Praxis Theatre is currently on hiatus! Please find co-founders Aislinn Rose and Michael Wheeler at The Theatre Centre and SpiderWebShow, respectively.

Date: 2014 March

March 31, 2014, by

by Melissa D’Agostino

ursulaI’ve been thinking a lot about traditions and rituals lately.

I watched Disney’s The Little Mermaid last week for the first time in decades as research for my show BroadFish. As the opening sequence began several things occurred to me:

a) The themes in this movie are seriously fucked up (Don’t get me started on Ursula the Sea Witch. Don’t.)

ericb) Prince Eric constantly looks bewildered: what’s up with that?

c) This was one of the first movies I ever saw in a theatre, and I went with my Father.

As I continued to watch King Triton rage against his daughter’s wishes and use all of his force to ‘protect’ her, including the destruction of her cave of treasured human possessions, it occurred to me how strange it is that my first cinematic experience with my Dad was this very traditional and patriarchic view of Father/Daughter relationships. Because ours is definitely not that.


My Father and I share a lot – we have the same eyes – they droop a bit. We share a name: his name is Francesco (Frank) so they gave me the middle name Francesca as a tribute. And we share a deep appreciation for a cleverly timed one-liner. My Dad is a gentle, lovely, kind soul that will surprise you. One day he was driving me home from dance class and the Fugees’ Killing Me Softly was on the radio. Imagine my surprise when my quiet, introverted Father started singing out ‘One time’…’Two times’ along with Wyclef Jean.

He’s one of a kind.

My Father was never a blustery, over-protective, Alpha-male Dad. I always knew he loved me and wanted the best for me, and he was fairly easygoing about my choices. I always felt that he trusted me. I never felt pressure to be a certain kind of daughter for him.

My Dad, my big Sister and wee me on Christmas Morning circa 1982.

My Dad, my big Sister and wee me on Christmas Morning circa 1982.

That said, I did always picture him walking me down the aisle, if I ever decided to get married. And I certainly always pictured dancing with him at my wedding. There were traditions I wanted to preserve and those were two of them.

When it came to planning our wedding, Matt and I decided not to get married in a church. This was a challenging decision to make for me. Not because I’m religious — I parted ways with the Catholic Church many years ago for many reasons, and though I remain a spiritual person, I do not follow a  particular doctrine, most especially Catholicism. And my fiancé Matt is an Athiest, so getting married in a church seemed like a lie, and I didn’t want to start out this new phase of our relationship with any ritual that wasn’t based in our ideals.

But it was a ritual that had happened in my family as long as I can remember, and I didn’t know how my family would react to it.

I had to really consider what I believed in.

At one point in my decision-making process I asked my Dad if he would be disappointed if he wasn’t walking me down the aisle of a church, but instead walking me down an aisle in a secular location. He didn’t seem to mind, but then there were other elements of this ritual that were on his mind.

My Dad has Multiple Sclerosis. He walks with a cane, and often has trouble with his balance, and one of his legs in particular is very difficult to control. This is a fairly new diagnosis, so his symptoms have progressed rather quickly. I knew when we started talking about him walking me down the aisle that there were many emotions coming up for him. It would never look like what he had pictured when I was growing up, because things are very different for him now.

We always talked about dancing a tango should I ever get married: my Dad was a fantastic dancer, having trained in all the social ballroom dances when he immigrated to Canada. Watching he and my Mother dance at weddings was a real treat. Would he be able to dance now? If he couldn’t, how could we create a special moment between us? How do we not get stuck in the fact that we can’t do this ritual the way we always pictured it, and instead focus on what we can do to celebrate the moment?

Truthfully, I was surprised  just how much this affected me emotionally. I’m usually really good at adapting to a situation, and seeing the benefit of a challenge; rising to the occasion. But, it’s been heartbreaking to watch my wonderfully energetic Father lose mobility, and lose some of his effervescent spirit.

