why should audiences not miss this show?

Ren Kennedy: This is an important piece of theatre. We are just starting to have meaningful conversations about the transgender world, and to be part of a pioneering effort to get just one story about this topic out there on the stage will, I hope, encourage others to do the same.

To entertain and engage is equally important as it is to educate and spark conversation and this is my greatest desire that I Am Not A Girl will be a jumping off place for more people to create more projects so that the LGBTQ community would be more widely understood, embraced and accepted into society.

The work is a collaborative piece and it is a beautiful opportunity to see what happens when we refuse to embrace the cookie-cutter idea of one size fits all theatre and really have some fun. It’s a fun piece and although it can be quite emotionally raw at times, my hope is that  you leave the theatre a little more hopeful and a little more loving than when you arrived and if that’s too naïve, then you don’t know the power of theatre. I’ll save you a seat.

What character do you play?

Kia Vance: I will be making my theatrical debut as Erica/Eric and I am so honoured that I have been entrusted by the team with this role and given the chance to bring Eric’s story to life.

What have rehearsals been like? What has been difficult, and what has been fun?

Kia Vance: The rehearsals have been hard work, but so fulfilling.  The sheer memorization has certainly been a challenge; the script is mostly monologues and story telling with scenes interspersed to drive the story, and I am on stage for most of the play.  But it’s all in my head now and it will probably stay there for many years to come.

The other, completely warranted, challenge has been some heightened emotions during rehearsals due to the depth of the content that we are exploring combined with how passionate everyone feels about the subject matter.  Everyone’s creative minds are working full force to bring the story to life and there have been times when we’ve gotten quite excitable during conversations of what to incorporate to best serve the piece.  But, we’ve always made sure to come together and check in after those conversations, and it has been a gift to be involved in this process of development with this passionate and devoted team.

The fun part for me has definitely been integrating Sebastian “Bash” Hirtenstein into the piece.  Partly because it has involved quite a bit of improvisation which is my background, but mostly because Bash provides such beautiful movement to the piece and an incredible energy to play off of that elevates the play and the performances to a whole new level.

What intrigues you about the script?

Kia Vance: The depth, authenticity and vulnerability required to truly tell this story is what drew me to the project.  This is the kind of story that made me want to become an actor in the first place.  This role, and this play really, are a dream come true for me.

Because we have been working tirelessly to create a beautiful and innovative theatre experience that will allow the audience to connect to the humanity of this individual’s story.  We hope that it will spark open discussion about transgendered issues.  I am incredibly excited to hear the conversations that start up among the audience members after the play is over.

I Am Not A Girl is currently on stage at the Vancity Culture Lab at The Cultch (1895 Venables St, Vancouver) and continues through June 26. Visit thecultch.com for tickets and information.