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Sparking Infatuation with The Bi(g) Life
“A Wilde man once said, ‘A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.’” Spoken with sincerity, this line guides The Bi(g) Life, featuring two dreamers who share with the audience their identities and individual visions of the world as they grapple with the heavy social issues of sexuality and body image.
Comprised of two solo performances by Jeremy Guyton (COL ’12) and Allie Villarreal (COL ’12), The Bi(g) Life is the result of months of work as part of their Theater and Performance Studies senior thesis projects. Since 2004, the senior thesis program has allowed students to explore issues important to them through both written projects and dramatic performances that, according to faculty advisor Maya Roth, “are deeply interdisciplinary, while founded in creative and critical inquiry.”
The process of developing these projects is both personal and thorough, and involves close collaboration between students and faculty. Weekly meetings allow for faculty mentoring, and advisors both direct students to new material and help refine their existing ideas. Staying true to the interdisciplinary aspect of the process meant that Villarreal drew from psychology and gender studies, while Guyton relied on bi/queer theory and design. Roth said she was proud of the end result of both projects, commending Guyton and Villarreal for “crafting artistic works that speak to social concerns.”
For Guyton, the social concerns surrounding the issue of sexuality are far-reaching, but often fail to address the stigma surrounding identifications like bisexuality. “It is much more than a sexual orientation,” he said. “It is a mindset.”
Through his solo performance, called Ambiguous, Guyton explores this mindset through a wide range of media and devices. Employing PowerPoint slides, props, and other tools, he engages his listeners in every stage of his thought process. He even breaks down the fourth wall when he invites an audience member to the stage. He interrogates the selected person from the point of view of an authoritative doctor, eliciting an empathetic response from the audience. Finding inspiration from both family members and personal experience, Guyton uses his performance space to share his own individual journey, while asking the audience to re-interpret conventions of sexuality. “My desires are not exclusively defined by a word,” he says.
Villarreal fearlessly tackles a different stigma in Infatuation. “F-A-T,” she says to the audience. “How can such a little word mean so much?” Drawing from a wide spectrum of demographics, she explores with poignant clarity the diversity of individual experiences associated with that one, small word. Finding inspiration in both personal friendships and Tumblr users, she plays an amalgam of characters to represent “real people dealing with real things.” The commonality linking all of her eclectic characters, which range from a proud black woman struggling with single motherhood to a young boy sharing his athletic aspirations, is their body type.
For every character she introduces and explores, Villarreal immerses the audience in a distinct “state of being.” Transitioning from a mother to a son with the simple addition of a baseball hat, this one-woman show is packed with palpable charisma. Never losing touch with her audience, Villareal undeniably achieves her goal of “inciting empathy” as she aims to “remove the stigma of ‘fat.’”
Ambiguous Infatuation is an exercise in re-interpreting identity. Both Guyton and Villarreal challenge the audience to re-evaluate typical identifiers of sexuality and body image by fearlessly confronting stigma and stripping terms of their negative connotations. When the lights go down, the audience cannot help but agree that these are issues worth pondering.