Threading together all of our different identities with Allison Vincent

Hello!

Our guest is writer, educator, and theater maker Allison Vincent and we talk about the queer book that saved her life: the novella Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood.

Goodbye to Berlin is a Queer classic. Our hero moves to Berlin where he meets the incomparable Sally Bowles. They become roommates as he explores Berlin and his sexuality. The novella was adapted into the award-winning theatrical production and film Cabaret.

For Allison, it not only saved her in writing her college thesis, but it also provided visibility to her as a Queer woman to see herself represented in history. We dive into all the queer meanings of the novella’s most famous line: “I am a camera with a shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking” and threading together all of our different identities.

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Connect with Allison

Twitter: @allisonrvincent
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=13955074
Transatlantic Love Affair

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Credits

Host/Founder: J.P. Der Boghossian
Executive Producer: Jim Pounds
Associate Producers: Archie Arnold, Natalie Cruz, Paul Kaefer, Nicole Olila, Joe Perazzo, Bill Shay, and Sean Smith
Patreon Subscribers: Awen Briem, Stephen D., Thomas Michna, and Gary Nygaard.

Transcript

[theme music]

J.P.; Welcome to This Queer Book Saved My Life! My name is J.P. Der Boghossian. I’m a writer, LGBTQ health educator, Lambda Literary fellow, and founder of the Queer Armenian Library.
And this…is not just another book podcast. In every episode, an LGBTQ guest shares the Queer book that saved their life with the author who wrote it.

As you listen each week, I hope you realize that we’re talking about you. As our guests and authors tell us about coming out, transitioning, facing homophobia in the family, living through an abusive relationship, or finding Queer family, I hope you say, That’s me! I’ve lived that. I’ve felt that. Or, I want to live that. I want to feel that. I hope you feel a little bit more connected to this mysterious Queer world of ours.

And hopefully you’ll have a new book to read!

What we’re exploring in this episode is how being Queer can lead to all these different versions of ourselves. How we have all these little hats to wear. How do we manage them? Is there a self that just observes the world, like a camera? Clicking away? What about the self we create or have to create to get by?

My guest is writer, educator, and theater maker Alison Vincent and we’re talking about Welcome to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood. This autobiographical novel is a Queer classic. Our hero moves to Berlin where he meets the incomparable Sally Bowles. They become roommates as he explores Berlin and his sexuality. The novel was adapted into the award-winning theatrical production and film Cabaret. Isherwood was an out Gay writer in his lifetime, having a life-long relationship with the painter Don Bacardi. Alison wrote her college thesis on Goodbye to Berlin and its film adaptations and I’ve been very much looking forward to this conversation.
So, let’s get started. Welcome to…This Queer Book Saved My Life!

Well hello, Allison, thank you for being here.

Allison: Hey JP, thanks for having me. I’m super excited to be here with you.

J.P.:Absolutely. As we kick off this episode, a quick shout out to Quatrefoil Library. They are an LGBTQ library and event space in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. What’s really neat is that they have set up a page on their website, qlibrary.org where you can read digital versions of the books featured on this podcast. So if you can’t buy them, you can still read them. We’re including the links in the show notes. Allison, tell us about yourself: You are all the things. A writer. A teacher. A Theatermaker, tell me everything.

Alison: I like to wear many hats, but they’re all hats that are in the same department, if that makes sense. *So I am a writing instructor at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. I teach University Writing, mostly for freshmen, and I absolutely love it. We work off of a workshop model, and we just invite students to first learn to write from experience, which is kind of autobiographical, kind of memoir, which is interesting, coming from this study of Isherwood and his many versions of himself. Then we have them write from sources, and then for their final project, they get to choose any topic they like to write a researched argument. So lots of creativity and lots of freedom, and they just basically are learning skills relevant to each project that they could take into their disciplines. As a theater maker, I generally classify myself as a divisor, which basically just means that I have my fingers in a lot of production pies. Sometimes I’m directing; sometimes I’m on stage performing; sometimes there’s no defined leader, we’re just all working towards creating this show or this piece. Sometimes I’m just producing. So I’m not the best at making props or sets, but I have fumbled my way around a tree and a chainsaw, once. But I really, really love performing in front of an audience and telling stories that links all of my lives together as a writer, as a theater maker, and as a teacher.

