Open discussion: Tulpa, or Anne&Me

I want to do something a little different with this post. Instead of presenting my own ideas and hoping you respond, let’s have an open discussion.

As most of you probably already know, I’ve written a play entitled Tulpa, or Anne&Me. I’ve recently done massive rewrites that better capture the way I imagine the story. You can find the most recent version of it on my LiveJournal, but there are ways to get your own personal copy*. For those of you who are unfamiliar, this is the basic premise:

When Anne Hathaway crawls out of your television, what do you do? When the topic of conversation is race, how would you navigate the truth of your experience and the human need to make connections?

Through a series of connected visitations from the tulpa of the famous movie star, “Tulpa, or Anne&Me” blends reality and fantasy to explore what is usually hidden in the way we talk about race. Taking the vantage point of a Black lesbian with an overactive imagination, “Tulpa, or Anne&&Me” explores the effects of racism on the human psyche. Will she find a way to express and fulfill her desire for a meaningful connection? Or will the weight of history and pain of the present sever ties before they can be made?

Rather than come up with essays and ideas about my work for you to read (which, frankly, gets boring), I want to open up a discussion to talk about Tulpa, or Anne&Me from the Ars Marginal POV. I know it’s a lot to say, “Read this and get back to me,” so here are some questions I have for you to get things started:

  1. Who do you relate to most? Why?
  2. Where did the story really speak to you? Why is that?
  3. What do you think this story is trying to say? Why do you think so?
  4. How have you reacted when people said some of the things the characters did? In retrospect, how do you interpret that reaction?
  5. Where do you think Anne’s Dr. Laura moment comes from?
  6. What do you believe is the main conflict between the protagonist and Anne? Do you believe the play resolves that? Why or why not?
  7. What roles do you think the Guardian Angels of Blackness play in the protagonist’s life? What do you believe they represent?
  8. What do you believe is the most important thing for the audience to understand about this piece? About a particular character? About the issues it raises?

Of course, you don’t have to answer all of these. They’re just some prompts to get you thinking about what you’re reading, and a way to continue the conversation.

ETA: If you have questions for me, this is the perfect place to ask them!

*A $50 donation to Crossroads Theatre Project

37 thoughts on “Open discussion: Tulpa, or Anne&Me

  1. I know we’ve talked about this before but what I relate to is that many of the issues that Me endures, I can relate to and thought I was the only one who went through them so to read that story was very cathartic for me.

    Probably what’s most important for a (white) audience to understand is that we endure struggles internally as well as externally that they may not know about and may not understand.

    • we endure struggles internally as well as externally that they may not know about and may not understand.

      It was VERY important for me to get that across. While I would love to offer political solutions, I believe that glossing over the internal aspects is part of the problem. Too often, when people talk about feelings and ideas and what not, they’re not really talking about those of POCs.

        • Thanks. It’s always good to know what you’re dealing with. To bounce back with a question, though: Do you believe that sticking to stats and empiricism makes White people more comfortable because they don’t have to face how much damage they cause? Or do you think it’s something else?

          • Well, the empiricism can demonstrate a shit-ton of damage, so it isn’t exactly an easy way out. I think it just easier to try to hold onto something objective in the face of something uncomfortable. And it might just be a Western European mode of thought, too, like excessive classification.

      • I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and I realize my previous answer was a bit glib.

        Generally, I DO think that white liberals want to look at social injustices and all kind of -isms as problems to be solved through effective policy (education, regulation, penalties for discrimination, etc). Effective policy has to be driven by external issues that are measurable. The internal elements of racism are out of scope of public policy.

        However, the internal elements are absolutely within the scope of lots of other institutions, like family, religion, and art. That doesn’t mean we use these institutions to examine racism as much as we should… but we can.

        Your play is, for example, exposing the internal damage to us with remarkable clarity. And maybe I’m overestimating us, but I think a white person would have to be a state of exceptional denial to miss the fact that the internal damage is real. Getting white people to accept responsibility for any of the damage is a bit harder, to say the least.

  2. I’m going to focus on #6. I think the main conflict between Name and Anne is that Anne doesn’t get it, “it” being that “can’t we all just get along” doesn’t work in our society. I think she doesn’t understand just how much of a burden race in our society is on Name, and she doesn’t understand why her good intentions mean squat and don’t make Name less suspicious of her. I don’t think the play resolves it–I don’t think it’d be realistic if it did. Unfortunately, in the play and in real life, the White person’s aha moment often comes at the expense of a POC, and they never stop having aha moments, though we can only hope that gradually less of them come at our expense.

    My question: Do you (RVCBard) have an idea of who Name is but you don’t want to bias the audience, or did you write it with the intention of us filling in the blanks?

    • My question: Do you (RVCBard) have an idea of who Name is but you don’t want to bias the audience, or did you write it with the intention of us filling in the blanks?