I’ve noticed that when we discuss the topic, there is a sadness around it, like we’re sitting in the reality of the past, wishing that we were back at a time when my Dad was able to walk independently and trip the light fantastic. We’re Southern Italian – we like nostalgia, we like drama, and we find it easy to see the bruise on the apple. Take us or leave us!

Very recently, however, I had to make a real choice  to fight that urge and see the positives of this situation.

The wonderful thing is that my Dad can share in these rituals. They may not look like the traditional Father/Daughter dance or walk down the aisle. They may not happen in a church. They may be filled with mixed emotions and vulnerability in a way we never anticipated. But they can happen, and that isn’t the case for everyone. I am grateful for what is still possible.

I recently saw these beautiful images  of a daughter and her father, who is in a wheelchair and how they made these rituals work.

bride:dadbride:dad dance

And I’ve had several friends suggest wonderful ideas, like dancing for a few shorter dances if my Dad’s stamina isn’t great, or dedicating a song to Fathers/Daughters should things progress and make dancing difficult.

The interesting thing about planning an event like a wedding — an event that has so many cultural and societal rituals and expectations, is that it has helped me clarify what is truly important to me, and what is truly important to us as a couple.

The truth is that anything is possible, and that the joy of bringing families together is the creation of new rituals, and the celebration of all that is hopeful and positive about love and family.

And whatever these rituals look like on my wedding day, I know they will feel incredibly special, and full of love.

I’d love to hear about your experiences – @melissadags

March 27, 2014, by

by Rob Kempson

lecacy tea 2This past Sunday, we held a tea in support of #legacy–because let’s be honest, every project needs a fundraiser. The tea was held at Humber Valley United Church, where I have long been a paid soloist and section lead in the choir, and the three co-creators are all members. We decided to hold an “after church” event featuring nine songs selected by them and performed by me. The idea was that each of their songs would in some way reflect the legacy of their past, present, and future. They would introduce the songs, and I would sing them. While not directly representative of what’s in the show, it was very much in the spirit of it.

With full tea service, vintage decor, and wonderful stories, the event was a huge success. I put it together using Storify (which is a super cool social media storytelling platform), so you can check it out here. Take a special look at Joan’s “Christmas Salad” featured at the end of the story.


March 26, 2014, by

Hawking radiation and the “black hole firewall” paradox (Scientific American)

by Alison Humphrey

When you’re writing a science fiction story about wormholes and time travel, sooner or sooner you’re going to bump into Stephen Hawking. The world-famous physicist and Brief History of Time author even has some theoretical black hole quantum-effect radiation named after him, for heaven’s sake. He’s just. that. good.

But there’s another resonance with Faster than Night that we didn’t anticipate. Hawking, like us, uses facial-capture technology.

Our first blog post described the head-mounted camera that will track every movement of actor Pascal Langdale’s mouth, cheek, eye and brow, and pass the data to a computer to animate his astronaut avatar.

Stephen Hawking’s “headcam” is a tiny infrared sensor mounted on the corner of his eyeglasses, but it is infinitely more powerful than its size suggests.

As a result of the motor neuron disease that has wasted his body, only the shortest neural pathways, such as that between his brain and his cheek muscle, are still under his precise control. The infrared sensor on his glasses detects changes in light as he twitches his cheek, and this almost indiscernible bit of motion-capture is his sole means to control everything he does on his computer.

Glasses-mounted infrared sensor (Photo by T. Micke)

On the screen, a cursor constantly scans across a software keyboard, until his signal stops it to select a letter. The software has a word-prediction algorithm, so he often only has to type a few letters before he can select the whole word. When he has built up a sentence, he can then send it to his iconic voice synthesizer, a piece of technology which is now almost 30 years old.

A new documentary released last year, titled simply Hawkingreveals the race against time to keep his communications technology ahead of the progression of his disease. (This sequence begins at the 19-minute mark.)