J.P.: Any favorite roles that you’ve performed?

Alison: This is also part of being a divisor that feels a little like, you can’t see what I’m doing, but I’m doing like a hair flip motion because we create a lot of our own roles. It feels like, kind of shitty, for lack of a better word, to be like, this is the role that I made for myself. So I’m a co-artistic director of Trans-Atlantic Love Affair, and I’m a founding member of that company. We make our own shows, often based off of something. So my favorite role I’ve played is this Chicago gangster, I’m originally from the Chicagoland area, and this Chicago gangster from the 1920s, was just so rude, so mean, and was running an illegal bootlegging operation.So it was really, really fun to play. His name was Jimmy and he was just the worst. So that’s definitely a top two for me.

J.P.Love it. Well, thank you for sharing a little bit about your background. I can’t wait to get into it, so, Allison, what is the book that saved your life?

Alison: The book that saved my life, is actually called The Berlin Stories because it’s two novellas that got smashed together. The first novella is Mr. Norris Changes Trains, which I didn’t really focus on for my thesis. The thing I focused on was Goodbye to Berlin, and that is the most famous work of Christopher Isherwood. The novella is about this young man, just like you said, This young man comes to Berlin from the UK and he is decidedly impassive. So the famous line from the book that makes its way into all the different versions is, ‘I am a camera with a shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.’
There’s a lot of reasons why Isherwood frames himself this way. A big one is to be able to really just spill the tea on all these people that he was seeing. Later on in his memoir called Christopher and His Kind, he talks about how his first sentence was, Berlin was about boys. That’s why I went. He was really into it. He wanted to go and be in Gay culture and be amongst Gay men and kind of experience that. He was a super young expat just kind of finding himself coming from a well-to-do family, but quotation mark roughing it. He didn’t have a ton of money, but he was being funded by his uncle, who also was Gay. It was how we would describe him now. Then he meets these characters. Sally Bowles was a real woman. He just changed her name and she was a cabaret singer. She always is described as quite bad, which is so shady if you think about it. He’s writing these notes about her in the book. He also meets a ton of other characters who do pop up in other versions of the story. One of the big ones is there’s a character named Otto who he spends time with. In reality it was a lover, but he just changes the timeline and kind of codes things. So if you’re reading it and you are a Queer person, it’s very clearly a Queer relationship. If you’re reading it and you’re not a friend of Judy, then it might just go right over your head and you just think it’s two buddies who really like to hang out together. It’s a novel in that a lot of things happen, but also kind of nothing happens. So the big character arc is that Sally becomes pregnant with a lover’s baby and then seeks an abortion. Christopher’s name is Christopher Isherwood in the novella, even though it is not the author, quote unquote… just fascinating. Christopher offers to marry her to help restore her honor. There’s passage where he goes to Salome, one of the cabarets named after Wilde’s last play. He’s looking around and he describes his work. Hitler is really starting to become powerful. This is 1933 and things are starting to look pretty scary. Then suddenly, it dawns on him that all these people around him are damned. That’s the word that he uses to describe them. Then shortly after that, he leaves. That’s very close to what actually happened. He left around 1933 and continued to hoof it around Europe, but knew that Germany was becoming unsafe.

J.P.:It’s interesting to get that. There was another episode that we’re doing this season around, The Magic Mountain and how that was really representative of what was happening in Europe during World War I. This one really captures that, that, It just feels so evocative of that time period. So you’re in college when it was an assigned book or did you find it and come to it some other way?

Alison: A little bit of both. It was a book that was recommended. I didn’t get to take the GLBT minor just because I double majored in English Lit and Theater Arts and then I was also taking the prereqs to get my teaching license. So I wasn’t able to have enough time to get the minor, but I took as many Queer writing classes as possible. This particular course was called Gay Book Club because we basically just read a book each week and then came together and talked about it.

J.P.: Oh, I love that.

