By Taberah Joy Holloway
Ballast, a world premiere by Georgette Kelly, opens at Diversionary May 4th and runs through June 4th. Ballast is a story involving four main characters that comprise two couples, each with a trans and cis gender partner. Recently, I got the opportunity to sit down with three of the actors from Ballast: Dana Aliya Levinson, Jacque Wilke, and Max Miles Baeza. (For convenience, their answers appear concurrently though each interview was individual.)
How did you get involved with the project?
Dana: My agent got me an appointment. I auditioned in New York and both Matt Morrow and Georgette Kelly were there. I was sure it was written by a trans writer because the trans character was so spot on. When I found out it was written by a cis person, I was very impressed. I loved the script.
Jackie: I was part of a workshop a little over a year ago. I was involved since then, and I am very happy it’s come to fruition.
Max: I had a couple of friends send me the casting notice. I saw it but didn’t know what ballast was. When I read it, I saw they were looking for a trans actor to play a trans character. It was meant to be.
What interested you about the project?
Dana: We are seeing a lot more trans stories but not trans stories like this. I personally have a lot of trans girlfriends who married their wives before they transitioned. How do people navigate that? I also like the idea of my character, Grace, who is a former pastor trying to get her job back. It was a show about a different kind of trans experience that is still very real.
Jackie: My naivete to the trans culture – my naivete to what is happening in politics, in news, in culture. Also the question of what happens when someone changes in a relationship which effects everyone. What are the lines? When do you keep fighting for a relationship? How can one relationship be substantial and secure and exciting all at the same time?
Max: It’s trans characters but it’s not about the transition. Or rather it’s about more than that. There is a larger story.
How are you preparing for the role?
Dana: I don’t. The more prepared I am the more I get stuck in choices, in acting choices. I know the lines down pat but do not set a single choice. For example, I learned all the lines and knew them from memory. I learned them monotone. The first time I ever did it felt much more spontaneous. For a piece of theater, you want to set choices eventually, because you want it to be the same every night. You need to bring spontaneity to the table. In terms of personal preparation, I am a trans woman.
Jackie: For Zoe, it’s the idea of being with someone who is going through transformation. I have a couple of friends who have experienced this and talked with them about it.
Max: There are a lot of similarities and overlap between my character, Xavier, and myself. I feel very vulnerable in the role. It hits a nerve.
How is this different from what you have played before?
Jackie: It’s unlike anything I’ve done. It’s a story that’s not been told. It’s poetry.
Max: I have never played a character with so much depth. I am usually the kid actor. It’s more dramatic and more complex.
What does the title Ballast mean to you or your character?
Dana: Every one of the characters is trying to find the middle ground like their stable place and that’s what a ballast does. I think that my character Grace has gone through this medical transition process and has come out on the other end. Now she needs to refind what her center is. She has defined herself in the relationship with Zoe and now she is finding out who she is just her.
Jackie: With adversity, comes growth. In my personal life, the most horrible things that have happened to me, made me who I am and I am the better for it. For Zoe in this show, this is one of those moments when everything falls apart. It’s her rebirth.
Max: Each character in the show finds the other for a reason. They give balance and stability to each other.
What do you hope the audience takes away from the show?
Dana: With all representations of trans stories, I hope an audience who may not know someone personally walks away feeling like they do.
Jackie: I hope it starts a conversation. The average person doesn’t know what people are going through and react out of fear because of something they don’t understand.
Max: It’s a game changer for the trans community. The trans aspect is secondary to the story. It will influence how trans characters and people are portrayed in the media.