By Teatro Luna, Demonstrated by Coya Paz
This exercise was first developed by Michelle Hayford and Coya Paz as a rehearsal warm-up for The Drag King Karaoke Hootchie Kootche No Name Show and Rooftop Extravaganza, a project that brought together actresses from Teatro Luna and performers from the drag troupe The Chicago Kings to create an onstage drag king version of the 1961 film West Side Story. The piece aimed to critique the racial representations of Puerto-Ricans in the film, while celebrating its not-so-secret homorerotic overtones. A primary challenge of the project was that the actresses from Teatro Luna and the performers from the Chicago Kings shared very different ideas about race and queerness. This game, a variation on the classic children’s game of “Tag,” was a way of getting people talking about their racial and gendered identities without feeling the need to censor or defend. This game became a staple of early workshops at Teatro Luna, and as the first of three exercises that Paz uses at the start of every workshop or performance process, it has also found a home at Free Street Theater. She notes that because the game often forces people to choose between binary identities that do not allow room for the complexity of most people’s lives, it is very important to pair this exercise with others that allow for more nuanced self-identification.
From Ensemble-Made Chicago: A Guide to Collaborative Creation, by Coya Paz and Chloe Johnston, forthcoming from Northwestern University Press.
1. Explain the rules.
This is a game of tag, and it is important to establish the rules of the game firmly, but with a smile. You want people to have fun.
Tell the group that this is a “prompt game” and involves a short script.
It is also important to acknowledge that this is a game that purposefully deals in the binaries and social restrictions that many of us are pushing against, and to assure participants that while that they should choose from the either/or/neither option that is given to them in this exercise, they will have the chance to complicate their identifications later on in the workshop.
As with any game of tag, one person is “It” and charged with trying to catch someone else in the group. When the person who is “it” catches someone, the moderator will yell “Caught!” This is a signal that everyone in the game should stop and listen.
Participants can be caught more than one time, but answers are not allowed to repeat. Answers usually start with fairly straightforward statements of appearance but those will get “used up” pretty quickly, leaving more room for nuanced answers. Participants can also shake up their answers each time they are caught - just because someone answered “white” in one round doesn’t mean they might not answer “black” the next time.”
2. Review the prompt/script.
The game follows a repeating prompt.
The person who is “it” (A) asks the person they have caught (B: "Are you a Boy or a Girl?"
B: A ___________.
A: How do you know?
It: Great! You’re It!
The person who has been caught should answer the questions they are asked as quickly as possible, without thinking too carefully about their answer.
Emphasize that the second question in the series is HOW do you know, not WHY? How and Why are two very different questions. “How” asks participants to identify specific aspects of their lived lives where their gender (or their race or their sexuality or their _________) manifests. “Why” is an existential question – one we can’t possibly have an answer to.
3. Resume the game.
Once they have completed the exchange, [B] becomes “it” and the game resumes. Caution the group that the same person can be caught again and again, but nobody is allowed to give an answer that someone has already been given.
4. Change the prompt.
Once you have played a few rounds of Boy or Girl, switch up the question. Are you Black or are you White? How do you know? Are you rich or are you poor? How do you know? Are you gay or are you straight? How do you know? Are you hot or are you not? How do you know? Are you an American? How do you know?
- There are many ways to tailor this exercise depending on the kinds of conversations you’re hoping to open up. It is best to stick with the “big” identity categories (race, gender, sexuality, class, age, nationality) as starting points, but there is room to have fun with the choices (see “are you hot or are you not?”) above.
- Sometimes, the moderator of the game may choose to control the choices all the way through, telling whomever is “it” when to change the question. But it is also possible to let participants choose their own questions.
- This game is best played in a room where there is lots of room to move around, but even in small spaces you can make it work by introducing limitations on the way people can move: Thick Space! Salsa Dance! Broken Robot!
- You’ll find that this game opens up conversation about identity in fun but complicated ways, particularly for those participants who don’t always think they “have” a race or a gender – once they start identifying how these things manifest in practice, it is much easier to talk about them without shame. However, we (Coya and Chloe) have had a lot of discussions about whether this game requires a binary framework to be successful, given that for some participants it may be deeply uncomfortable or emotional to place themselves within a binary they have worked hard to escape (a trans or gender non-conforming participant, for example, or someone who is mixed race). This exercise is most successful when it keeps its focus on the larger social frameworks that restrict our lives, the simple constructions that we are often striving to complicate, but those need not be binaries. No matter what, because this game forces people to chose from limited options, it is important to follow this exercise with one that acknowledges more complicated dynamics.