Alison: It was really lovely. It was predominantly a Queer class of different identities, which was great because we heard all these different perspectives. It was one of the books that we read in that class. I was just so taken with it. Cabaret has always been a favorite musical of mine, if not my favorite musical. So seeing the source material, and then, you know, making all these ties, it was just such a fascinating, engaging experience for me. Taking my favorite course at the U, which was Professor Kreg’s Fascism in the Film Class. We were looking at all these amazing, super Queer saturated stories that dealt with this bizarre connection between homosexuality and Nazism, and then the fissure of that, followed by the persecution of homosexuals under the Nazi regime. It’s all just so bizarre the threads where they came from and then where they go to is something that as a wannabe scholar I’m really interested in.

J.P.: What did you find saving about it that first time or times that you were reading it?

Alison: For me, like quite literally, it saved my bacon because it was a text that was able to, combine all the threads of my different identities as a theater student, as an English student, as a lover of film, as someone who really wanted to get more involved in the GLBT major minor. There’s this hub in this book where it’s all of those things. So we all have this big closet, no pun intended, of all these different suits we wear, as humans, right? It doesn’t matter if you’re Queer or not but then Queer people, we just have a lot more stuff in our closet. So the navigation of Christopher Isherwood, this person, this concept, this character, through all of these different versions of himself that he creates and he sells the rights to, which is really weird. Then the way that he reflects on his own writing in different parts of his life. All of that to me was just so fascinating. Then the way in which the story keeps returning, because as an English teacher that’s something I’m always really interested in is why do some stories pop up when they pop up? Like why are we telling some of the stories we’re telling at this time? In the 60s the story comes back with Cabaret and then the 90s, the revival comes back and is super Gay and super dark. Just looking at the populism and Fascism that we’re seeing an uptick in now, like, who’s going to do Cabaret? Gay people are being persecuted; Jewish people are being persecuted, persecuted again. I’m checking my watch to see when we’re going to start doing Cabaret again. It’s an unfortunate kind of cycle and repetition with this story and it all comes from this person who served as a camera for that time where he was not necessarily acting on it other than being really coded in his language talking about it.

J.P. :What were yourselves as you were reading it? Like what were you navigating as the multiple selves? Not in a stigmatizing way, but you know, there is this really interesting dynamic of how he’s Christopher the person and then he’s creating Christopher the character. I guess for you, I’m curious, what were yourselves that you were looking and living and creating?

Alison: That’s a great question. I think that the first one is a student, right? So I’m on a deadline. I’m really stressed about the fact that your thesis is a pass-fail situation. So, if you’re like me, I’m very neurotic. I always am a worst case scenario person. So I’m just like, I’m going to fail. I’ll fail college. I’ll have to drag my suitcase behind me. I’ll go back to Illinois and live in shame. So of course it did not happen. I had the best advisor: very much so. The beautiful thing about a thesis and also what we try to do at a micro level in the Writing Studies Department for our Project 3 is to encourage students that they’re part of this scholarly conversation, even if they don’t identify that way. Even if they don’t feel that that is true yet for them. The sooner that they become acclimated with this idea that they have validity in their opinions and that they have agency to join these bigger conversations that have long scary words, making a difference and really adding great insight and perspective to this longer conversation about whatever their field of study is. So that was a huge realization for me: A scholarly awakening, if you wanna be fancy about it. Then also as a Queer woman, it’s such a huge thing to see bits of yourself sprinkled through history and then getting to decode it. It’s almost like, there is blue writing and red writing. When you put on 3D glasses, the old ones with blue and red lenses, you can see the whole picture, but you look through one, you see. So if you’re a Queer person, it’s like you have this little access card to all of these things. So it felt like going on an archeological dig for truth and seeing all these clues that have been peppered throughout this one person’s writing. I’m obsessed with adaptation because that is very much what theater is, right? We’re taking an idea and we’re adapting it to the stage in a way that’s meaningful to the audience. That’s the joy of live theater. I had a whole lot of hats on and that reads very true. Reading back through my thesis it is like maybe too many hats. Maybe take a couple hats off kid, you know? But it was just a joy to do the research despite being nervous the whole time that I was going to fail college.

