A Hero, A Body, A Performance
For my stab at some actor questions, I have selected the Hercules role Jeffy Denight has crafted in their adaptation (Huck is Dead), Hero. I wanted to take a closer look at Hero because they bring so much to unpack and think about in terms of performativity and gender expression, which is a core subject of the play.
To begin, here is my big question for the actor that plays Hero: Given the delicacy of the performative aspects of Hero’s gender identity, how can you physicalize the fears and expectations that Hero feels, especially in the moments directly preceding the climactic “moment of relapse?”
The "moment of relapse" will become clearer in a moment. Without revealing too much in the way of spoilers, we can just examine Hero’s background to get some great contextual details for an actor to work with that prove valuable and informative.
In parallel with the original mythology and classical texts, Hero has been gone for a long time to perform several labors assigned to them by Hollyhock (Hera). In the opening remarks made by other townsfolk, including Hollyhock, we are given the impression of Huck as a powerhouse of a man, who triumphs in physical challenges like those presented at the rodeo in Pendelton, Oregon. This image seems to stand in stark contrast to the character we then meet, who has renamed themself Hero, wears flowers and has a kind of air of uncertainty about them. Additionally, the historical setting of an old Oregon rodeo informs us that we’re dealing with an iteration of the wild west—a genre, setting, time period, and even myth that is deeply entrenched in narratives about masculinity and a highly physical mode of living.
Just from that, I think an actor can glean a lot of information about the shifting physicality at work here. Hero is a character struggling with their gender, how they choose to express it, and how to be open about it. The text raises questions about what masculinity really is and why we think of some traits or actions as being linked to male identification. Our relationships to our bodies are complicated and deeply personal, making an actor’s choices about how to perform and embody a character incredibly telling about that character’s internal state of mind and their relationship to their body. The difference between Hero’s performance in and out of “the closet” has the potential to be quite striking to an audience as a means of exploring expectations about gender performance and identity.
On that note, I would like to return to the "moment of relapse" and mention that throughout this internship process, we’ve sat down as a group to engage in critical discussion with the playwright, Jeffy Denight, and the important themes or questions they are seeking to address in the text. You can actually listen to one of these talks here.
One thing that came up was how to approach the violence of this story, and what it means in the specific context of this adaptation. Violence is another staged item that is linked to physicality and the way bodies in conflict (both with others and themselves) move. Jeffy touched on previous points we had gone over about how stressful homecoming can be for queer individuals, and that sometimes there can be a “moment of relapse,” whereby a queer person returns to a previous mode of performing their gender or sexuality in order to remain safe or accepted. In Jeffy’s text, at least in its current draft, that moment of relapse overlaps with a moment of violence for Hero. This, I think, serves to emphasize Hero’s struggle with their identity and the expectations placed upon them to perform as a paragon of frontier-esque masculinity.
Overall, the actor who comes to play Hero should be prepared to engage in the complexity of multiple layers of performativity. The items I have chosen to highlight here are just a few of the many important moments and sections of text that an actor would find valuable to consider when crafting a performance that respectfully and fiercely engages the subject matter at hand. I think that careful consideration of physical and vocal choices will help dig at the crucial questions about the performative nature of gender and communicate Hero's internal conflict and their fear as a motivator. There are high stakes concerning Hero's conception of self when the “moment of relapse” finally comes, and what kind of affirmation or recovery is possible in the aftermath.