December 3, 2015

Put on Your Big Boy Pants

#BITCHPLEASE   Tessa Stamp and I go waaaay back to VIC Kids in the film & theatre scene. At the time, what I admired most was her killer dance skills; she could do the splits and kick herself in the head. As adults, she's been my pusher, my supplier of costumes, make-up, teeth and props, and also a pusher in terms of propelling me along my creative path through her bold and fearless example. We have each experienced many incarnations in this life and have fortified our resilient spirits. It's a pleasure to reconnect on the path with so many stories to share. I admire this woman fiercely. It's hard not to. Tessa has tremendous wisdom to share, so please spread the post and give her some love!

Put on Your Big Boy Pants

Guest Post by Tessa Stamp

I have always been a bit gender queer.  Not that I feel like I am a rebel or a pioneer, but I have never really played by gender rules.  I have a mother who for all intents and purposes looks like a proper 50s housewife… perfect hair, spotless house, she hosts properly decorated parties, and is always dressed and accessorized magnificently.  But for 4’11” she has the proportional strength of an ant, drives a huge truck, is the most aggressively competitive person I know, and has working man hands like I do.  Despite all the importance she places on appearances, she never told me that I couldn’t do things because I was a girl.  She supported me as a dancer and as an athlete, she smiled when I wore a skirt with a camo jacket and military boots to my first day of grade 10, and she appreciates that she can ask her daughter to cut her plywood for her art projects.  My father is a guys guy.  He’s a firefighter, an athlete, and a high rigger for IATSE.  He is not concerned with appearances, in fact I am sure that he holds the record for largest dorky hat collection, but of course they are all highly functional.  He never really gave me an option of being a girl or a boy, he never cared what I looked like he just demanded that I be a functional human being.  I was not allowed to have girly excuses for not being able to do something and therefore I never questioned that I could.  

It is my Dad’s fault that I became a permit member of IATSE (the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) in 1997, and it is probably his fault that I never questioned whether or not I should be doing that job.  Which is a real stretch if you consider that in 1997 I was 15 years old and probably weighed 102lbs 
soaking wet, yet there I was pushing road cases, loading trucks and moving a lot of heavy things around with a bunch of men.  I am glad that I started out as an oblivious teenager who was given no option but to work this job in the summers, otherwise maybe I would have never considered this as a career path.  Especially 20 years ago.  

As a theatre technician I have always been out numbered by men.  I learned quickly how to deflect sexual harassment, how to assert my skills without question and how to look the part.  It’s probably the reason I have always driven a truck… I have had the support of many wonderful men in the industry who have either stood up for me, silently defended me, or better still… never questioned that I should be doing what I was doing.  I have also come up through the ranks with some of the most talented and amazing women I have ever met, but it is still very much a male dominated industry.  I think the part that I found the hardest is that were no clearly defined role models for the kind of things that I was doing… unless you count Alex from Flashdance.  But even then, the only way a woman could be a welder and a dancer was to also be an exotic dancer… which is more than a little misogynistic and confusing.  Not taking anything away from Flashdance, it remains one of my favourites, but come on… Alex is still the only other dancing welder I know of.  

With no one who defines themselves with the same rules (or lack thereof) as you do it’s pretty easy to get confused and lost.   I have never questioned my sexuality… I like boys, but there were a few years when I thought very seriously about the feeling that maybe I was supposed to be one.  I mean, how could I not think that maybe I was supposed to be a boy when so many of the things that I loved to do were “for boys”.  I don’t feel gender queer because I feel like I’m in the wrong body, I have felt gender queer my whole life based strictly on the fact that I don’t follow what is acceptable for a woman to do, like, and want.  I firmly believe that it is the pursuit of a creative existence and the community of people who work in theatre that have allowed me to exist outside these norms and expectations.  I mean have you taken a look at the people who work behind the scenes?  We are a motley crew.  A whole jumble of people who live outside what is expected of them, people who come together to tell stories.  Stories that give the world hope, show people a different perspective and challenge the expected.  Could there be a more important job?! 

Over the last 8 years I have done a lot of my design work for The Maggie Tree, a theatre company with a mandate to support the development and visibility of women in creative leadership roles in the arts.  While writing this blog I texted my friend Kristi, one the two fabulous women who co-artistic direct the company, and I asked her if she could help me answer the question of how many female Artistic Directors there are in the city.  And I’ll admit the list was a lot longer than I expected it to be.  And I told her that.  Then she replied with “but notice how we are all on the outskirts”.  Women are taking leadership roles, creating companies and running festivals.  It is still not normal to see women running large, funded theatre companies, but if things keep going the way they are, if our numbers keep growing outside the palace walls… it will be.  

This is my 33rd year on the planet.  Some people call this your, “Jesus Year”, your year of manifestation. The Urban Dictionary defines this as the year “where you are reborn in some sense.  Perhaps a mid-life crisis, perhaps an ego death, perhaps the year where you abandon old ways and start new.”  For historians it is the year when Jesus started a spiritual, political and intellectual revolution steeped in struggle and controversy that ended with his eventual death and resurrection.  For me… it’s the year when I am finally comfortable with the complexities of who I am.  It has been a battle between what I feel obligated to do and what I am driven to do.  Deciding to react how I think others would want me to versus what my impulse and instinct is directing me to.  It has been the year of my highest anxiety, my deepest honesty and between those, I have found the utmost clarity of self.  

If I could tell my younger self one thing, it would be this:  “If you feel like you are doing something that no one else is, if it’s a little scary and takes courage to show up, and if everything in your heart is telling you to do it anyway… then you’re an artist.  And your expression is important.” 

Make art dammit, do something different.  It’s the only way any of us get any better.

Tessa is a Maniac... on the floor

Tessa Stamp is an Edmonton born theatre professional and entrepreneur.  A dancer first, Tessa has made her career in technical theatre.  After graduating from Victoria School she completed the Theatre Production program at Grant MacEwan University.  Tessa spent 5 years working for Carnival Cruise Lines, she toured in 2007 with Cirque Du Soleil’s Corteo as an assistant stage manager, and spent a season in the lighting department at The Citadel theatre, before opening Theatre Garage in 2009.  Doing mostly set, lighting and costume design for The Maggie Tree for the past few years, she has been able to enjoy making award winning theatre with such good friends.  She is thrilled to be able to design Confessions of a Sew Worker as part of the first ever Chinook Festival. Follow her on Twitter @Tessa_stamp


  1. Like a boss. Proud of you kid. gg

  2. Love you to death , what a Great Blog....just like mamma only taller ;) 💟


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