Broadway [and theatre overall] is Having a Moment: What Will the Next One Hold?
Visibility was being the only trans man in the room at Rotterdam [including, sadly, the cis woman who played one], and one of only a handful at Log Cabin, being met with stares the entire time.
Visibility is hearing people murmur, “is the person playing this role a boy or a girl?” and replying with a concise “no.” [anecdotal from a show that I will not specify out of respect for the nonbinary actor].
Visibility is the Trans March on Broadway, organized by Sis, who is currently on the tour of Oklahoma!
Visibility is so many other things.
In this particular moment, we are seeing an increase in trans and nonbinary actors, notably mostly [though not only] understudies/swings, with the occasional principal or featured role such as Ben Levi Ross coming back to the titular role in Dear Evan Hansen, Alexandra Billings’ recent run as Madame Morrible in Wicked, James Romney as Albus Potter and Brady Dalton Richards as Scorpius Malfoy in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, J. Harrison Ghee in [Mrs?] Doubtfire and the reading of Some Like it Hot, and L Morgan Lee in A Strange Loop.
Another thing to note, not all of these characters are explicitly trans or even gender-expansive. Most aren’t! They’re simply human [or Wizard, I see you] characters living their lives, which is relatable to all.
We have made strides in the right direction. We are at the next step, not the first or last step. What comes next after where we are today?
In the weeks leading up to 3/31, Trans Day of Visibility, there was an increase of trans and nonbinary understudies going on for principal roles, including March 20th, a day where two of the three performers who played Fates in Hadestown were nonbinary. Those performers are Yael YaYa Reich and Tomás Matos. On that same day:
- Jax Jackson played Scorpius in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child [one of the only trans/nonbinary people who is also understudying another trans or nonbinary person, just pointing out]
- Heath Saunders played PJ [the boyfriend who sings “Another Hundred People”] in Company.
I could discuss the concept of “gender-swapping” a show or address topics related to some of the other shows mentioned. However, since I want a future in this business and want to focus on the positives of these artists, I will avoid sharing my full thoughts for now. Other people are having that conversation, and we’re all capable of doing so. It is interesting to note the shows on this list/the shows not on this list/the shows that have been hiring trans people most consistently for the longest. I’ll leave it at that. I will mention but not go into further detail on patterns including:
- who is where
- things like plays vs. musicals
- casting nonbinary people into boxes often based on binary gender assumptions,
- and, of course, passing.
After all, show business is still part of the world and is still a business.
A Strange Loop, a show I mentioned earlier, and Black No More, which was off-Broadway earlier this year, also have/had multiple nonbinary understudies. Mell Burke-Missouri was in Black No More, and Edwin Bates is in A Strange Loop. Mars Rucker has been in both of these shows. However, if I’m not mistaken, A Strange Loop is the only other show in this article where a trans/nonbinary person is understudying another trans or nonbinary person.
Black No More is the only show on this list I am aware of with a trans person on the creative team, which feels important to highlight. Her name is Qween Jean; she was the Costume Designer. There are others out there. Few, but mighty, and growing. Having us involved offstage more often is the next step in making this moment more than one moment. Trans people have been part of Broadway, off-Broadway, and non-Broadway shows past, present, and future. I want to give credit where credit is due to the director Will Davis, who did Road Show at City Center in 2019, and my fellow music person, Anessa Marie, who has made some huge strides. This past fall, she and I did a panel with ASMAC about working trans singers in musical theatre. Part of the response has panned out in change; part of it still feels to me like we’re going to be stopping and starting for a very long time. That said, I believe that we will move forward more strongly and in a more lasting way if we’re on board all over the industry. That’s a change applicable to people within the field: visibility from the top down. I’m doing my part to try to grow, I hope the world grows with me.
Regarding visibility: There have been trans and nonbinary people on Broadway for much longer than you or I have known; many were stealth or closeted, but we live in a moment where visibility is possible. It’s a double-edged sword of being vulnerable and also giving hope to SO MANY PEOPLE. I certainly didn’t list every trans person in every show, especially didn’t get to people who work in tech or Front of House, but we’re everywhere, just not always as noticed, and certainly less often in power, but that’s true everywhere.
Here is where I start plugging actionable change for people in and outside of the industry. Most importantly, call your representatives. Ask them to protect trans people, especially trans youth.
Amplifying Activists Together: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSebQLd56xeQ6O7dCXTyt_Jt26yj-VBV_wmtKg5vJUHQroGyog/viewform
Please support the trans artists named in this article and those not mentioned by name. See their shows.
There is room for people of any gender experience, every race, ethnicity, ability, and body type, in every role. We belong as much as the next person.
You can also always reach out and donate to a mutual aid project if you’re able.
ALSO, a pronoun guide for all the artists mentioned here if you’re going to discuss them [I will update this if someone uses a different name or pronoun in the future, do not fear!]. If someone uses more than one set, ask if they want you to use both regularly, one in some contexts over another, or are just providing options.
Ben Levi Ross- they/them or he/him
Alexandra Billings- she/her or they/them
James Romney- he/him or they/them
Brady Dalton Richards- he/him or they/them
J. Harrison Ghee- he/him or they/them
L Morgan Lee- she/her
Yael YaYa Reich- they/them
Tomás Matos- they/them
Jax Jackson- Jax.
Heath Saunders- they/them
Mell Burke-Missouri- they/them or she/her
Edwin Bates- he/him, she/her, they/them
Mars Rucker- they/them
Qween Jean- she/her
Will Davis- he/him
Anessa Marie- she/her