(The Charlebois Post is enormously proud to be presenting Johanna Nutter's blog about the journey of her celebrated solo, My Pregnant Brother, to Vancouver where it will be seen for the first time by people the piece describes. We think you'll be as delighted as we were by these first three installments and impatient for what will follow.)
I think there’s a point where fear gets so intense that it sort of blows itself up. Once this happens, all that’s left to do is step boldly from one moment to the next. I’m there right now. I just checked the bag containing my little white rocking chair and am now tangoing my way to British Columbia for the west coast première of My Pregnant Brother.
For those of you who haven’t seen the show, it’s a solo piece in which I relive the experiences surrounding the birth of my niece. My brother (née my sister, transgender for over a decade, still in possession of reproductive parts) got pregnant and needed me at a time when I was trying to change my own identity by shrugging off the overblown sense of responsibility my childhood had helped to contrive. Of course, hilarity ensues…
The show’s doing well. It’s won some awards, toured a bit. In November, the French incarnation (translated by yours truly) will open at La Licorne, granting a longtime wish of mine to act en français. But the most beautifullest part of that is that they have asked me to also present the show in its original English language on Friday nights. This will be a fledgling attempt to bridge the two theatrical solitudes and I want to help it fly. Hence this blog: for the next week or so, I will be posting regular updates on the whole West Coast Experience.
What makes this experience blog-worthy is the fact that the two main characters in the play (outside of yours truly); my mother and brother, will be introduced to it for the first time. Up to now, all they have had to go on are the reviews, which have often resorted to over-simplifications, no doubt in the interest of keeping the word count within a prescribed ballpark. Calling my mother a “spaced-out hippie” gives the reader an easy image, but it doesn’t come anywhere close to describing the kaleidoscope of states she is capable of. But that’s what us writers have to do sometimes; generalize to save time and space—the great thing about blogging is; we can go on and on and if you run out of time, you can just stop reading.
But yes, it’s been just over two years since I first stood in front of an audience and said, “My name is Johanna and I’m going to tell you my story” and Mum and James have been very patient. They’ve managed to keep their fears on the back porch and have been cautiously supportive of every run. But, well, we’re a sensitive bunch of Nutters and it’s safe to say that my family has always been dependably unpredictable. And it’s not only their reactions that have propelled me to this place beyond fear; I wonder also how I am going to be able to become my mother and brother when they are sitting right there in the audience? Actually, that’s kind of a fascinating question…
Perhaps, what lies beyond fear is curiosity.
JULY 16th: Vancouver.
Okay. I don’t know how to draw those circles and arrows on pictures to direct your attention to a particular detail, but I think it’s pretty easy to spot: you see that round bit at the tippy-top of the building? Well, that’s where I slept last night. I know, eh? I feel like Alice in Wonderland.
I was picked up at the airport by Keith, my new friend who is married to my old friend and roommate from way back, Barb. They own a winery on Pender Island and when Barb found out I was doing the show in Vancouver, she suggested I bring it to the winery first. I said yes, instantly loving the idea of easing into the West Coast run in a warm, friendly environment entirely surrounded by barrels of wine.
My flight got in too late to catch the ferry so their friends Architect David and Professor John, who summer on Pender, lent us their Penthouse Sweet in Yaletown. Woah. It was so swank I wanted to jump up and down but I didn’t want to disturb the downstairs neighbour, Raffi Torres. (!) We sat on the patio and drank wine and looked out over the city, lying there like a big shiny pile of glittering gold. Keith gave me the master bedroom and I woke up every two hours just to look around. I know I’m going on about this, but for someone who grew up in tents and cars, this was extraordinary. If this is how the journey starts, what’s going to happen next?
JULY 16th: Gulf Island Ferry
“I spy with my little eye something that is BLUE”. She’s maybe five or six and she’s doggedly repeating this phrase until someone in her entourage takes a look around the grey, rainy Galiano coastline. BLUE, kid? Seriously?
I’m island hopping on the ferry to Pender. The last time I was on this ferry, two Decembers ago, I was giggling over an op ed piece I’d picked up about an elderly woman who was trying to get a handle on email abbreviations (she had signed a note of condolence to a friend who’d lost her husband with the letters LOL because she thought that meant “lots of love”) when I sensed someone standing in front of me, looked up, and there was my brother! We’d continued on to Salt Spring Island together to see Mum. Together.
My brother lived on Galiano for a while, around the turn of the millennium. When we went to visit, he picked us up in a red pony he’d bought, just so we wouldn’t have to hitch hike. If you’ve seen the show, you know about the accident, the woman who died on the road in front of her daughter. It happened right there. And there too is the beach, where we got over ourselves. I was looking at those pictures before I left, the ones from the day after, on the shore, when the aftermath of that accident washed over us and made us clean again.
We made effigies out of seaweed. My mother’s had no face, my brother’s no body, and there was mine, in the middle, with both. My brother took his shirt off, and I saw his manly chest for the first time. He looked (as we say in Quebec) good in his skin. That was such a magical day. I still remember it all so vividly… and of course, it’s perpetuated every time I do the show. And I have the pictures to prove it. When I talk about my mother watching us through binoculars and holding her pinkie up like she was drinking tea, if she protests, I’ll just whip out the photo. Of course, something tells me that’s not the part she’s going to take umbrage with…
We’re pulling away from Galiano now. Farewell, O phallic lunar landing. Such a strange time I had, by the side of the road, death in my arms. And stranger still; here I am feeling nostalgic for it.
“BA-LUE!” The little girl is insisting. My niece loves this game, too. I taught it to her when I took her on her first public transit journey from PoCo to the Vancouver Aquarium and home again last December. We played through her anxiety. I remember she spied something beige as we stood waiting for the bus, a stone’s throw from the Woodward building where my brother lived. He and I had parted ways two nights before, after a David Lynchesque Christmas Caroling Cruise Ship around Granville Island that my mother had booked us for my birthday. It didn’t end well. My brother was down and it was my birthday and I had been hurt…
- Auntie Johanna! I spy with my little eye something that is BEIGE!!
- I give up.
My niece looked at me with eyes twinkling, overcome by the deliciousness of the winning blow she was about to deliver; “YOU!!!”
Yep; according to my niece, I’m beige.