J.P.: Absolutely. Were you out when you read it the first time?

Alison: I was. So I came out, I had a really supportive mother and stepfather. So I came out in my freshman year of college, like fully. I think my mom always jokes that I came out when I came out of her. So I’ve always been a tomboy. I’ve always been like, we didn’t have this term back in my day. I’m 35, but I was always gender nonconforming and always tomboy. My biological father and mother divorced when I was 11. At one birthday, he got her a bowling ball and she, out of spite, because she was not a bowler, it was the most left field gift. Out of spite, she joined this bowling league that was all Lesbians. So I got to spend time around them and I had no idea that they were Lesbians., I didn’t know what that was at the time. But one of the women that she had become really close with pointed at me, because I was playing the arcade games and said, so Maria, that’s my mom’s name, Maria, your kid’s probably Gay and I think you should start thinking about that because I really wish I had a relationship with my mom and my mom chose to end our relationship because she could not deal with that. So my mom had a great head start to start, you know, wrapping her mind around the fact that I probably was Gay.
Isn’t that crazy? She’d always been so supportive. So when she picked me up to go home my freshman year, I had this really awkward goodbye with this girl in my dorm in the hallway and I was like, okay, bye. We gave each other a half hug. In the car, my mom was just like, ‘so that’s your girlfriend, right? That’s what we’re doing.’ I was like, yeah. Then we had the conversation and she was super warm and welcoming about it. Then I was like all the way out from then on.

J.P.: So she has a conversation with her friend at the bowling/arcade. Then how many years was that before your freshman year? That was a number of years, wasn’t it?

Alison: Yeah, I was probably, gosh… I was probably like seven or eight.

J.P.: Oh wow, a waddle.

Alison: Maybe nine. Yeah. I was a kid. This woman, I think her name was Polly, she just totally saw herself in Little Me. Even if that hadn’t happened, my mom would have been fine with it anyway. That’s just who she is. Now the joke is that since I’m married, my mom is so stoked that now she has this Femi, young person that she can give all this stuff that I never wanted, like ponytail holders and shoes and purses and all kinds of stuff. So they leave me alone when we visit for Thanksgiving. They go off shopping. But my mom always has a rainbow pin on and like her foam background: she’s very into rainbows. So she’s super supportive. I’m slowly convincing her to maybe not give us rainbow colored decorations anymore, because we know. We know we’re gay. It’s okay.

J.P.: But can you have too many rainbow themed things?

Alison: Uh, yeah, come over. You can.

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J.P.: Welcome back, everybody. I am talking with Alison Vincent about the novella Back to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood. Alison, I wanted to ask you this. You had touched on it earlier in the interview about kind of a new relevancy of this novella to what we’re living in today. This rise of Fascism. I don’t want to really compare the night of the long knives or the storming of the Reichstag, but we did have an insurrection, right? We had a storming of our capital. I’m curious, given how the book saved your life, and you’re an instructor and you have all of these takes, academic and lived experience, what is it like for you to be living as a Queer person in the world, having an Out of Berlin moment?

Alison: Well, the book is complicated, right? So I was just talking with a colleague who also looks nonconforming. In a way, it’s both a blessing and a curse to read as Gay, right? I have short hair. I wear men’s clothes. I just carry myself and speak in a manner that is not typical of how we establish that women should behave or dress, right? That’s not a conscious choice. It’s just who I am. So when we talk about that in the Queer community, we often talk about living authentically, right? Again, for me, it’s not quite a choice. It’s just who I am. The choice I could make is to live closeted or I could choose to try and quiet certain parts of my personality, which I’m just, I’m not going to do that. My students really appreciate it. My top positive comment was being gay.

J.P.: Wow!

