Spectacle! At the Anatomical Disco: A conversation with Becca Blackwell and Amanda Duarte

Issue Two: Snatch Adams and Tainty McCracken Present It's That Time of the Month
A.A. Brenner
November 10, 2023
A.A. Brenner

A.A. Brenner (they/he) is a playwright, screenwriter, dramaturg, actor, and New Yorker. A.A.'s writing blends naturalistic dialogue with heightened realism to explore queer, trans, Jewish, and Disability themes, challenging both societal power structures and theatrical form. Their plays have been presented or commissioned by La Jolla Playhouse, National Disability Theatre, Breaking the Binary Theatre, Lincoln Center, Queens Theatre, Phamaly Theatre Company, CO/LAB Theatre Group, Shakespeare Theatre Company (Fellows Consortium), Three Muses Theatre Company, Young Playwrights Inc., The Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts, Columbia University, and The Hangar Theatre Lab Company; and their play for all audiences, EMILY DRIVER'S GREAT RACE THROUGH TIME AND SPACE (co-written by Gregg Mozgala), was featured on the 2020 Kilroys List. Additionally, A.A. was a Semi-Finalist for the 2023 O'Neill Playwrights Conference; an Honorable Mention for the 2022 Leah Ryan Prize; a Finalist for the 2020-22 Apothetae & Lark Playwriting Fellowship, the Platform Presents 2021 Playwright's Prize and the 2021 Columbia@Roundabout New Play Reading Series; and has been a writer-in-residence at SPACE on Ryder Farm, the Catwalk Arts Institute, New York Stage and Film, and The Lark's Beyond the Binary initiative, among others. A.A. is a recent graduate of Columbia University School of the Arts' MFA Playwriting program (Class of 2022), where they were mentored by Lynn Nottage and David Henry Hwang. They now live on Lenape land on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

As a transmasculine, physically Disabled playwright, I have long been acutely aware of how gender—and our performance and perception of it—is a spectacle. But when I walked into Soho Rep the evening of Wednesday, November 1st, I found myself amid a spectacle of gender: literally.

From the moment I entered through a bright pink tunnel (production design by Greg Corbino) that birthed me into the theater, I knew I was in for something bold, crude, and glittery: a talk show-meets-anatomical disco. And Becca Blackwell’s Snatch Adams & Tainty McCracken Present It’s That Time of the Month did not disappoint.

A variety show hosted by a personified vagina named Snatch Adams (also played by Blackwell) and her co-host Tainty (Amanda Duarte), who is—you guessed it—a personified taint, Snatch Adams… was 90 minutes of mostly-improvised, participation-heavy comedy with scripted interludes aimed at tackling humanity’s obsession with (and oppression of) gender and genitalia.

Photo by Julieta Cervantes

I was fortunate to gather with Blackwell and Duarte, who have been collaborating on versions of this show since 2016, and chat about characters, catharsis, and “remarkability”:

A. A. BRENNER: As a playwright, I’m always excited to see things on stage that I’ve never seen before. So where did the idea for this show originate?

BECCA BLACKWELL: I think all three of us in this group understand having a vagina: you’re just kind of over it, you’re, like, “When does this stop?” And I respond to everything as a clown and a weirdo. I was in Jennifer Miller’s Circus Amok for 10 years, which was a social-political circus, so I kind of attack the world that way.  I used some grant money to build Snatch and originally, I was gonna perform it in front of Planned Parenthood. But I’m actually not a finger-wagger as a performer, so I couldn’t figure out how. I’d always really liked Amanda’s work so I approached her and I was like, I have this character and this gig; would you want to collaborate?

BRENNER: Amanda, had you thought of your character, Tainty, before or did that come out of this collaboration?

AMANDA DUARTE: It’s a voice in my head that I hear a lot. When I am trying to get my head around the way a hypocritical person thinks, I tend to step into the character of that person and start talking as them. And, yes, there is an element of parody to that, because a lot of the hypocritical people I’m trying to swim through are just so easily parodied, but actually giving voice to what I perceive to be this person’s inner monologue, or how they rationalize their behavior, has been extremely cathartic and therapeutic for me.

BRENNER: So how has the show shifted since you began working on it in 2016? Has it always been a talk show, variety show deal?

BLACKWELL: “Sore Wars” used to be called “Pin the Cyst on the Ovary” where they would try to put cysts on those big balls that hang around me—

DUARTE: They didn’t have the track space [at Duplex, where we did the show].

BLACKWELL: I’d literally run into the crowd.

DUARTE: We were banned from the Duplex, by the way, because we threw too many liquids and stuff into the audience.

BLACKWELL: We threw ham—

DUARTE: Sliced ham.

