In the foreword to Lara Rae’s play Dragonfly, actor and playwright Brian Drader describes how, as Rae’s dramaturg, his most compelling memories are “witnessing the constant ebb and flow of a storyteller wrestling with their own life’s experiences and placing them into dramatic form.”
This one-act play of transformation turns Rae’s specific journey as a transgender woman into compelling and mind-expanding art.
Lara Rae thought carefully when choosing the title of her play.
“Dragonflies, like butterflies, are symbols of transformation in many cultures,” she says, adding that dragonflies are the more interesting of the two.
“They spend most of their lives underwater as tiny nymphs – a very apt metaphor for being a trans kid: small and in the dark and claustrophobic. They shed their nymph skin, never fully going through a juvenile ‘puberty,’ and burst forth as these remarkable and beautiful creatures, fully adult, who then soar,” Rae says.
“This part of their lives is short-lived. I think those of us who transition at the half-century mark can relate.”
Originally, the play was produced as a one-actor play, where a woman told the story of someone socialized as male. Rae explains how she and Ardith Boxall at Theatre Projects Manitoba decided to present the story with two voices, named They and Them, removing gender from the equation and conveying “the central idea that our insides do not reflect our outsides in myriad ways,” she says.
“The one thing I am emphatic about is that the lines are not gendered. One actor is not me as a boy and the other as a girl. I wanted to write something anyone could do – be they enbee [non-binary], trans, cis[gender], able, disabled, and of any age or ethnicity. Also, coming from radio, I like things that read well and that do not have a lot of stage directions.”
The incidents in the play do not follow a strict chronological order, although Rae worked with Drader to make them cohere.
“The play comes in and out of my life and illuminates certain years of my life,” she says. “If something important to the story actually happened a few months on the outside of those pages, we took the liberty of placing that event within that section. We were more interested in things being true as opposed to factual.”
Although the play is based on her own life – and Rae was fine with it being very autobiographical when it was originally produced in her home town of Winnipeg – now that it is in book form, some details have changed. Rae renamed the character who was assigned male at birth, calling him Adam.
“Now that it goes into the world,” she says, “I wanted the work less anchored to me. Adam is the first man, and means man, so he is everyman and no man. I never get too far from the Bible.”
Rae is very clear, however, that the play is not meant to be taken as universal.
“Any discussion of my transition is with the caveat that my experience is my own. There are as many ways of being trans as there are trans people,” she says, “although my way is, of course, the most awesome.”