Jonathan Wood, Stephen’s graduate assistant: “Stephen’s speed of communication has very gradually slowed down. A few years ago, he was still able to use his hand-switch and able to communicate by clicking this switch on his wheelchair. When he wasn’t able to do that anymore, we switched over to a switch that he’d mounted on his cheek. But with him slowing down with that, we’ve approached his sponsors, so they’ve been looking into facial recognition.”

Intel technician: “This is a high-speed camera which will allow us to see verifying details on the facial expressions, and this will help us to improve the rate of your speech and input.”

Stephen Hawking: “I have had to learn to live with my slow rate of communication. I can only write by flinching my cheek muscle to move the cursor on my computer. One day I fear this muscle will fail. But I would like to be able to speak more quickly…. I am hoping this current generation of software experts can harness what little movement I have left in my face, and turn it into faster communication.”

This intriguing and dramatic arms race (face race?) has Intel’s best and brightest looking for ever more sensitive sensors and new techniques to give the physicist better ways to control his computer.

Cathy Hutchinson drinks from a bottle using the DLR robotic arm (Photos: Nature)

It even has one American scientist investigating a means by which Hawking may one day be able to “write” directly from his brain, bypassing the facial muscle altogether. As the BBC reports, “In 2011, he allowed Prof Philip Low to scan his brain using the iBrain device… a headset that records brain waves through EEG (electroencephalograph) readings – electrical activity recorded from the user’s scalp.”

Last month’s issue of National Geographic described similar explorations at Brown University, where Cathy Hutchinson maneuvered a neurally-controlled robot hand to drink a cinnamon latte.

Next stop: hoisting a brewski with the Canadarm?

You think we’re joking, but the Hawking documentary ends with a delightful sequence in which Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic suggests that the best astronaut might be a man whose mind has never been bound by the gravity that holds his body:

“I just couldn’t think of anybody in the world that we’d rather send to space than Stephen Hawking. And, you know, we haven’t offered anybody a free ticket, but it was the one person in the world that we felt, ‘We’d love to invite you to space.’ And it was incredible when he accepted. I went up and saw him that day, and he told me to hurry up and get the spaceship built because he wasn’t going to live forever. Hopefully next year, we’ll take him up. I think that he feels that if he goes into space personally, he can lead the way.”

by Ricky Varghese

Another description – a reductive signature, as such – for the term “appropriation”, and the terms of engagement and dis-engagement by which the term itself seems to operate, might be “entrapment”. This is what announces itself as both seemingly and paradigmatically as profoundly uncanny in how we might come to understand and underscore the origin story behind Francisco-Fernando Granados’s The Ballad of _______ B.

Let us take seriously, for the moment, Sigmund Freud’s formulation of the uncanny:

“[The] uncanny is that species of the frightening that goes back to what was once well known and had long been familiar”

(Freud, 1919).

A young Granados agrees to an interview with the Vancouver Sun, for an article titled Climbing Mount Canada, about what it meant for him to leave behind one life in Guatemala to another, his then new home (and refuge) Canada. 11 years later, an adult Granados, now a working/practicing performance artist and an art school instructor discovers, by way of a friend of his who happens to be an ESL instructor, his interview lifted, appropriated as such, word-for-word and reduced to its utilitarian value in the context of the “Canadian Mosaic” unit in an ESL workbook.

The staging of the uncanny is suggestive here, if for nothing else then for the notion that returns, as such, are always already loaded experiences. Cartography is profoundly charged by such uncanny movements, not merely across geopolitical (from Guatemala to Canada) and textual spaces (from an interview to an ESL workbook) – and instances that command, nay demand, the necessary abstractions implicit in the task of spacing itself – but as well across temporalities between the past and the present, from the past to the present.


