Hapa on A Boat Part 3
Together, This Is What We'll Do: Being a Part of Change
By Rebecca Lee Lerman
I believe in Magic. I believe we have Angels and Spirit Guides watching over us. I believe everyone and every conflict that comes into our lives has a profound way of changing us for the better.
There is power in speaking up. One person’s voice, though seemingly small, can shake the world and move mountains. I’ve had trouble in the past in with this. As an actress, I believed I had to take any direction that was thrown at me, without question - even if what was said to me was offensive. At a past audition, a director told me to make my Chinese accent thicker: "The less understandable, the better," he said. "It's funnier that way."
I felt my body grow hot. I was shaking. Even though I was offended that he asked me to make fun of the way a Chinese person speaks, I did it anyway. For fear of conflict. For fear of negative reviews.
We do a Broadway Drag show aboard this ship. In it, a message of love and acceptance rings strong and true - to be whoever you want to be and to express yourself the way you want to. This show has the power to provoke change, d how refreshing this ship has been. Usually the soul of a company gets lost the bigger it gets. The fact that drag numbers are accepted on this ship, is what I thought, made this corporation so forward thinking and special. So, when I heard that they would allow a drag number for the Crew Christmas Show (the show for employees only) but not allow a drag number in the Guest Christmas Show (the show for the guests), I was shocked.
Apparently, this decision was made a month in advance, but I did not know. Ten minutes before the Guest Show started, I saw that my friend was not dressed in drag, the way he had been for the Crew Show. The reason I was given was that a Christmas Show would draw in The "Bible Belt" crowd, the Ultra-Conservatives, the ones they feared would complain and write up negative reviews. The ratings of the ship would go down. There were "too many children" in the audience, and, apparently, a man in a dress was inappropriate for kids to see.
As Karla McLaren states in her book The Language of Emotions, “Anger’s job is to help you set and maintain effective interpersonal boundaries." It is an "emotion that can help you understand exactly who you are — as an individual, and as a member of social groups." I was shaking. I felt my body grow hot, just like before, but I wasn't going to sit back this time and "do it anyway." I had to speak up. The show was about to start, and my boss was getting ready to address the audience. There wasn't much time.
I went up to my boss and protested that if there were so many children in the audience, all the more reason to show them that it's okay to be whoever they want to be; to dress the way they want to dress. The Drag number was harmless. It was simply a man dressed as a woman singing "Baby It's Cold Outside," nothing as lewd or provocative as Cynthia's “Pop Musik” number from Priscilla. (Let's be real here. The only things really inappropriate for children in the Priscilla musical are a few penis jokes and Cynthia's “Pop Musik” number, where she pops ping pong balls out of her vagina. There is nothing offensive about a man in a dress.)
We shouldn't operate out of fear of complaints. We should continue to put on shows that promote love and acceptance,l. By doing so, we attract crowds that share the same values we do. We should not cater to those that are less accepting and fearful. If we cater to them, we feed the hate. We give power to that which we so desperately want to get rid of.
I was met with resistance. More so, I was told that I chose to speak with my boss moments before the show, before he was to go on and address the audience. It was an inopportune time. I realized my mistake and apologized profusely. However, the next day, Christmas Day, I was called in to my boss’ office to go over "what happened" yesterday. Because it was Christmas and because there were other personal issues going on with me at the moment (You can read about these other issues here), I said I could not make the meeting that day. I was too emotional and asked if we could please reschedule. I was again met with resistance. I was told, "You chose to speak to me at an inopportune time, so now you have to come into my office at an inopportune time." Also, if I didn't go in, I would get a written warning.
It was a trying day to say the least. I stood up for something that was right, something that I believed in, and here I was getting in trouble because of the timing. That was it. I wanted to go home. I was tired and upset. I didn't believe in the power of speaking up. The magic was gone. The corporation was not as forward thinking and as special as I had imagined. I was away from my family and friends during the holidays, and my request to reschedule was not taken into consideration. Employees were not valued as human beings. I felt such an injustice and a complete disregard for my feelings.
I could not hold it together, and on Christmas Day I found myself sobbing hysterically in my boss’s office.
But I had two more months to go on the ship. How was I to keep going?
I had to look for hope.
New Year’s Eve started out with me spending time with my good friend who was the props master for our show. It turns out we both worked together on Priscilla before: she also worked behind the scenes pushing the Priscilla bus at the ZACH theatre in Austin, TX. Something cosmic brought us back together, and we became closer in the last months of our contracts. She was there for me during heartbreak and I was there for her through her ups and downs. Here, there was magic.
I have started to compose and play songs on my guitar. I also just got certified as a Reiki practitioner. Is it a miracle, then, that I was set to live next door to three of the most talented and inspiring guitarists on the ship? One guitarist also happened to be a Shaman who performs Reiki healing and acupuncture, and I called on him when I was in need of some healing. Is that not divine intervention?
After the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve, I found myself in the cabin of another brilliant musician, where I was surrounded by people from the UK, Spain, Poland, the Ukraine, Russia, and Portugal. All were dancers, singers, musicians, and creators just trying to find their way. We were all united in this bubble, far away from Brexit and Trump and what tries to divide us. We came together in the name of art. As Julia Cameron states in The Artist’s Way, "Art is an act of faith. And we practice practicing it."
This is what will change the world. It made me believe again. This coming together. Talking about music, politics, fashion. Finding that we are more similar than different, and that whatever differences we have, we learn from each other. No matter what happens in your life, from heartbreak to resistance to feeling like you cannot break through, this is the most beautiful thing.
I may not have made an immediate change in the ship world of "fear of negative reviews."
But maybe I made a difference just by throwing my voice out there. One thing is for sure. I used to be afraid of speaking up, but this time I cracked my voice open. It hurt. There were consequences, but I stood up. I did something I've never done before, and now I know I can do it again.
Maybe I didn't change them.
But the ship’s community is the coming together of worlds, and by doing so, we can change those worlds.
I am a part of change, and most importantly, I changed me.
Rebecca Lee Lerman is a New York City based writer and performer. Her plays and screenplays were featured at Pan Asian Repertory Theatre, The Midtown International Theatre Festival, Universe Multicultural Film Festival and We So Hapa, which celebrates people of mixed race. Most recently, PheLerm Productions, for which she is writer, participated in the 72 Hour Shootout competition, and their short film was selected as the top 40 out of 400 to be screened at the Asian American Film Festival.