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Design By Humans
Published On: Fri, Jul 20th, 2018

THE SEX FILES: Memoirist. Playwright. Performer. We Talk with Tanya Marquardt

I really do find so many talented people through this column, guys and gals both searching for creative ways to tell a true story, try to entertain, and make sense of the world. One such person is Tanya Marquardt. She is a memoirist, playwright, and performer based in Vancouver, BC and Brooklyn, NY. Her first book Stray: Memoir of a Runaway will be published by Little A in September 2018, and the performance version will tour to Toronto after its presentation at The Tank, this weekend and a few days following (see the link below for tickets). Tanya received her BFA in Theatre at Simon Fraser University, a Certificate of Dance at MainDance, and an MFA in Creative Non-Fiction at Hunter College.

A woman with a singular vision and quite the story to tell, I asked Tanya all about Stray and all she is into presently.

Prose, poetry, song, narrative, dessert topping. How would you describe Stray?

Stray is a meta-memoir performance that incorporates punk music with true to life storytelling, and at times, comments on its own creation. Basically it’s punk ass storytelling with a touch of memoir.

The music here that inspires and some that you actually use, those pieces not being yours, did you find the songs you picked inspired the particular pieces of the narrative or was it the other way around?

There are certain writers that I listened to when I was a teen runaway that inspired me and we have made nods to them in the show without using their actual songs; Patti Smith and Velvet Underground to name a couple. With other songs we started with stories from my soon-to-be-published-memoir (find it here). and then turned those stories into songs. With these, we would just jam with sound and make songs together.

Within the past few years, attending live theatre as I am lucky to do, I have noticed an audible collective intake of audience breath when any subject on stage skirts race or gender. Do you feel that skittishness when you talk about/present material like this, in some cases where you were experiencing some non-vanilla sexual circumstances well before you turned 18?

This material is very personal to my experience; others may have had experiences with BDSM or being a teen runaway that may be vastly different than me. And there is nothing I can do about the fact that I went to BDSM parties underage—it happened to me, it’s there, and I think that by talking about it – in all its complexities—it is meant to open a discussion, one that may be freeing to some, that may be uncomfortable to others. In the book and in the play I present the experiences as I experienced them from a 16-year-old kid’s point of view, but then I also find places for reflection and for introspection from an older age. After many of my shows people, particularly women, queer and trans folks, have thanked me for telling my story. Perhaps others have felt uncomfortable but they haven’t verbalized it.

Furthering from this, descriptions like: “I was wearing a black velvet skirt with slits up the back, front and the sides with a chain mail garter belt and 20-hole steel toe boots. I was naked from the waist up except for a chainmail bra.” While certainly descriptive and I think downright sexy, could quickly raise the ire of certain audience members weaned presently on a certain reactionary aesthetic.

Looking back at myself from an older age has provided me with a lot of perspective on that time. As a childhood survivor of sexual abuse, I was shamed and hated my body immensely. I thought I was dirty and unworthy of love. On the one hand, at the clubs I saw people engaging in play and in sexual relations well beyond my comprehension at the time. When I first went, I hadn’t had sex and was still unsure of my own sexuality (I am a queer woman). I was very uncertain and scared. But being in that scene also taught me about consent; people didn’t do anything to one another without express permission and within a set of principles meant to facilitate both pleasure and the pleasure in pain. And it taught me that my body could be sexual for me, and for my pleasures. So in this way, it was also empowering. So it was a very complex, very personal experience.

Where do you go from here with the piece, the book…and how did you come to create this from the book and why?

In 2010, I wrote a play called Transmission, which was inspired by Sophocles’ Greek tragedy The Orestia, and more specifically the relationship between Orestes and Electra, who were brother and sister. My re-imagining brought that relationship into the early aughts, when the Iraq war and the photos of torture in the CIA led prison in Abu Ghraib were first being discovered. I wanted to use the abuses that could happen in a dysfunctional family as a lens to talk about broader issues, especially the torture and disappearances that can happen during war. In order to do that I sourced personal stories of abuse within my own family history, giving those stories to the characters in the play. Watching the work was horrible for me, and for a long time I didn’t know why. The performers were lovely, the design was well executed, and my writing was some of the strongest that I had written up to that point. But then I realized that my horror had nothing to do with the production and everything to do with the sense that I had hidden behind these personal stories of trauma by making them a fiction. This made them seem less palpable, more easily dismissed. That’s when I knew that in order to really open up a discussion around abuse, in all its forms, I needed to tell my readers and my audience that these personal stories happened to me and to my body. Realizing this as my ultimate intent pushed me to start writing my story, which started off as short personal essays and then blossomed over the course of ten years into Stray. 

You can catch Stray Wednesday, July 18, Thursday, July 19, Friday, July 20, and Saturday, July 21 at 8pm and Wednesday, July 25, Thursday, July 26, Friday, July 27, and Saturday, July 28 at 8pm & 10pm. Tickets ($15) are available for advance purchase at www.thetanknyc.org.

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THE SEX FILES: Memoirist. Playwright. Performer. We Talk with Tanya Marquardt