The gesture itself – lifting, moving, movement, the performative in the performance itself – leads us to believe fervently in the uncanny powers laden within the very task of appropriation, wherein appropriation re-stages itself as a complex practice of imagining the nation otherwise as a space for a network of new meanings to supposedly be made, where the figure of the refugee becomes the subject of both her/his own entrapment within and disengagement from her/his own subjectivity in relation to the nation-state – an entrapment and a disengagement within the logos of her/his own undoing and surreptitious remaking within the nation’s celebratory imagination, let us call it fantasy, of itself

Spacing and redistribution, in this ruinous site wherein the refugee is both subject and object, a fragment as such, then come to mark an important, dare I say even essential, set of ruptures in how the time of traumatic displacement and disengagement itself becomes constituted by the performance.  Displacement – temporal, spatial, geopolitical – is rendered traumatic in the performative instance.

Discovery of how one articulation of the nation and his inheritance of it as a new piece of earth, a new cartographical space and spacing to claim as his own – by a young Granados – which then was restaged and repurposed in another context over a decade later to imagine the nation otherwise, announces precisely the extent to which the uncanny can be informed by the unsaid and the unspeakable nature of trauma. Here, as philosopher Rebecca Comay suggests ‘trauma marks a caesura in which the linear order of time is thrown out of sequence’ (Comay, 2011). Another theatrical staging of a narrative of troubled inheritances – Hamlet – referred to this as “time out of joint”.

What remains? Or, rather, how then to respond to this displacement that comes in the form of an appropriation and a subsequent scene of entrapment – this out-of-joint-ness of what it means to be both a subject and an object as perceived in the figure of the refugee that Granados both embodies, in one time, and (re-)stages, in another?

An initial response might be found in the nature of abstraction itself. Granados claims that a staging can only take place in the abstraction of embodied experience, in the abstraction that both spacing and redistribution promises in how he reorganizes the textual cartographies and exigencies that are built on and into the absences, on and into the absence of the figure itself. Temporally, a narrative was taken out of its context, restaged in another, and as such this disconnect can only be revealed as a staging of absence and the absent figure in the abstract. Abstraction, accordingly, to invoke Comay again, here echoing Hegel, “is the deadly capacity to cut into the continuum of being and bring existence to the point of unreality” (Comay, 2011).

This “deadly capacity” is, at once, both the “what remains” of the traumatic displacements that abound (temporal, spatial, geopolitical) in subject formation, here specifically that of the refugee. It is deadly precisely because much like the life that is being re-inscribed with new meanings and thus re-imagined, it also serves to undo any and all pretention we may have of how the subject might be preserved by the nation-state. Here, the subject is precisely unreal – or, rather, all too Real accordingly to the Lacanian/Zizekian formulation – as such, because the nation makes and remakes her/him into an object, and the subject’s unreality can only be reclaimed through the scene of an abstract performative re-rendering.


Ricky Varghese recently received his PhD through the Department of Humanities, Social Sciences, and Social Justice Education at the University of Toronto. He, as well, holds an MA from the same department, and a BSW from York University and an MSW from the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Social Work. Being a Registered Social Worker with the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers, Ricky has a private clinical practice as a psychotherapist in downtown Toronto. He’s also a freelance writer interested in projects that bring together his various research and theoretical interests. Academically, his interests are in the fields of psychoanalysis and trauma studies, aesthetics and art criticism, the history of photography, HIV/AIDS and its representation, and porn studies.



March 24, 2014, by


by Melissa D’Agostino

Hello again! Thank-you for reading these posts and for all of your wonderful feedback!

Today’s post is about grooms and how they are talked about, categorized  and stereotyped in this wild and wacky wedding industry.

It would seem that for every article about princess brides obsessed with bling and opulence, there is an article about how to ‘handle’ your groom. Is he being too strict about the budget? Is he watching football instead of helping with the seating chart? Or has he become the dreaded…duhm duhm duhm…GROOMZILLA!!!

Yes, these are the horrible, shallow and grossly narrow-minded categories for men in the wedding industry. It makes sense that if women are so clearly defined by wedding vendors, men would have to be equally categorized.

