Playing LGBT+

As our team prepare to revive our sex education play Losing It for the International Youth Arts Festival we talked to two of Peer Productions’ 2017/18 cohort of actors have been reflecting on their roles in Losing It: a play about coming together and falling apart. Here they discuss the representation of LGBTQ+ characters, both in Losing It and in the arts as a whole. They both hope that the gay and transgender communities might be given a greater, more authentic voice in theatre, film and television.

“Playing the part of Danno in Losing It was very interesting, as an artist and an actor, but also as a person. Danno’s character is a larger than life drop-in Sex Ed Teacher who is flamboyant and fun. His character is very much based around the stereotypes of gay men. He is very camp, loud and is always prepared with a jazz hand or two. I found that in the process of developing his character, I looked into my own identity as a gay man, and the stereotypes that I thought that I had to live by when I first came out. Was being gay always going to be a rainbow-tinted musical theatre number? I had a good chance to reflect on this when I first came out, and at first I felt I suddenly had to start listening to gay music, wearing gay clothes and watching gay TV. Whatever that means.

On deeper reflection, I found that I feel that it is due to the lack of positive or realistic representation of gay people in the media. I had only ever seen loud, large, white gay men that were all for some reason highly fashion forward, sexually deviant, singers and/or dancers. Outside of this, the gay characters were often the villain or the pet of some obnoxious white girl, who sees him as nothing more than a consequence of his sexuality, used as a fashionable accessory for her to either take shopping or sing the other half of her musical theatre duet with. They are also just some sort of ploy to make the woman seem more progressive or accepting.

Playing the role of Danno soon turned into me channeling all of these feelings about gay representation. He became a parody of all of those things I hate; it felt very therapeutic to reclaim the ridiculousness that I felt had been thrust upon me, way back when I was only just out of the closet myself.” – Robert Twaddle 

“Being cast in the role of Ash, a man who is transgender, was a daunting task for me as a cisgendered woman, and as an actor. I worried that my portrayal would be offensive to the young audiences watching. I was concerned that any trans audience members would be disappointed, not in my performance, but that a trans actor was not on the stage to represent them. It is entirely problematic that I, a cisgendered woman, comfortable in her assigned gender identity, should represent the trans community. Nevertheless, it was the role I was given, and so I endeavoured to tell Ash’s story to the best of my ability. It was so important to me that I told his story right; I did a lot of research into what it means to be trans, and I read countless case studies about the prejudices that various trans people have had to go through in order to live life as their true selves. I have learnt a lot about gender based issues from my time playing Ash, and I hope the audiences we have performed to have learned to be more inclusive of all gender identities in our society. I also hope that this can open up a dialogue within the theatre community, in order that we might encourage more trans actors to come forward and tell their stories.” Bethany Monk-Lane

“At Peer Productions our plays are performed by actors who successfully audition to join our free course and that means that we have not yet had an actor who is openly trans available to play the role of Ash. I have thought about this extensively and consulted with friends and colleagues who are trans to hear their thoughts and feelings. I was faced with a stark choice. Either I had to not include a character who is trans or I had to ask a cis actor to play a trans role. Having been told by so many young people that they are never told positive stories about trans people, I did not want Losing It to miss this opportunity again.
We see the character from age 11 to 18. At 11, Ash has not yet understood that he is trans and is wearing girls clothes and referred to by his assigned female name. As Ash grows up he transitions to male pronouns and his peers learn to accept him for who he really is. This is a challenge for any actor and I also wondered if it might be quite a negative experience for an actor who is trans, who may not want to live (albeit in an imaginary world) as their assigned gender. I could not be more grateful to Bethany, Pip and Liss, who have played the role, for bringing empathy and warmth to the character. We have received incredibly positive responses from trans young audience members. ” – Nina Lemon – Writer

“I really would like to know if Ash really is transgender, because I really want to understand more about that gender as I’m not even sure what I am, and Ash came the closed to how I feel. The play covered topics that we aren’t taught in a way that wouldn’t offend anyone. Thank you so much and I really would like to know more about transgender/gender fluid as it would seriously put my mind at rest! Thanks again!” – Young audience member

Book your tickets for the IYAF festival performance of Losing It here.