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If the events from the last two months of my life collided, they would form Katherine Harroff.
The founder of fledgling theater company Circle Circle dot dot seems to have a toe dipped in every pool of my recent existence. As a day job, she is the social media director for San Diego Dance Theater, which I spent the last few weeks following during its Young Choreographers Showcase. Her newest play, titled “Deconstruction of a Drag Queen,” opens this weekend at the 10th Avenue Theatre, which I frequented the month before while I embedded myself in a Mo’olelo production.
And Anthony Diaz, the person on whom the play is based, was one of the choreographers in the showcase, before he dropped out before the competition. But, to top it all off, Diaz’s drag mother, someone who indoctrinates younger queens, is a diva I shadowed for three days for a photo project in one of my classes at San Diego State University.
It was a little surprising to find my life so intertwined with Harroff’s, but that’s exactly her goal: to show people they are all connected, and through that, to help them understand each other. Harroff’s work fits the genre of community-based theater, which transforms real stories collected from interviews and interactions with community members into plays. The plays, Harroff said, are mostly true — with a few liberties taken.
I sat down this week with Harroff on the set of “Deconstruction” and found out more about this form, her play and the company.
What’s the story behind the company name? I think there’s definitely a few ways to interpret it.
It’s not boobs. Have you heard “Circle, circle, dot, dot, now you have your cootie shot”? It’s like a children’s limerick. Sometimes you feel like a bit of an outsider, especially in the theater community. In San Diego it’s so specific and it’s so tight-knit and we see a lot of the same artists in productions again and again, who are wonderful and there’s a reason why they get cast again. But there’s a group of younger artists who are trying to find themselves and when you’re trying to find yourself you tend to feel like a reject. So it comes from that a little bit, the idea of starting and having cooties and being rejected.
Your story-writing process seems a lot like journalism in the way you research and interview people. What motivates you to put so much initial effort toward your plays?
It’s definitely like journalism. I’ve always felt like I’m supposed to tell stories. I’m supposed to connect with people, and I feel connected with people. I love to know more and understand everyone around me as much as possible. For me, community-based theater is finding the stories inside people they want to share and that they are excited about, and putting it on a stage in front of an audience so the audience can connect and see themselves in it or understand each other better.
And the process is exciting. This one in particular, I saw Anthony Diaz perform at Pride Festival and I saw him perform every day at Dance Theater and I connected to him because I knew he had a story. We just found each other. I got to reach out to him and talk to him and learn about him but also about the amazing drag community. I found beautiful stories connected to doing drag.
So every time we decide on a group we’re going to reach out to we start with individuals in the community and send them a message saying, “We’re interested in developing a play about you.” Everyone really likes that. Even if we hardly know them, the response is, “You want to write a play about me? My story’s interesting?” We’re just there to say yes it is, and other people will be interested too, and we should share what you’re doing.
This play is about drag queens and their culture. Was it difficult for you to write about a topic that some people consider taboo?
It was very easy because it was Anthony’s story. He and I chatted a lot about it and I just said, “If you’re worried about anything I won’t use it.” I kept him completely connected and invested. And I come from a very liberal world and I’ve been living in a liberal bubble my entire life and I like it there. So to me, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this. I hope the people who are scared of this will come see it anyway because the stories are so human. I’ve been around it for months and I’m like, drag is the way of life! I want to be a drag queen! I love it, and that’s what I tried to put into it — the heart and the passion and the humanity of these stories. I think people will be surprised in that.
Courtesy photo by Rich Soublet
What message are you trying to share with those who see “Deconstruction of a Drag Queen”?
The very first and the most important is don’t be afraid to be who you are, even if all the odds are against you. That connects a bit to homosexuality. It’s funny because this piece is about drag, but there is a rejection entirely, this identity that this character finds himself in. So we see him in the beginning finding himself interested in dresses and in men and it’s instinct. You see in the show it’s just something he was destined to be. So for me the biggest message is fight to be who you are because it’s worth it.
It’s also about family and how sometimes family is not what it’s supposed to be for you. Sometimes family is caught up in its own hang-ups or disappointments and it can’t grow with you, so sometimes you have to grow out of it. But there’s family in the world that is right for you. This show is about finding that family and letting it nurture who you’re supposed to be.
You recently lost your rehearsal space. How did you deal with that?
That was probably one of the hardest times during this show. We’re still really young and we’re broke. All the money we have is money we’ve earned for ourselves. We’ve done everything on a shoestring budget and on donations and support, which has been enormous. Sometimes we depend on rehearsal space or someone saying they can help us and sometimes that falls through. That happened with our rehearsal space in a too-late time period. It was really devastating because we always want to move forward in our productions. So when you get your rehearsal space taken away, it’s like, “Oh, now I have to act in your living room.” That’s inappropriate and that’s not what we want. We want to be as professional as we can for the least amount of money possible. We’re rollin’ with the punches, and we get punched hard sometimes.
“Deconstruction of a Drag Queen” runs April 6 to 21 at 10th Avenue Theatre. For more information, visit circle2dot2.com .
Interview conducted and edited by Allie Daugherty, who reports on arts for voiceofsandiego.org. You can contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.550.5665.
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