Now I know that there are plenty of gentlemen who aren’t into wedding planning — there is some truth to that. But I know very few men who didn’t have SOME involvement in their nuptial plans, even if it was only a couple of areas. I also know women who aren’t really into wedding planning. So, once again we are being given a template for gender roles that exists mainly to sell us products and services.

Side note: part of the reason I stopped auditioning for commercials (and there were several reasons), is that I couldn’t handle the horrible scripts of nagging, irritated wives and their lazy, buffoon husbands. This is not my experience of relationships between men and women. And I resent that ad companies perpetuate these ideals to turn a profit and keep us buying merchandise.

In the case of our wedding, my fiancé, Matt, has been actively and excitedly planning the festivities. It has been a real team effort. And there has been no ‘groomzilla’ in sight.

Having passion for photography did not turn Matt into a Groomzilla, proving the internet wrong.

Having passion for photography did not turn Matt into a Groomzilla, proving the internet wrong.

The one item that he was really particular about was photography. He’s a filmmaker and quality images are important to him, and I respect that. So we compromised to make room for this element in our budget, and agreed to tighten the reigns elsewhere, in areas that were less meaningful for us both. There have been no tantrums, no hissy fits, and no major conflicts. I consider that a positive sign for our marriage. Because the reality of our relationship has nothing to do with gender roles as seen in Wedding Belles Magazine (to name but one).

When Matt and I went to meet vendors, we were greeted with very traditional expectations in terms of our relationship. Many vendors made jokes about me being a ‘bridezilla’ right off the bat, and then very quickly changed their tune if they noticed me addressing the budget and Matt wanting to splurge on an item. Suddenly I was a shrew and Matt was the fun-loving groom. Or sometimes they were taken aback at how clear and vocal Matt was about what he wanted – how present he was. And most of the time people were genuinely surprised at how collaborative we are in our decision making. They were confused that Matt was there and so involved, and that I not only wanted that, I thrived on it.**

**I want to note that we didn’t actually select any of the vendors who treated us this way. All of our vendors are fantastic, and enjoy the dynamic of teamwork in our planning. It wasn’t intentional, but we were so put off by these gender assumptions that we weren’t compelled to work with anyone who didn’t get how we work and respect our dynamic.

The most glaring example of how grooms are viewed in the industry for me was when we attended the WedLuxe Wedding Show. They had a room full of free samples, but according to the information on their site men were not allowed to partake of said free samples. You can check out our adventure here:

Truth be told, most of the samples were geared toward women, and most of the people at the show were brides without their grooms. But it made me consider the marketing of these shows: this focus on females as the sole consumer of wedding merchandise, and the idea of exclusivity, of ‘women only’ that the industry continues to perpetuate. Perhaps if the show wasn’t so geared toward brides, grooms would feel more included in the process. Perhaps it would foster a more collaborative view of weddings, and in turn, of marriages.

Some WedLuxe Swag

Some WedLuxe Swag

Because let’s face it, your wedding is one day — one lovely and loving celebration of your relationship and the commitment you are making to one another. But the marriage exists long after that party is over (hopefully). And what kind of conditioning is happening when the predominate message being put out there is that men are either completely disinterested, there to reign in a woman’s impulsiveness, or control freaks who need to be in charge of everything? I mean: a little nuance, please.

But I guess if I don’t know which of those categories my man fits into, I won’t know which vacuum cleaner to register for. Right?

I often wonder what our society would look like if we didn’t buy into stereotypes about married couples, and disgruntled husbands, and all the rest of it. What would happen if I didn’t believe that I had to get those tough grass stains out of my husband’s shorts because he’s off watching a soccer game with his buds, and I have to do the laundry? Would I still need to buy Tide? Could we break free from these ideas?

Also: I don’t buy Tide. Largely because of their ad campaigns. (And also because of the product itself.)

