One of the aspects I love about being a playwright is that my research is always an education for me. I am always learning. The importance and inclusion of transgender and non-binary theatre artists was something I wanted to become more educated about so I enlisted the help and expertise of my friend and fellow Colorado theatre artist K. Woodzick.
About to celebrate the fifth anniversary of coming out as non-binary and changing pronouns from she/her/hers to they/them/theirs, Woodzick is heartened to see more transgender and non-binary actors submitting for auditions and being cast in roles. But we all still have work to do.
I first encountered Woodzick at an audition when I was casting a production of 39 Steps. Then I started hearing about all of their projects and endeavors, and I knew they were an artist to be respected in our community.
Trans/Actions was Woodzick’s thesis for their MFA in Contemporary Performance at Naropa University under mentor Leigh Fondakowski here in Colorado. Woodzick teamed with prolific writer Ayla Sullivan to complete the project.
“I wanted my thesis to be a new docuplay that not only featured the voices of transgender and non-binary theatre artists but also local transgender and non-binary actors," Woodzick said. "I met Ayla through their work with Colorado Shakespeare Festival—I saw Taming of the Shrew and noticed Ayla used they/them pronouns in their company bio.”
By the time the two decided to collaborate, Trans/Actions had already been accepted for the Theatre Made in Boulder Festival.
“I conducted the interviews, transcribed them and edited them down and Ayla took the lead on sequencing, structure and incorporating some narrative elements from Peter Pan . . . We added some fantasy elements and stage combat.”
Most of the artists Woodzick interviewed had spent a lot of time thinking about trans and non-binary representation: “The biggest takeaways were that 1) more trans and non-binary stories need to be told in theatre, 2) these stories should be written by trans and non-binary writers and helmed by trans and non-binary directors, 3) these stories should be cast with trans and non-binary performers, without exception and 4) casting professionals and directors need to educate themselves about trans and non-binary talent to empower themselves to think about ways in which they can cast them in roles that are not specifically designated as transgender or non-binary. Long story short: theatres need to prioritize inviting trans and non-binary theatre artists to the table where decisions are being made."
Another project Woodzick has been continually working on is The Non-Binary Monologues Project. Woodzick was approached by mentor Leigh Fondakowski in October of 2017. “She had colleagues teaching at the undergraduate level whose students were asking for audition material specifically for transgender and non-binary performers and did I know of any such resource. I explained that I did not, but if I couldn’t find it, I would create it.”
Woodzick maintains the blog: (nonbinarymonologues.wordpress.com). Some public performances related to the Non-Binary Monologues Project have emerged, but the principal objective is to provide audition material for underrepresented talent. And since this article will reach a good number of playwrights, I had to ask if submissions were appreciated.
“There is such a need for these pieces in training programs and for audition material. If people want to submit monologues (and cisgender playwrights: challenge yourself with writing a stand-alone monologue for the project! Not all of our authors are trans or non-binary!) please submit at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Even with these opportunities that are materializing (thanks to artists like Woodzick and Ayla), there is still much more we can do as a theatre community to be supportive.
“For playwrights specifically, the challenge lies in getting theatres to not only consider their work for production, but to produce it with as many trans and non-binary voices at the table as possible.” Woodzick said. "If a role calls for a trans or non-binary actor, it should be played by one. This is not yet common practice throughout the industry . . . I see many professionals in the theatre industry acknowledge when mistakes have been made in casting in the past and seek to make strides to include transgender and non-binary talent in all elements of production. It is more and more likely to see audition forms ask for pronouns. Overall, I would say the industry as a whole has a greater awareness of transgender and non-binary talent but is not always well-resourced in how to best use that talent in ways that are truly inclusive and not tokenizing."
So, let’s keep learning, keep educating, keep supporting, and keep including.