      Both. :)

      Originally, [NAME] was me. I really put a lot of myself into that character, but for this draft, I changed that because I realized that just calling her ME made it too limiting. I wanted a space for Black women who were reading it to put themselves into the play if they wanted to. I talk more about the power of subjectivity in art over on my blog, where I talk about how the personal is radical.

    • And to follow up with another question (don’t you just love that?): Where do you see Anne’s “Aha!” moments, and what do you think she learns from those moments?

  3. I think her “Aha!” moment is when she comes back and apologizes to NAME and realizes that an apology doesn’t quite cut it. I think that during the Dr. Laura moment she truly thought she was appropriately expressing her anger and an “I’m sorry” would make it all better, because she didn’t have to see it as any deeper than that. In that scene she made me think of the strong desire White people have to be “forgiven”, even when they haven’t taken the time to figure out what they’ve done wrong in the first place.

    It’s also interesting that during her outburst she goes with the “stock” insult: Nigger. It’s like WP see that as the magic sword they can yield against BP–we just hear it and crumple, I guess. I don’t know if she ever realized that the word didn’t matter so much as the fact that she used it so easily.

  4. It’s also interesting that during her outburst she goes with the “stock” insult: Nigger. It’s like WP see that as the magic sword they can yield against BP–we just hear it and crumple, I guess.

    Here’s something that’s been bothering me about that scene and its aftermath. In the context of this play, do you think that word is an act of abuse? Does the relationship dynamic of [Name] and Anne fit the cycle of abuse? If it doesn’t, what made you feel that way? If it does, how does that change the meaning of the play?

    Anyone should feel free to jump in with that?

    • It’s an attack designed to shut down the other person. I’m reminded of the clichéd redneck who gives his wife a black eye and comes back the next morning with flowers and apologies. But, I guess we don’t really see the “cycle” in the play. We don’t see it happen again, so we can easily find ways to make excuses for Anne.

      • True, but I hope I don’t make it a foregone conclusion. I want to give them some hope – at least two ways for it to end (I consider them heading towards happy, but a lot of that depends upon the choices they make – and we don’t always make the best choices).

  5. I see that scene as abusive, and I thought the slavery set-up just before that was a good lead-in. It made me think of those wistful anecdotes White people tell about how Massa “loved” his slaves–at least until he cut their feet off for, you know, not wanting to be slaves anymore and trying to escape.

    Even after that you can see the abusive dynamic–Anne is exasperated about having to apologize, has another outburst (the one about not wearing sheets is all-too familiar), and by the end of that scene I feel like she wants NAME to forgive her just so that she can feel good about “not being racist”. Kind of like if you call out someone you don’t really know (in class or something) on their racism they’ll bend over backwards to get the “not racist” seal of approval back, but it’s not like they actually want to know you for a person. But, you know, it’s not because they’re racist.

    • Thanks for the invite! Unfortunately, I have no way to get there. :(

      But if there’s a theatre troupe willing to put it on, feel free to send them my way so we can talk about it. :)

  6. RVCBard,

    I didn’t even think about that (the dehumanization part), but I don’t think so. I think we all have the right to not be able to let go of that one f’ed up person we love (not necessarily of a different race), and I read it as Name feeling like Anne was worth it based on some of the conversations they had and her attraction to her. I don’t think she loved her, but I think it’s good (and appropriate) that she gave herself a chance to be happy (if only for an afternoon) without worrying about being a “sell out” or whatever people might call her.

  7. I read it as Name feeling like Anne was worth it based on some of the conversations they had and her attraction to her. I don’t think she loved her, but I think it’s good (and appropriate) that she gave herself a chance to be happy (if only for an afternoon) without worrying about being a “sell out” or whatever people might call her.

    I think that’s a very important point that needs to be reiterated. What [Name] does comes from her own wholeness, her own sense of agency. [Name] doesn’t forgive Anne because it’s The Right Thing To Do or because Anne Is Really Sorry And Is A Wonderful Person Beneath All That (note the caps). You could say that [Name]‘s forgiveness is something she does for herself.

    It’s also interesting that you mention that you don’t think [Name] loves Anne, because that’s a pretty intriguing reading of their relationship. It’s not that they love each other and are working out the kinks (pun intended), but that they have to confront this before it’s even possible for love (at least from [Name]) enters the equation.

  8. While reading the play I never directly thought of [name] as being Black or white and I think it’s because of how the GAB’s speak in the play, which is a stereotypical voice for black people. That helped reinforce the theme of the effects racism has on us.

    That being said, I’m glad that the “fragile white girl” stereotype was touched upon.

    That’s currently all I can coherently formulate at that moment, so I might have more thoughts.

    • That being said, I’m glad that the “fragile white girl” stereotype was touched upon.

      What do you believe is the importance of that element of the play?