DaddyI’ll leave you with another exciting discovery at the WedLuxe show:  WeddingGuard Insurance. Apparently you can get wedding insurance: in case your cake falls, or your limo doesn’t arrive, or your Dad (who is obviously paying for your whole wedding because it’s 1954) loses his job before all the wedding bills are paid. Sigh. One thing leads to another, I suppose.

Have your own experiences around this? I’d love to hear what you think! @melissadags

March 21, 2014, by


Earlier this week, ISMEE, the artificial intelligence on board the starship Envoy, issued an invitation and a challenge:

And you know there’s nothing people like better than tweeting their #foodporn:







Craving some freeze-dried deep-fried beef? Camembert squeeze cheese? Soup in a tube?

Share a taste with @ISMEEtheAI and join the #Fastronauts today!

Astronauts Thomas P. Stafford and Donald K. “Deke” Slayton hold containers of Soviet space food in the Soyuz Orbital Module. The containers hold borsch (beet soup) over which vodka labels have been pasted. This was the crews’ way of toasting each other. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

March 20, 2014, by

I couldn’t be more excited to introduce my co-creators and performers for #legacy with this video. Joan, Judith, and Donna are all new to Twitter, and do not self-identify as artists. Yet it is these same three incredible women who are writing and performing in this piece.

As we get closer to the live performance experiment, they’ll be tweeting more and more. So follow them to find out what we’re working on, offer your own thoughts on #legacy, and interact with the performance piece as it’s being created.



You can follow them at @Joan_Belford2, @judith_dove, and @McCroq. And you can follow me at @rob_kempson. Either way, be sure to use #HatchTO and #legacy. Plus, tickets are now on sale here.

March 19, 2014, by
1 comment


By now, if you live anywhere on the planet but under a rock, you’re probably aware that billionaire Caleb Smith and his faster-than-light spaceship the Envoy will be blasting off on May 3rd.

You can watch the launch live from the shores of Lake Ontario… Or you can watch Earth shrink in your rear-view mirror as one of two lucky winners of a new competition announced today!

ISMEE, the ship’s artificial intelligence (or more accurately, its Interactive Socially-Mediated Empathy Engine) has just tweeted the news:

Would space suit you? One way to find out is to take this astronaut test, created by the British series Live from Space based on criteria set by the European Space Agency.

Or you could measure yourself against the selection criteria for applicants to the Mars One settler program. 75 Canadians are among the 1,058 short-listed for the one-way trip.

But perhaps the most important thing to consider is that the Envoy’s will be a journey in time as well as space: due to the time dilation of faster-than-light travel, when our #Fastronauts return, they’ll be a year older, but ten years will have passed on Earth.

Still think you’ve got the right stuff? Strut it in your first challenge:


Or, if you’re more the down-to-Earth type, follow @ISMEEtheAI on Twitter to watch our wannabe rocketjockeys angle for one of two spaces in history!

yes Medea of course

By Francisco-Fernando Granados

In the last two posts I’ve explored some of the personal and political issues driving The Ballad of _____ B. Here, I’d like to focus on some of the formal and methodological dimensions of the piece, particularly in relationship to the focus on social media interaction for HATCH 2014

The curatorial challenge during the call-out for HATCH last spring to consider social media as means to make performance felt like a productive way to work through the estranged biographical text that had recently come back to me. There was something about the narrative of _____ B that begged to be staged, and the added dimension of online interactivity seemed like a rich, if uncertain, way to open up the narrative.  The call for submissions also coincided with a series of late night experiments in transcription of found online conversations that included an interview between Maria Callas and Barbara Walters from 1974.

