F to M to Octopus explores one man's transgender experience | Theater | Indy Week
Pin It

F to M to Octopus explores one man's transgender experience 

As far as f-to-m transgender goes, Sam Peterson's story isn't all that odd. He was born Samantha and, as an adult, realized his software didn't match his hardware and transitioned to male. What stands out is how open—public, even—Peterson is with his trans identity. Not only does he welcome a conversation that is, by its very nature, intensely personal, but he also invites it.

On Feb. 10, Peterson presents his one-person show, F to M to Octopus, as part of UNC's Solo Takes On 3 festival of student solo theatrical pieces. This isn't the first time he's brought this dialogue to a major local venue: In 2010, he held a benefit at The ArtsCenter in Carrboro to fund chest reduction surgery. But that event, with multiple entertainers and a raffle, had an almost carnival air. F to M to Octopus is Peterson himself.

"I've always been this guy who's always been very vocal about whatever he's been doing. I'm an artist, so it usually gets turned into something," he says. The 51-year-old Peterson makes easy conversation, whether he's discussing the many octopus figurines scattered around his Carrboro home or body image issues in the trans community. His usual mode of activism—a term he embraces—sees his cheery, disarming manner applied to the potentially difficult case for male and female as "mistaken sacred idols," as he puts it.

Yet, as he wrote F to M to Octopus, Peterson found his natural goofiness took a backseat. Under festival curator and UNC Performance Artist in Residence Joseph Megel's tutelage, Peterson learned to transform his natural essay-style writing into something more dramaturgical.

"I wrote and wrote and wrote and I've probably edited out more than was in the show," Peterson says. And though he's performing in front of an enormous aquarium, thanks to video designer Laura Melosh, Peterson ended up focusing on decidedly un-silly themes of heartbreak and grief, which he says are vital to any real human connection.

"In the show, there's definitely some anger. I was surprised that there was a lot," Peterson says. The usually chipper trans activist admits some things bother him deeply, mentioning intolerance and violence toward trans people. And as it came together, F to M to Octopus took on a more feminist tone than he anticipated.

"A lot of the show became about the way that women get treated and how doubly painful and offensive it is to be treated like a woman when you're not," Peterson says. "For one, you're a second-class citizen. And I say in my show that nobody deserves that and, Jesus Christ, I'm not even a girl!"

Peterson's alternating humorous and frustrated message is in good company with the other four shows on this festival. And in its three years, Solo Takes On has focused on autobiographical accounts of social barriers: social, racial, sexual. This isn't a rule by any stretch, but it's still a discernable thread.

I Was the Voice of Democracy is Brian Herrera's recollection of his own 15 minutes of fame. At 17, Herrera entered a patriotic speech contest on a whim. This show explores the fleeting national fame that followed, as Herrera, a visiting University of New Mexico theater professor, contemplates keepsakes from this strange experience. UNC Performance Studies doctoral student Kashif Powell, who played freedom rider Stokely Carmichael in PlayMakers Rep's The Parchman Hour, brings Sketches of a Man, a solo adaptation of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. No One Hurts You More than S/Mother is Shannon Wong Lerner's comic ode to first love (i.e., her mother). The singer's repertoire and performance history ranges from jazz standards to vaudeville and song in three Asian languages, though No One Hurts You is a solo opera. And the experimental, often-absurdist Performance Collective's Stories Are Lies is a collection of 60 short stories, condensed and presented dramatically in 70 minutes.

This all fits within Solo Takes On 3's stated themes: story, identity and desire. Peterson, particularly, explores identity. He's the same person he was as Samantha, he says, referring to his pre-trans days as "back when I was a lesbian," and says since transitioning he hasn't tried to change his speech patterns or mannerisms. Yet he's particularly aware of social constructs pertaining to physical notions of male and female.

"When you transition it gives you not only this hyperawareness of social constructs and the physical body but it gives you a lens to critique all these kind of separations," he says. And he does that—he has fun knocking down what walls he can, though his new solo show also sees him venting a bit. And it may be that Solo Takes On is the perfect vehicle for Peterson's blend of genial goofiness and devastating, though tempered rage. He has perfected the first and learned to control the second. And now he's inviting the public to view the world through his eyes. "My kind of activism is like, 'Hey, come on into my playground! We're going to spin around on these octopus tentacles! And then slide down the jellyfish slide!' and that's my show."

Related Locations


Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Theater

Twitter Activity


Several remarkable songs, too, including Huldy's exuberantly hilarious "murder ballad" that brings down the house.

by chuck02 on The Moors Trains the Devices of the Brontë Sisters' Novels on a Toothsome Critique of Gothic Romance (Theater)

Most Recent Comments

Several remarkable songs, too, including Huldy's exuberantly hilarious "murder ballad" that brings down the house.

by chuck02 on The Moors Trains the Devices of the Brontë Sisters' Novels on a Toothsome Critique of Gothic Romance (Theater)

What a well written article! You really got this project, a great read!

by Jude Casseday on Stephanie Leathers’s Stalwart SITES Series Is a Performance-Art Map of Durham Development (Theater)

This looks wonderful! I cant wait until it goes on the road so we can see it in California!

by Michelle Nogales on Pioneering African-American Sci-Fi Author Octavia Butler’s Empathy and Foresight Take the Stage in Parable of the Sower (Theater)

Spelling error for one of the owners of RRE: it's Rebekah Carmichael, not Rachel Carmichael. Also, the shows run between …

by J Robert Raines on Raleigh Room Escapes Slips Through the Keyhole Between Room-Escape Games and Immersive Theater (Theater)

© 2018 Indy Week • 320 E. Chapel Hill St., Suite 200, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation