The idea for The Starfish hit me four years ago. I was sitting on my brother’s patio in Las Vegas, trying to figure out how to approach Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. I’d been hired to direct this classic comedy at an evangelical Quaker university - and had been forbidden from using any same-sex kissing or sexual commentary in my approach.
The sublime humor of Twelfth Night is built on misunderstood genders and confused attractions. How was I supposed to direct it without acknowledging its fundamental queerness?
At the time, this university was embroiled in a conflict with a transgender student who was denied on-campus housing with his male friends. This school is also known for referring LGBTQ+ students to conversion therapy programs to try to “cure” their nonconforming identities.
It's also my alma mater.
Yep, I grew up in the evangelical Quaker church. And in many ways, I loved it. I loved its introspective, communal decision-making practices and its belief in the inner light of all people. But my particular branch of Quakerism also held fundamentalist beliefs around sexuality, and it actively excluded LGBTQ+ people. I found this dissonance troubling even as a child. I eventually left the faith altogether, although its values of egalitarianism, collaboration and personal integrity infuse my artistic practice to this day.
That day on my brother's patio four years ago, my compassion for the trans student trying to navigate the university's painful housing policy blended with my own artistic conundrum as the director of a homoerotic play on a homophobic stage, and sparked a new idea: The Starfish, a film inspired by the characters of Twelfth Night and the world of Quaker youthdom, in which transgender, gay, and sexually curious teenagers forge a raucous, transgressive new version of their faith, to the chagrin of their disapproving elders.
I began outlining in January 2017 and completed the first draft in November. Over the winter I revised, refined and began submitting it to screenplay competitions and potential producers. And now I'm in preproduction for a short film that I've adapted from an excerpt of the feature!
The short is entitled The Water Carrier. I’ve applied for $23,500 in grants, attached an amazing DP and producer, found a beautiful location FOR FREE in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and hope to shoot it in September 2018, pending those grant outcomes. My goal is to use the short film as a calling card to drum up support for the feature, which I hope to direct in 2020.
In the years since the epiphany on my brother's patio, I have watched my former church split over the issue of human sexuality. I know many such splits are occurring across America, and many LGBTQ+ people and allies are hurting. I want to tell a story of young people who use the best assets of their faith to reject its worst liabilities. I want to examine the personal and communal costs of homophobic doctrine, while celebrating faith’s healing potential. Most of all, I want to chronicle the coming-of-age of a transgender faith leader, manifesting a story I hope to see more in the real world.