__: And Mr. _______ has never wanted to introduce you as two women he cares about?

__: Frankly, I had invited her once to… ‘cause when I invite Mr. _______ to a party or a… gala like the Medea film, or an opera, when they invite him, they must invite his wife. And many friends of mine, then, had said well, we will not invite her. I said, you will, I’m sorry. Because she is his wife and you must. And we talked about that with Mr. _______ and… she did not want to come. You see, so therefore, there is no problem. But it’s not… I… I hold no grudges. I don’t think it’s necessary, and it’s so tiring. And I don’t think that in long run it helps in life. Neither does it help you to look well, or live well with yourself. Now, when I live with myself, I have to be a hundred percent… ahh… honest with myself and be happy with myself. And I have integrity, which is a very expensive… using _______’ words; it’s a very expensive price to pay for integrity and honesty. I can pay that price.

__: Thank you __ for the honesty and the integrity that you’ve shown us in this interview.

__: Thank you for asking these questions. I couldn’t be otherwise. It was a pleasure.

In terms of a structure for a stage piece, I was already thinking in triads:

_____ A

_____ B

_____ C

_____ B’s biography is already over-determined by political classifications; it needs a perpendicular internal narrative. In attempting to figure out something about the site-specificity of the stage, Bertolt Brecht came to mind. Perhaps spacing and re-distribution have something to do with his awkwardly translated ideas of de-familiarization. The embodiment of the character itself needs to be made unfamiliar through spacing and redistribution. No one body on stage will contain _____ B. She/he/they will flow between Maryam, Manolo, and I. And if in the Climbing Mount Canada narrative _____ B can only be thought of in terms of a need for belonging to a national imaginary, then it is necessary to think of him/her/them in terms of desire. Indeed, it is necessary not to assume a shape for the character, a gender, a race.

Something in the character has to remain open and incalculable. A model for the enactment of the unpredictable appears in Margaret Dragu’s recent feminist re-activation of Cageian chance operations for her solo exhibition at the Richmond Art Gallery. Anne Carson’s dedication of her translation of Euripides’ Antigone, Antigo nick, ‘to the randomizer’ who measures things also offers an outline for an open ended character.

In a conversation with Michael, we realized that in the case of The Ballad of _____ B, that randomizing figure could be virtual participation. A section of the script for the performance containing a series of open spaces in the narrative will be made available online to the audience, likely as a Google Doc, a week prior to the beginning of rehearsals. People are encouraged to participate by filling in the blanks. The results of this collaboration will help shape the performance.

Next week, I will write about how the task of making performance art for a stage.

March 17, 2014, by
1 comment

A picture of me as a traditional Italian bride in a production of 'Mambo Italiano'. Enthusiasm is key.

A picture of me as a traditional Italian bride in a production of ‘Mambo Italiano’.
Enthusiasm is key.

by Melissa D’Agostino

Hello Friends! Welcome back to the BroadFish Bowl!

I’m going to jump right into this post by admitting that I suffer from Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD).  It’s a body-image disorder which, according to the Anxiety and Depression association of America is:


It’s something I’ve been grappling with since I was a kid – a bit of nature and a whole bunch of nurture. I’ve spent a lot of time tackling, accepting, analyzing, examining and attempting to surrender to this condition, though it often cripples my ability to express myself fully, to enjoy my wonderful life fully and to feel joy fully.

When I reveal this to my friends/family, they are often surprised. I create bold, physical work and spend a lot of my time advocating for positive body image and changes in and around the way we evaluate/punish women in the media for their bodies. I guess it’s surprising that someone who seems so confident in her body would struggle in this way. The truth is, my passion in regards to this issue, and the work I create, come directly from the dysmorphia. It’s how I respond to the voice in my head that deems me worthless because of how I look. And that’s truly what it is: a feeling of worthlessness.

Ironic (or perhaps sadistic?) of me to choose to work in an industry that is frightfully punishing, limiting, and unrealistic bordering on ludicrous when it comes to women’s bodies, and what their bodies represent to the world (this is also happening with men, of course, but it’s still especially damaging with women).

