Trans actor Simona Continente on how Camden Fringe saved her life
PUBLISHED: 14:10 26 July 2015
After performing last year in Lili, the performer tells us why she is returning to the Fringe to star in That Woman’s Voice.
Simona Continente made her fringe debut last year in Lili, a play about the first trans woman to undergo reassignment surgery.
Here she writes about the transformative experience of starting to act and write.
“I am a-50 -year old trans woman, and this will be my second time performing at the Camden Fringe.
Performing on the Fringe saved my life. When I eventually transitioned at 39, I had a good job in the library at SOAS and felt that my identity was completely re-aligned with my body. Yet I began to suffer from severe depression. Medications and counselling produced short term improvements only. But at a group counselling session, I took part in a series of transgender drama workshops aimed at helping trans people to tell their stories in a creative way. Supported by the Arts Council and Islington Council, our group became very busy with writing, developing characters and a narrative. This resulted in ‘Lili’ which premiered at the Etcetera Theatre last year.
The whole experience was a massive revelation. I suddenly realised how performing was the missing piece from the puzzle that ‘being’ had been for me all those years, whether I was transgender or not. One night on stage, I became aware that I was finally complete and it was not because of my new body or the dress I was wearing. Fringe writing and performing allowed me to re-engage with the fluidity of existence itself and gave me the opportunity to express the multi-faceted wholesomeness of who we all really are.
Trans people are often left with no option but to spend all their energy and money trying to achieve that which other non-trans people take for granted: ‘being born’. This often sets unhealthy limits to their existence and ambition. By taking part in the Fringe I had found a way to beat my depression. After performing for 39 years as the boy I was not, I suddenly felt lost when that most demanding role came to end as transitioning brought down the final curtain. The Fringe gave me another stage and this time it was one I loved with confidence. I even managed to get a tiny non-trans role in Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl film about Lili Elbe, starring Eddie Redmayne.
This year I re-discovered Cocteau’s masterpiece ‘The Human Voice’. As an emerging trans writer and actor, I found affinity with his tale of a desperate woman waiting for her lover’s last call. Especially in terms of coupling, our society often treats trans people as that sexually charged ‘other’ whom it yearns for but only as a ‘bit on the side’.
My Camden Fringe 2015 tribute to Cocteau is a new play that deals with the end of a love affair, the addictive nature of passion and the inhumane aspects of technology. Through my 21st century convoluted identity experience, I have brought forth themes like mental health and the fluidity of gender, as well as the importance of cosmetic surgery for trans people in their struggle to ‘fit’ in our still conservative society. In an attempt to turn our voice (one of the things that often gives trans women away) into a tool for reclaiming our place in society, ‘The Human Voice’ becomes for me ‘That Woman’s Voice’. Surprisingly, she turns out to be a winner.”
‘That Woman’s Voice’ is performed at Birkbeck School of Arts on August 5-7 at 7.30pm.