Make It Real: An Interview with Shakina Nayfack
June 20, 2017
Shakina Nayfack

Manifest Pussy creator and trans* icon Shakina Nayfack discussed her work, and its relationship to her own personal journey, with A.R.T. Publications & Artistic Programs Associate Robert Duffley. 

Let’s start with the title. “Manifest” is a complicated word. One the one hand, it can be an adjective meaning “clear or obvious to the eye or mind” (thanks, Google). On the other, it’s a transitive verb—“to display or show something.” Then there are acquired contexts like Manifest Destiny. What does the term mean for you in relation to Manifest Pussy? Does the show confront or contain those ambiguities?

I chose the title for all of those reasons. It's a lyric in the show, and more than anything to me it means "to make real." To make the Pussy real. But also to make the things the Pussy symbolizes real, as a sacred vessel, a center of power, a source of pleasure. The show is about my quest to bring all of that all into completion. But I also find ways to critique the geopolitical and human exploitation that I witnessed and even participated in along that quest.

There’s a radical honesty in this piece: you’re sharing truths from your own life, and your own body. Especially in the context of telling trans* stories, why have you been drawn to tell stories drawn from your own experience, both in this and in other performances?

As a performance artist I usually deal with my personal issues in a public forum. My feeling is, if I can confront my insecurities and fears on stage, and also reach for my dreams, maybe I can inspire other people to do the same.

The show combines comedy, storytelling, and spoken word with original songs. What interests you, as an artist, in using this variety of media to tell a story?

For me, musical theatre is such a powerful form of expression precisely because it uses all these languages of the stage. All of it is storytelling really—it's just that different stories want to be told in different ways. There is nothing more subversive than an artful command of language, so I try to pay attention to how each story needs to be told in order to be the most powerful. Switching things up keeps things interesting, and knowing how to elevate and stylize distinct dramatic moments helps me take the audience on an emotional journey with carefully crafted highs and lows, tension and release.

What should audiences bring to the show—however you choose to interpret that question?

Friends! And a flask. And tissues, if you're a cryer.

Author:
Robert Duffley
Publication date:
June 20, 2017
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