This month alone, I've been interviewed by 2 podcasts, 1 live radio station, and joined a video live-streamed panel discussion. Behind the scenes, I'm lending input to more endeavors just over the horizon. To explain all this flurry of off-stage activity, I need to share some important recent events.
What to Do about Trans Persons?
First, I've come to this inescapable conclusion: every transgender person is, whether they like it or not, a political figure. Even before the current administration took office, our very existence has been up for debate. How to accommodate us in public bathrooms, doctors' offices, and even just on the street has become a matter of government policy. Unless they plan to sit at home in the closet, a trans person must engage in what's affecting their lives. Even just actors, like me.
Maybe especially entertainers, since we have a highly visible presence. For me, and my particular projects so far, this presence has felt quite positive. Up on that stage, I find that audiences are fascinated by us, and enjoy engaging with trans actors' many human commonalities, as well as our few unique aspects. Directors too are eager to use transgender actors, though not always certain in what roles. And writers are especially keen to jump in and write, write, write new stories that "capture" our experience and make bold, necessary statements about us.
Or so they hope.
To date, not all such attempts have been unmitigated successes -- neither for the theatres themselves, nor the transgender community at large. Of special concern to me: just how few transgender theatre artists are included in the creative process. Cis (non-trans) actors still are being cast in trans roles. Our transgender directors, playwrights, & designers seldom if ever are invited to participate. At best, in some cases, we serve as "consultants" to deliver a speech about "what its like to be trans", on the hopeful presumption that this transmits all data and nuances the production team needs, and, in the best cases, to also flag the script for egregious mis-steps and inaccuracies. But as for telling our own stories with full authenticity -- not just exploiting us as freaks/symbols/and other peoples living on the margins --- well, this is a rarity indeed. At least in Chicago.
Chicago Trans Theatre Initiative
I became directly involved in this situation last autumn, 2016, when a handful of new "trans" shows arrived on the theatre scene. I'd seen casting notices for none of these, nor had any of my trans friends. So I was concerned, and made a point to see every single production. I found most were sincere attempts to represent us, but as usual none included us in the telling, and this greatly impacted both the quality and veracity of the work
Alarmed, I sought to counter what I was seeing and hearing. If an audience talk-back session was offered, I spoke up to offer my perspective. Messages were written to the artistic directors of the companies. I even arranged a Skype session bringing together some of my fellow trans actors with the director of one show, to discuss what we'd seen and to make our case for greater inclusion. To our surprise, she agreed with us, and connected me to a team of forward-thinking folks at The Goodman Theatre eager to explore the discussion even further. Within just a couple months, they set up a panel presentation before a large crowd of key Chicago theatre artists and decision makers.
For 90 minutes on November 29th, these talented folks focused entirely on transgender theatre: what needs to be done to better tell trans stories, and involve trans talent on Chicago stages? The talk broke new ground for many attendees, who for the first time encountered key questions that need to be addressed. Exciting stuff, and a good start towards the end goals, towards developing some practical, nuts-and-bolts industry recommendations, and providing useful resources for theatre companies to learn, and better arrive at their own answers. As of right now, we're laying out next steps, with Steppenwolf Theatre joining the planning efforts.
This important work behind the scenes has made folks more aware and more curious, so I've been given the microphone (literally) to expand on what all this means. Below is a round-up of my media "presence", just during March, along with a short synopsis of topics covered.
Spiel Chicago podcast
March 3, 2017
We cover: My past biography, recent career, getting started again, I Am My Own Wife, current Trans Initiative work, Great Trans* Play Contest.
Link to podcast here
March 9, 2017
"Her Words, Her Voice: a panel on women in Chicago theatre."
We cover: casting opportunities; the kinds of stories being told; intersectionality of women's presence with racial, gender and disability groups.
View the entire 30-some minute discussion below.
Your Program is Your Ticket podcast
March 14, 2017
We cover: my past theatre background, recent theatre work, and current activism. There is about 6 minutes of the host's other material before and after my interview.
Soundcloud link here
Vocalo Morning AMp,
Radio program, discussion with host Jill Hopkins-Olewnik
We cover: No discussion of theatre, but on broader feminism & trans intersectional issues, stirred up by recent remarks from famed feminist-author Chimamanda Ngoze Adichi.
Soundcloud Link here
Read More About It...
A fine article published back on February 10th summarizing my body of theatre and activist work in 2016/17 by Emily Mercedes Rich for FMagazine.