Alison: I laughed pretty hard about that for a minute. And then I realized, oh, what they mean to say, I think, is that just living authentically and just being an example of this identity. Why would I not be who I am with you guys when I’m asking you to pour yourselves out on the page? I think it was really impactful for that person, you know? It could be that maybe I’m the only Gay teacher they’ve ever had, right? Especially if they’re coming from a very small town where it would be a problem to be an out instructor. So, just living authentically, and then trying not to doom scroll too much. I think it is a problem for everyone’s mental health. But I mean, we’re getting to a place where there’s been a lot of discussion about how certain tactics being used right now by the far right and by extremists are directly from the playbook of the Nazis, right? Nazis use a lot of play as in the playbook of American racism and slavery. So I mean, there’s just like a ping pong between people being terrible back and forth, and setting up these effective ways to do it, right? One of the most devastating things about this time period, and why I think I’m personally so morbidly fascinated with the time period, is that we’re on the precipice of having a huge Gay rights moment. When Christopher Isherwood’s in Berlin, you have Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld there with the Institute of Sexuality. He’s doing it. He’s trying to drum up support. Then ironically, the brown shirts, kind of like you mentioned, they were Gay until they were wiped out one night. There was a putsch and then Hitler wasn’t really that upset about homosexuals at first, but Himmler was. Himmler was really upset that the Soviet Union was putting up propaganda that there were homosexuals infiltrating the Reichstag and the German army. That was the case he made against us and pushed Hitler to this place where he was gonna make decrees and strengthen paragraph 175, which was the law in Germany making homosexuality illegal. But in reality, it’s just like he himself was super homophobic and wanted to get rid of the kind of party boys in the essay. That pettiness has such huge consequences. Then you have the mass murder of a whole group of people. And then shortly after that, once the essay gets purged, they start sending known Gay men and then also suspected Gay men to concentration camps. They’re forced to wear the pink triangle and be in the 175 barracks.

.J.P.: Right?

Alison: One of the most devastating parts of, I mean obviously that’s horrendous, but then those who survived and were emancipated, a lot of the Gay prisoners were then rearrested and forced to go back to prison because they were still in violation of paragraph 175, which is unimaginable to have made it through all of that on the other side and be sent back to prison. So when the film comes out in the 60s, then we start having the sexual revolution and Gay rights starts getting some charge again. A lot of the laws that were on the books, like paragraph 175 or the Lavashire Amendment in the UK, they start to be phased out in the 60s. Then in the 90s, again, we have another liberation movement. I think a lot of that is due to Matthew Shepard. We get the revival of Cabaret. So there’s just this cycle of oppression,. Horrific things are happening, and then we start to be a little more accepting. Then we start turning it back the other way again. So it’s really frustrating. I don’t know how to break the cycle, but I think the story is really important in raising awareness about it.

J.P.: What do you think a Cabaret revival, film or otherwise, should look like right now? If someone were to say, I’m gonna revive cabaret, what would the take need to be on it? (There was a revival of Cabaret in London in 2021).

Alison: That’s such a good question. I think it’d be… You’re trying to take the pulse of the underside of the moment right now and try to elicit that as enticing in the beginning and then really off putting at the end. So initially, it’s the glitz and glam and a lot of the kind of drinking nightlife in the original Cabaret. And then in the Alan Cumming revival, it’s sex, right? Sex, leather, kind of naughty appeal, S&M. Now they’re really going after Transgender people. So I feel like the MC should be a Trans person. The MC is such a bizarre character because they’re the most interesting, in my opinion, character in the play. It seems like they’re wielding us a certain way, right? That all this is cool and they’re on our side and then they flip and it’s like, oh no, you’re not. So I think that’s also part of it too and why the book is so brilliant for Cabaret is it really does show how quickly things can flip around and how quickly people can really sell their soul if it feels like their power is in danger; their body is in danger; their wealth or their connections are in danger. How quickly people are willing to totally deny who they are on the inside. So I think that’s also something that’s really a huge challenge and a great joy about directing and producing that show is figuring out what is the MC doing? Why are they doing it? How do I want the audience to feel? Then just the idea of Cliff and Sally, their dynamic is really different. fFun fact: Isherwood’s middle name is William Bradshaw, so he’s Christopher William Bradshaw Isherwood. So Cliff’s last name Bradshaw is an allusion back to Isherwood himself.

