BY MICHELE CARLO | One night this June, I walked into The Tank (an acclaimed nonprofit arts presenter and producer on W. 36th St. whose mission is to support developing artists), to see a new solo show called Party Animal.
I took my seat amid a set strewn with crushed red Solo cups, balloons in various stages of deflation, and unraveling sparkling ribbons. But as soon as writer, storyteller, comedian, and playwright Becca Beberaggi walked onstage, you had a feeling this Party Animal wasn’t going to be quite what she seemed. She may be a self-described “Brooklyn-based bi-coastal Ecuadorian-American writer, comedian and tiny brown human,” but appearances have always been deceiving for Becca—and she’s built a body of work writing about it.
Restless in the Womb, Restless in Life
Becca was born to an Ecuadorian mother and a Puerto Rican/Sicilian-American father in the early ’90s, and grew up in Washington Heights. Nicknamed “Roadrunner” because she never sat still, she showed early talent as an artist, writer, singer, and musician (she also played the violin). Yet her start in life was not as hopeful as her talents may have promised.
Although not premature, Becca was born dangerously small, at just three pounds. Undernourished in utero due to being tangled in her mother’s umbilical cord, many areas of her body did not fully develop—one consequence being the arteries in her neck were (and remain) too narrow. Becca suffered a series of seizures from birth through age six, which eventually subsided. But when she was eight, the simple childhood act of performing a cartwheel loosened a blood clot, causing the first of two strokes—the second, while she was in the hospital recovering from the first, paralyzed the left side of her body.
Confined by a neck brace, Becca “felt like she was in a cage.” She was told she might never walk again. But Becca’s mother brought her own physical therapy—drawing pads and pastels—to Becca’s hospital bed, and encouraged her to draw for longer periods each day, which eventually strengthened the stroke side of her body, leading to a recovery that has been ongoing ever since. Ongoing, as she remains affected by weakness, nerve damage, arthritis, and fatigue—conditions almost unheard of for someone still in their 20s. To look at Becca today, one would think she’s the picture of health and vitality. But the reality is, she’s just become really good at covering things up.
The Stories Behind Her Stories
When Becca and I first met on the storytelling circuit in 2016, at a one-shot Times Square storytelling festival, it was love at story sight. As fellow POCs [People of Color] in a mostly white art form, we bonded, soon found ourselves performing in the same storytelling shows, and then booking each other for shows we produced. Somehow, despite the gap between our generations, we got each other.
Part of the blurb for Party Animal says, “Come join her as she tells some of her favorite stories about how parties are bad, why parties are bad, and how she was probably the reason why.” Becca starts off from her Gen Z perspective of how social media really shaped her generation: about growing up with numerous IM (instant messaging) friends and having endless AIM (AOL instant messaging) chats without ever seeing these people IRL (in real life). Also, how your Myspace profile had to be “popping,” and how your “Top 8” was of paramount importance.
As a POACA (Person of a Certain Age), it was a revelation of how those of us who were 25, 30 or even (gasp!) 35 when Myspace was a thing, had a totally different experience than those who were 15, and came of age on chats—as opposed to the unknown (and potentially messy) IRL. Now you might be thinking, “I get it, of course that’s why she’s bad at parties.” But while you’re nodding your head in agreement—and laughing—the show takes a turn you don’t (at least I didn’t) expect.
Turning Art into More Art
Becca was homeschooled through all of high school—not because her family was part of a cult, but because her father (no longer married to her mother) convinced the family to do it. There was one benefit to being homeschooled, though: Becca was able to immerse herself in all artistic disciplines and, through a friend, learned about the Stella Adler Conservatory (now known as the Stella Adler Studio of Acting) Outreach Program for inner city youth. She joined at the age of 15 and spent the next two years in acting, movement, voice, and speech classes, two days a week. Then, after getting her GED at age 18, Becca got a scholarship to join the Stella Adler program.
It sounds like an impossible dream come true—and in many ways, Becca found it nearly impossible. Now that she was in Adler with classmates up to twice her age, some already professional actors, she found herself accessing emotions she didn’t yet have the experience to process. While others went easily to the dark places and laughed about it over a hot dog afterwards, Becca found it depressing—but she persevered. After graduating in 2012, she took improv and stand-up classes at The Peoples Improv Theater (PIT) and the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre (UCB). But what really set Becca on her trajectory was when a casting director (who shall remain unnamed) told her, “I don’t know if you’re going to get work, because of how you look.”
Until that default changes, this is the reality for artists of color. So like so many others before her, Becca started writing for herself to make her own work. She felt like it was a way for people to see her for who she was, because, “When you show your vulnerability, you show your humanity.”
She’s Real and She’s Raw, and She Doesn’t Hold Back
Meanwhile, back at the Party, Becca’s not weaving a predictable story arc. She reveals the dark place inside her head, where she planned her suicide by jumping off a roof—as calm and deadpan if she were talking about yesterday’s Seamless order. Why did she even consider doing this!? Because she wondered what people would say about her on social media if she did.
And then we learn something else. On top of everything she’d already been through, Becca was bipolar, and had gone undiagnosed for 20 years. Twenty years! For someone this young, this is another life-changer. Because when you’re Latinx, you don’t have a treatable mental or emotional condition—you have una debilitad, a weakness, una sinverguenza, a shame, una problema, a problem you are supposed to get over and keep to yourself. It’s another challenge for Becca to overcome, but throughout it all we find laughter in the weirdness and humanity in her vulnerable places. Because, as the blurb for Party Animal also says, “Mental illnesses lie to you and make you believe things that aren’t real, but for Becca, it’s just made her REALLY bad at parties.”
The Human Connector
So with two invisible disabilities and a body of work that addresses them, Tiny Brown Human Becca isn’t stopping for anyone. Her work has collected accolades from Time Out New York, The New York Times, and Voyage LA. She has written, directed, produced, and starred in short films that were shown in The New York Lift-Off Film Festival, Indie Fest, the Latino Film Market, and the Third Eye Rebel Film Festival. Her latest film, Two Ushers Walk Into a Play, is a 2019 Official Latino Short Film Festival selection. She’s written and produced two other solo shows and a full-length play, and also edits Lady-Saurus Comedy, a digest of daily funnies on Medium (medium.com/lady-saurous-comedy). And when I asked Becca how she reconciles her social world with the analog task of writing, she said, “Human connection and sounds are what’s important… and when you meet someone on Tinder, get a video of them so you can hear their voice!”
Hear their voice… as Becca’s is rightly being heard. Party Animal is a look into the brain of a very funny, very determined, tiny brown human who’s very aware that her party can end at any time. But coño if she’s not going to wring every drop of life out of it while she’s still here, even though, as she says, “Sometimes it hurts like an UTI in the heart.” That, and she still hates keeping still.
See Party Animal as part of The Tank’s LadyFest festival, Fri., Aug. 16, at 9:30pm. Tickets and info: thetanknyc.org/calendar-1/party-animal-aug-16. Use code FRIEND4FREE to get a friend in for free! The Tank is at 312 W. 36th St. (btw. 9th & 10th Aves.). Follow Becca on Instagram: @beccabeberaggi, Twitter: @beberagg, and Facebook: facebook.com/BeccaTheTinyHuman.
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