Transgender youth strive to educate audiences of all ages about the LGBTQIA+ community through theater
This January, Acme Theater Company hosted its new play, Pronoun, written by British playwright Evan Placey. The play is about a transgender teenage boy, Dean, and how his transition affects his relationships.
Director Emily Henderson wanted the play to be an outlet for young individuals to speak to audiences of different ages and experiences. However, beginning the project was not an easy task.
“I first read this play about three years ago and I really loved it,” Henderson said. “I thought it was a great match for our theater company. I thought it played to our strengths and I really was excited by the subject matter. It felt very topical to what’s happening in the world right now. At that point I looked around and was like, ‘There are only cis-actors in my theater company at the moment, and I can’t do this play without those voices in the room, without that representation in the cast.’”
Fortunately, she found students from multiple experiences and gender identities eager to perform. It was perfect timing. With help from the Davis and Sacramento communities, the cast learned about transgender lives, helping them to better understand the play and prepare them for their roles.
“We rehearsed for 8 weeks and did a series of workshops. We did one workshop with the UC Davis LGBTQIA Center,” Henderson said. “They did a really nice overview of terms and language, and it was right at the start of the rehearsal practice so we immediately established a shared vocabulary. Then about midway through we had [people from] the Sacramento LGBT Center come and give a presentation on gender and gender identity.”
The Acme Theater Company plays are run by students, which sets them apart from other Davis theater companies.
“The students do all the acting and technical work, so it was really fun to use that as an opportunity to dive deeper into learning about some of the issues faced by the trans community,” Henderson said. “For example, our sound designer spent hours and hours of time listening to music by trans artists and emailing people whose YouTube videos they found and asking, ‘Hey can I use this for the scene transition?’ All of the music is echoing and resounding around what the play is talking about.”
She hoped that the play would equally impact the cast and crew as it had the audience. As members of the LGBTQIA+ community, the actors felt deeply connected to the main character of the story.
“One of our goals is to amplify and support trans youth voices,” Henderson said. “I feel like in these discussions, where grown-ups are coming with questions and the young people are able to speak with power and assurance, [young people] are able to respond as equals. I’m most excited to see youth speaking to adults with a lot of power.”
Grey Turner, a freshman at Da Vinci High School and an actor in the play, said that Pronoun was particularly relatable to his transition story.
“The main character is a trans guy just starting his transition — that’s literally me,” Turner said. “I’m trans and I just recently started testosterone hormones which Dean also does in the play,”
Unlike Dean in the play, Turner feels fortunate to be surrounded by people who support and accept his identity.
“In the play, Dean’s parents have a hard time accepting it,” Turner said. “My parents are completely accepting and wonderful people, they fully support me. I think that I’d really like for people to understand that it’s so hard for trans people.”
Cory McCutcheon, a sophomore at Da Vinci High School and an actor in Pronoun, also relates to the story.
“I’ve been struggling with my gender identity for a couple years,” McCutcheon said. “This year I started using gender neutral pronouns. This is my first show with Acme and I joined because this play seemed relevant to a lot of the stuff talked about in the news right now. Now is a really good time for this play.”
McCutcheon also talked about the importance of acceptance and normalization in the transgender community.
“If someone were to get a breast reduction, people would probably consider it a change in your body to feel more comfortable,” McCutcheon said. “I think that top surgery should be regarded in the same way. It’s really just making an alteration in your body so that you’re more comfortable.”
Pronoun allowed these students to share some of the adversities faced by the transgender community. These student actors want an audience of all ages to see the play and leave with valuable takeaways.
“In my conversations with the cast, something that’s come up is how much they wish they had seen this show when they were in 6th or 7th grade and how they’re really hoping that age group comes [to the show],” Henderson said. “When you’re a young person, three or four years is a huge difference. So they really see themselves as supporting the youth that are coming up behind them.”
For the cast and crew, the play served as a coming-of-age experience. They became confident in themselves and their identities while supporting each other and their community.
“My favorite part of any play is watching these young people really grow into themselves and take on challenges that really stretch them,” Henderson said. “I feel like there are positive, tangible impacts that this piece had on the community.”
Written by: Becky Lee — firstname.lastname@example.org