J.P.: I did not know that.

Alison: Right? In the version that Masteroff, Kander, and Ebb made, he’s Bisexual. He still needs to be a palpable character. We still want him to have a love interest with Sally to really sell the show. But the central problem of her arc is that she gets pregnant. In this instance, it’s Cliff’s baby, which is not what happens in Goodbye, To Berlin. So having him be Bi allows you to explore that homosexuality, but also have this conflict. Then also the audience can be a little uncomfortable, but then he ends up with a woman. So it’s cool.

J.P.: All right.

Alison: I don’t know how you could do this. There’s that great line by, I wrote this down because I thought it was such a brilliant thing. In the book, A Director Prepares, Ambogard has this quote from Ludwig Wittgenstein, “If you can’t say it, point to it.” So I feel like if you really played Cliff as a much more closeted character who is Gay but is seeing Sally to try and maybe work through his own internalized homophobia, as a way of pointing at the actual homosexuality that the REAL Christopher Isherwood was experiencing and engaging in his time in Berlin in the late 20s and early 30s, then a lot of the actual Nazism is just like, just put it on stage. That’s what we’re dealing with. But that’s a really good question. What would I do if I was at the helm?

J.P.: Dressed as Proud Boys….

Alison:Oh, God. Yeah.

J.P.: I don’t know if you saw the episodes of Schitt’s Creek where they put on Cabaret, but what I found interesting about that was that they use the big solo of Sally Bowles “Maybe This Time as a moment of self actualization for one of the characters and coming into her own as a woman and as a business owner.It was like seeing this character for the first time. I just suddenly remembered that, oh, here’s a way of a decidedly Queer show using cabaret as a way of empowerment for this one character. Isherwood. You have done more with Isherwood, right? So you’ve done a lot of other research around the rest of his works?

Allison: Mostly around his memoir and autobiography. The book, Christopher and His Kind is really fun. I love Isherwood because it’s elevated writing; it’s beautiful literary writing, but it’s also very conversational and it feels like you’re just two girlfriends having a chat, spilling all the tea, do you know what I mean? So he does that, like he knows you wanna know if he was sleeping with Otto, he knows that. He takes great pleasure, it feels like. I hope he did, at least. I imagine him at his desk as an older man being like, mm-hmm. He’s like, yes, I did sleep with Otto. In fact, we were lovers, it was awesome, until it wasn’t, and then we broke up. So I just think that that is, for me, so fascinating that as a writer, you get to approaching the end of your life, the end of your career, and then you get to do this tell-all. It was also, as somebody trying to actually write a paper about him, infuriating because he uses quotation marks about the Christopher from Goodbye to Berlin because it’s his same name and then not quotation marks when he refers to himself in the third person when he was in Berlin as a young man. Then he uses “I” in present tense. So that’s like a whole thing. You have to navigate as a reader and then trying to explain that in a paper and the correct quotation marks and the correct, I, you know, italicize Christopher versus real Christopher. It just became a lot. So he makes you work for it. I really respect that.

J.P.: He also has all the different ways that he played with the character of himself, right? This idea of self and who he is. I didn’t know about third person pronouns. I didn’t know about that in telling his story. I’m curious, did that affect the writing that you’ve done?