So I exist in a very interesting middle place – loved by so many friends and family members for who I am and what I look like and blessed with a beautifully full and fulfilling life, and caught in an agony about my flesh, my curves, my shape – all exascerbated by an industry that actually does see me as ‘fat’, ‘overweight’ and really quite expendable because of it.

Quasimodo BrideI recently went shopping for a wedding dress and the days leading up to the experience were stressful for my BDD and I.  I had many fears. Would the sample sizes be too small? Will I hate everything? Will the size and flabbiness of my arms make me feel like a grotesque female Quasimodo? Yes – this is how extreme these feelings get. But I had to start shopping, since you have to order your dress a lifetime in advance of the day of your wedding, or so the blogs tell me. So off we went: me and Mom.

For the most part, things went well. One store, Ferre Sposa (and yes I’m naming names) had sample sizes that were TINY. I didn’t fit into any of the ones I tried on there. This didn’t happen in other stores.  It didn’t make me feel great. Or good. Or in any way excited about my wedding. I name them because I think they should know, and so should you.

I ended up buying my gown at Mrs. Bridal Boutique. They were friendly, low-key and had an exclusive selection of gowns in the style I was looking for.

So I was happy – dress I wanted, in my price range, my Mother was happy, too (miracle!).

Maybe my body issues would stay at bay?

When Kelly, my lovely consultant, took my measurements to order the dress, she mentioned the size I was, and BOOM – trigger city.

Bridal gowns are always made 2 sizes smaller than other gowns so what would usually be a size 10 is a size 14 in bridal, which is maddening. I mean, seriously? Doesn’t that seem topsy turvy? Can none of this be made easier? Why not make them 2 sizes bigger? Help those of us with some psychological minefields out with a bit of vanity sizing for our very special day? Nope.

And the truth is that even as I type this I’m embarrassed. I’m ashamed that I even have these feelings – that I feel insecure about my body in this way. I feel like I’m betraying my gender, or I am being overly sensitive, or I should just get over it. But the feelings happen, and I can’t ignore them, or they get stronger. So…shame party over. Back to the story.

NB: This is NOT my dress. This is actually me during a tech rehearsal for the play Mambo Italiano. But this sums up many of my feelings during the dress buying process.

NB: This is NOT my dress. This is actually me during a tech rehearsal for the play Mambo Italiano. But this sums up many of my feelings during the dress buying process.

The most telling moment of my own insecurity was when I asked Kelly: ‘What happens if my body changes between now and my wedding?’ I was convinced that I would lose control: emotionally eat myself into oblivion, and out of that dress.

So Kelly gently let me know that it wasn’t a problem, and that they have plenty of time to make alterations.

And then she took a moment to herself, looked up from putting my dress back on the hanger and said: ‘But I really hope you don’t lose weight; you look so great in this dress and you’re beautiful.’

I was stunned and overwhelmed. Maybe because the dialogue inside my brain was the opposite of that thought, or maybe because I assumed the wedding industry would do everything it could to encourage me to lose weight, be perfect, join some godawful boot camp immediately to cure me from my flabby, hideous imperfections.

Turns out: not really. Well, not ALL of the industry is doing that. Trust me: a lot of it does. Almost every blog, magazine, wedding show, thread, you name it – they will tell you how to tone your arms, lose the flab, slim down, bulk up, all of it. I’m sure they could tell you how to grow a limb, if you wanted to.

This experience made me reflect that maybe part of the reason I play the characters I do, and part of the reason my latest project, BroadFish, deals with transformation is because what I’m really wrestling with is what being in my very own skin and body is like.

What do I call myself? How do I see myself? What is it to be a bride? To be larger than life? To be healthy? To sit comfortably in my skin?

I’m not sure I know any concrete answers yet. What I know is that being able to create art, to express myself and to make work that can open a dialogue around these issues is a blessing that has saved me from living my life in one, long,  joyless panic attack.

And for that, I am grateful.

Experience any of the same things? Let me know what you think! @melissadags

The journey continues…