BLACKWELL: When I first approached [Soho Rep] about it, it was going to be in a full uterus. The audience was going to get Nickelodeon “can’t do that on television” blood plopped on them.

DUARTE: There was a lot of talk about chicken liver.

BLACKWELL: Oh yeah; we wanted, like, Snatch to sneeze and have a chunk of liver fly out of her—

DUARTE: We did a lot of trials in these residencies—tests of how we can make the walls bleed.

BLACKWELL: So yeah; then we just realized the complexity and we only had a certain amount of money. We were begging people for money but Bushwick Starr came in, and, God bless them, they gave us $25,000 which, you know – we’re trying to pay people better than [most] theaters pay.

BRENNER: Becca, what’s it been like working on these developments to Snatch as you both are personally changing?

BLACKWELL: Well, I think it was always challenging, because people always thought I was a man as I did it, and so they thought I was mocking women—which was strange, because I was, like, mocking women in an empowering way, I guess? But truly, I wish I could be more like Snatch all the time. Like, she really does look at the world as like, everyone’s just there to experience their bodies and be in joy, and nobody should be suffering, but of course, challenges are going to be there because that’s the beauty of being alive.

DUARTE: Not only did we all go through the horrendous 2016-2020, and then of course COVID, but I also got divorced. Having to date and deal with lots of men was really interesting. These were men who identified as being progressive and feminist. —Men who were like “no, I’m a good guy, I’m a feminist. Ruth Bader Ginsburg—yeah, man, I love her, I put a picture of her all over my Instagram,”—but they still want to come on your face and while you call them “daddy.” So, to me, these guys were actually worse than the sort of straightforward Trump-supporting assholes. And I used to carry that dialogue around in my head all the time.

BRENNER: There is no formal script, right? Obviously, there is a structure and you know what's going to happen next most nights. You have that lovely monologue at the end. But how does the improv really work?

BLACKWELL: Amanda and I have always just made it up but because we had people needing to write cues, they kind of told us, “You can’t just use your minds.” That's how theater works for it to work nightly. It was a compromise but really was helpful because it gave Amanda and I this ladder to climb on that's really strong.

DUARTE: It's interesting because, of course, there is a skeleton to the show so that we can trigger cues and have some semblance of an order. But it really is a live talk show like Colbert or Seth Meyers, whatever. They have their scripted bits, but then they're talking. I don't want to speak for Becca, but we have talked about this and if it weren't for the immediacy and the capacity to bring new life into the show every night…well, I don't know.

BLACKWELL: That’s what I hate about theater and shows. The monotony actually gives me anxiety attacks. When I do my own work and I'm flexible, I'm talking, I'm engaging.

DUARTE: This show more than almost any show, I feel like whoever the audience is, whatever they bring to it, they're gonna get back tenfold. So much of it is a collaborative experience between us and the audience. It's not theater. You're not just going to sit there and passively take in something that we've practiced a bunch of times. You're impacting what we think and what we feel and then the thing becomes alive because we are talking about such broad, terrifying topics. We’re inviting everybody to blow them into the kind of abstraction that they deserve in order to really take away any dishonesty, mystery, power that a lot of this shit has over us. And we've been very, very lucky. With these very game, very smart, very funny audiences that have brought as much to us as we've brought to them.

Photo by Julieta Cervantes

BRENNER: I was really struck by this concept of “remarkability” that comes up and how, at the end of the play, you have the audience remember a time when they felt remarkable. I was really curious where that came from, and what that means to you?

BLACKWELL: I mean, basically, [I figured I’d end the show] with stand-up, because I’m a stand-up comic. When you're someone like me, you have to explain to people what you are and what to do with you, especially as a performer, because people were always like, “Oh my God, that's a trans person [dressed] as a vagina.”

I'm also on a very big journey of doing my Qigong practice, which has been 10 years now. And the biggest thing I've learned in the last few years is like, “My god, I didn't realize how much I didn't love myself.” The idea in a lot of the metaphysics stuff I'm working on is like, any change in the world has to come from you. So if I'm in a state of not loving myself, then that is the world I'm gonna keep perpetuating and creating. But if I’m obsessing over something that actually brings me great joy, that’s what I’m going to be bringing in. It's so easy how powerful we are. But we're not taught this, and we're not encouraging each other to do this.

So [Amanda and I] created this show where we were, like, exploding in front of you. And [I realized that was the] perfect time to go in with [this concept at the end of the play, and say,] “now imagine all of us could just let go of all these things that stop us from being amazing. See? There it is! Feel the room motherfuckers!”

Snatch Adams and Tainty McCracken Present It's That Time of the Month plays at Soho Rep through December 3, 2023.

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