Allison:Yeah. One interesting thing about Isherwood is I told you that he was funded to go on this journey to find yourself and be this reckless young man in Berlin. He was sent to this really hedonistic playground that is Weimar, Berlin, by his uncle Henry. But one of the prices for admission was he had to send Uncle Henry letters, detailing all these things he was doing like explicitly talking about his affairs and things like that, which is kind of weird, but whatever. He admitted that he would exaggerate, right? Even in that instance, where he’s writing as himself, he’s using hyperbole to make it more interesting, right? Even when he’s trying to be an open Gay man! Because his mom, Kathleen wasn’t stoked that she had a Gay son in the time, he wrote her letters where he would, exaggerate his sexual encounters, but then he would tell her about them, which is wild, because he wasn’t worried about being cut off because he had Uncle Henry. So what’s really interesting is that when he leaves Berlin, he’s so paranoid that he’s going to be arrested or sent to a camp or blackmailed that he burns his own diary. That’s his mom’s letters from him and her diary entries when he can’t quite remember things. Also, like the concept of memory of self when you’ve been adapted so many different times it gets confusing. That example of taking your life and making it just a little more interesting; a little bit of embellishment is something I definitely take to heart as a writer. My wife always calls it elevated storytelling whenever I’m talking about a trip we’ve been on. I add in a little bit of flair. She’ll roll her eyes. ‘We’re embellishing now. We’re doing elevated storytelling.’
I just wrote a show for Naked Sages about caretaking for my biological dad, as he succumbed to dementia. I specialize in physical theater, but I want honesty. Just get up there and be yourself, be your best stupid self you can be, and whatever happens happens. So I tried very hard to make it interesting and fudging some details for storyline. The audience doesn’t need to know everything in a 30 minute show, but the heart of it, I tried really hard just to be honest and let it be bald and unabashed on stage and letting the audience do whatever they needed to do with that information. With other shows though I’ve just lied, just lied through my teeth.

J.P.: Oh, that’s funny. I love hearing how for the writers that have been on the podcast about how the book that saved their life impacted their own and how they can see that trajectory or the thread I guess is the more appropriate word of how that work translates into their own. What is the one thing that you felt in reading the novel that was like, this is for me? Christopher is writing to me right now and nobody else in the world.

Allison: I really was drawn to that most famous line, “I am a camera.” I think that so many authors think that. Isherwood, I feel like it’s unfair to call it a lie, I like to think of it as a statement he knows is not true, but it sounds really good. He knows that that’s not true. I would say most folks, especially students of English, when you hear a writer saying that, you know, that’s not true. If you’ve ever done any kind of writing at all, you know, even if you think about it right? You have your camera and you’re looking through the lens and you take a picture. You’re still holding space with that subject. You still were there and you saw what came before and you saw what came after and you’re choosing this one moment to freeze and describe for us and immortalize but that’s not the only thing that exists. Eve Sedgwick in Epistemology of the Closet talks about the silences for Queer people: the things that we don’t say..For me, all the things that are absent around the frame of that picture are all the contexts and all the experiences and all the truths at that time. I think as a young Gay person, when you’re thinking about how to proceed into the world, especially if you’re not out yet, that rings so true. I also find it so interesting now that they are in many ways so much healthier and with it and more accepting of their peers and more engaged in the world. They’re also so aware of their presence digitally and how they frame it and their brand and all of that. So it’s something that I’ve always thought about and a metaphor, it’s almost like a purposely broken metaphor that I’m just really obsessed with talks about needing compelling contradictions. I think that that is one of the most compelling contradictions I’ve come across in literature and it’s something that I continuously return to. It’s really a big metaphor for me in theater as well. This idea that as a director or as an actor, I’m just putting it up and I’m letting you decide, but that’s not true, right? I’ve manipulated every decision you could possibly think of so that you get as close as you can to what I think. What it ends up being as a novella that’s purposeful so I love it because it’s beautiful and I also love it because it’s full of shit you know? It’s really such an interesting thing that he sets up and it’s the thing that carries through all the different versions of Christopher.

J.P.: I’d like to thank Alison for joining us on the podcast.
Hypertext Magazine will publish Alison’s short story Find Your Light this month which is about an aging mime who is selling his theater and is about to stage his last show.

Visit TransAtlantic Love Affair and Walking Shadow’s websites to learn more about her shows.

Alison does teach a memoir class at the Loft Literary Center. Check out loftliterary.org to see when she will be offering her next class. She also teaches at the Guthrie Theater, if you’re interested in learning about physical theater or clowning. Check out their Adult Education program, the courses are tiered so there is a course for your current stage of learning. Learn more at guthrietheater.org
Alison teaches 1301 University Writing at the University of Minnesota, a required course for Freshman. So Alison will see you in class.
You can follow Alison on Twitter. She is @allisonrvincent. And she posts all about her upcoming theater projects and shows on Facebook if you’d like to follow her there. We’ll put links in the show notes.