  9. You could say that [Name]‘s forgiveness is something she does for herself.

    I liked that part of it. Racial identity is often a big part of personal identity, but I don’t think racial identity should trump personal identity.

    A part of me doesn’t want Anne to end up with Name (not quite sure why yet), but if it did happen I imagine it’d be some time later.

  10. Quick reactions before I jump into the discussion:

    I love the pearl metaphor.

    I love this: “you are in violation of code one nine seven dash four eight five section six paragraph a part three aiding and abetting delusions of friendship and/or intimacy with a caucasian.”
    It’s funny, but it cuts, too.

    I like the baby doll scene, where [name] talks about the doll she had as a child.

    And I really like 2:3 and 2:4

    In general, I have trouble buying Anne’s sincerity, and so not quite convinced in [NAME]‘s interest in her/willingness to forgive her. I guess maybe it’s complicated by my tendency to conflate [name] with you…and I just can’t imagine you having any time for a person who talked to you like that.

    Also, I’m not sure I’m getting the white queen/psychotherapist scene (how is that staged, by the way? Is the audience cued to understand which she is at a given moment? just curious…)

    Big congratulations on completing another rewrite. Unemployment’s not all bad, eh?

    • For the White Queen/Shrink part, the secret is in the acting. :D

      In general, I have trouble buying Anne’s sincerity, and so not quite convinced in [NAME]‘s interest in her/willingness to forgive her. I guess maybe it’s complicated by my tendency to conflate [name] with you…and I just can’t imagine you having any time for a person who talked to you like that.

      It depends, tbh. It’s not like they met a few times over the course of a couple of weeks. It’s months of interactions compressed into a 2-hour play. There’s also the fact that both of them want to connect to each other.

      I don’t want to make a happy ending a foregone conclusion, but I wanted to give them hope.

  11. I’ve read the play twice now, and each time, I COULD NOT STOP READING. I tend to think that’s a good thing. What grabs me out of the gate is the off-center humor, and what keeps me involved is how fucking personal it feels. I’ve been trying lately to read about and listen to stories of white privilege and the way it damages people of color (and white people, too), but the stories that I hear are often either kind of academic and very left-brain, or are told by real-life friends who I suspect are toning them down to go easy on us well-intentioned liberal white people.

    This is more powerful. Because it is a play, and [Name] is going to be an actor on a stage, you get the special theatrical privilege of telling exceptionally frank and even confrontational truths behind the mask of art. It’s really good.

    I think the best scene is 2-2 in the boxing ring. The unpredictable shifts between queen and confidant are, to borrow a phrase from the churches I grew up in, convicting. More than any other scene in the play, that one forces me to see what is in common between me and Anne and, I guess, lots of white people. We love to think we’re helping all the disadvantaged people of color out there, while not even understanding how we keep changing the rules. Like Julia, I think this is going to be a tough scene to produce. But if you can make it clear, well, it will be hardcore.

    I am a little bit conflicted about 1-5 (surprise!). While I think that the stakes have to be really high to set up Act 2, the Dr. Laura moment doesn’t ring true in the moment. It’s much more understandable from Dr. Laura, who already seemed overflowing with years of barely articulated hatred, than from somebody like, well, Anne Hathaway. I think that’s probably your point: that well-intentioned white liberals unknowingly commit chaotic, senseless damage (like the way she’s always knocking over and breaking things). And yeah, maybe it doesn’t ring true for me because I swim in the sea of white privilege, to my own advantage. But I also think it is going to be really easy for white people in your audience to basically tune this part out. To either say (1) “well, that’s just sensationalism” or (2) “what an evil thing to say! I’m so glad I’m not like that.” It is also true that I got more out of this moment the second time I read it, and it felt more organic and real, but how many people who see this play are going to get that chance?

    I have no idea how I’d react to that if I were you.

    • Right. Scene 1-5 is meant to be ambiguous in a way. The setting is, of course, Nowhere, which is a realm?dimension?reality? stripped of our social niceties – what happens there is not conscious. It’s the shadow laid bare and brought to light.

    • But I also think it is going to be really easy for white people in your audience to basically tune this part out. To either say (1) “well, that’s just sensationalism” or (2) “what an evil thing to say! I’m so glad I’m not like that.” It is also true that I got more out of this moment the second time I read it, and it felt more organic and real, but how many people who see this play are going to get that chance?

      Right. That’s always a risk. But it felt true to me because a lot of times the really bad shit really does come out of left field like that. If I made it as subtle as my real experiences, it’d be too easy not to catch it. But something that blatant, something unmistakable, something really fucking horrible – you can’t pretend like it wasn’t racist.

      • Yeah. And it does have to be that bad for Act 2 to make sense. The second time I read the play, I was more aware that both people had moved into this other world on the other side of the TV, and I caught the no-lying rule that I might have been too tired to get the first time. Again, production challenge, but certainly not an impossible one.

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