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Louder Than Words: Finding Trans Joy in ‘Tick, Tick…Boom! ‘ – American Theatre

Before there was Rent , there was Tick, Tick…Boom !  

Composer Jonathan Larson first conceived the piece as a semi-autobiographical rock musical monologue about his struggles as a composer, and it went through different iterations and titles before he performed it at the Village Gate in 1991. The three-person musical now known by most audiences was adapted by playwright David Auburn after Larson’s death, and had an Off-Broadway run within 2001 in the Jane Street Theatre. In 2021 Netflix released a film adaptation simply by Steven Levenson based on that play and directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

A new production of the musical featuring what is probably its first cast of all transgender, non-binary, plus gender nonconforming actors opens at the particular Edge Theater in Chicago on Jan. 12. The show, produced by BoHo Theatre , is focused by Bohemian artistic associate Bo Frazier . The idea arose, Frazier said, when BoHo has been trying to come up with a small musical that had name recognition. Tick, Tick…Boom! quickly emerged as a top contender, and then Frazier added their own angle in order to it: an all-trans and gender nonconforming (TGNC) manufacturing, a notion they said was grounded in Larson’s compassionate, nuanced portrayal associated with the gender nonconforming Angel in Lease.

“When I 1st came out like a non-binary, trans femme, I loved musicals, ” Frazier said. “But I had also been so deeply harmed by musicals being a performer because of all the extremely problematic stereotypes that will any sort of sex nonconforming person had to either present or play. This canon fights so hard to uphold these awful stereotypes around gender, even in cisgender roles. It’s just so extremely harmful what most of these types of musicals portray. ”

This particular artistic plus personal reflection led Bo to wonder: Are there any TGNC characters in musicals that are not difficult or merely the butt of jokes? Angel from Rent was the only example that came to mind. Frazier felt strongly that if the straight, cis author Jonathan Larson could create a character like Angel so thoughtfully, and within a revolutionary way for the time in which he had been writing, he would have celebrated the idea of an all-TGNC Tick, Tick…Boom! Frazier then carefully reread the script to make sure their all-TGNC idea would work, and thankfully it did.

Frazier’s concept works because the characters in Mark, Tick don’t need in order to be cisgender for the particular musical to function dramaturgically; indeed, the lesson here is that with any show that can be viewed through this lens, TGNC actors should be considered for all roles. This pushes against the implicit bias of many theatremakers and audiences that any role not written or specified as transgender is simply by default cisgender. Frazier’s idea and execution of Tick, Tick…Boom! upon some levels invites audiences to interrogate that assumption. On another level, though, it gives TGNC actors the almost all too rare opportunity in order to add layers of complexity to roles and exist in a narrative where they are not explicitly discussing their transness.

Bo Frazier. (Photo by Ethen Smyth)

As momentum built around the creation, Frazier swiftly assembled a team that was equipped both to get the word out to TGNC performers in the particular Chicago community and to hold space for them in the audition plus rehearsal room. Casting director Catherine Miller and music director Harper Caruso helped to support the casting process. Due to licensing, all the pronouns in the original script needed to remain the same, and the particular casting team took great care within communicating that will limitation to the pool of talent to inform them of the functions for which usually they submitted.

Dozens of transgender, non-binary, and gender nonconforming actors posted for the initial audition call. Harper was able in order to transpose audition selections into different keys by using the transpose function on the keyboard in the audition space.

“This production is so special because it is bringing something new to Tick, Tick…Boom! which hasn’t been seen before, ” Harper shared. “The stars being who they are and living out loud inherently brings a good exciting aspect to the particular storytelling that is therefore authentic, and only contributes in order to the message of the display. I think this is what Jonathan Larson would have envisioned when this individual pictured his shows being performed across the world. ”

The particular cast includes Alec Phan as Jonathan, Crystal Claros as Michael, and Luke Halpern because Susan. Each role has an understudy who is also transgender or sex nonconforming: Lizzie Mowry with regard to Jonathan, Larry D. Trice II regarding Michael, plus Nathe Rowbotham for Susan.  

“It’s been really awesome having all these TGNC folks associated with varying experiences, ” Bo said joyfully. “The kind of conversations that we’re able to have without explaining things to cisgender people offers actually made a really playful and fruitful rehearsal process, due to the fact without those limitations, all those hindrances, we’ve just been able to explore and perform and possess a lot of fun. ”

Crystal Claros, who plays Michael, emphasized the uniqueness and timeliness of this production. Portraying this particular role provides helped them feel visible within the Chi town theatre local community at large.  

“I think this is the peak of innovative Chicago theatre, ” Claros said. “I know intended for myself, getting come out only a year or so ago, I have had a lot of moments of discovery in my gender and expression through Jordan. Being cast within my very first ‘he/him’ character has been validating inside my sex fluidity, plus I believe that deserves to be seen. To have someone watch a show like this and not just resonate along with the color palette of diversity but the variety of gender brings such a sense of welcoming and humanity. I know I wish I had observed a film like this growing up! ”

Bo amplified this particular sentiment, talking about the importance of creating the type of show they never had when they were young.

“I always knew I was non-binary, but the word never came into my brain for a long time, and We never saw someone such as me, ” they stated. “No one came into the life that affected me or represented that to me in that way until I has been 30. I actually had noticed these dangerous stereotypes, and that actually rooted me further and additional down to not really realize who else I am. I want the future generation not to have in order to deal with that. We think Gen Z is much better with this, but I actually want this particular to be the manufacturing that I never experienced when I was 15. ”

Historically, the artistic currency of transgender representation onstage has centered disproportionately on trauma. This negative tendency can also be seen in full force in current media narratives surrounding transphobic legislation efforts on the state and national level. Bo’s vision since a director, by contrast, is grounded firmly within representing trans joy, love, and creativity onstage.

So does the particular casting associated with TGNC actors in Frazier’s production transform the figures into TGNC individuals? By embracing each actor’s sex expression, this production of Tick, Tick…Boom! intrinsically portrays a cast of transgender characters, which elevates and adds new layers to the narrative. It also serves as an instructive instance for that theater industry, as if to say: Hey, you can do this too!

Indeed, it seems that the greater Chicago area is quickly becoming the epicenter associated with gender expansive theatricality: Tony winner plus non-binary theatre powerhouse KO (formally credited as Karen Olivo ) has recently taken over leadership of Northwestern’s Music Theatre program . KO’s visibility empowers TGNC stars to reimagine the canonical characters upon their résumé: Angelica Schuyler in Hamilton , Alison in Fun Home , Vanessa in In the particular Heights , Anita within West Side Story , Satine in Moulin Rouge! The Musical . In order to bring it all full circle, KO’s professional career began as a good understudy to get Rent.

KO (formerly credited because Karen Olivo) and Rachel Zeintek within “Fun Home” at Forward Theater in 2018.

The closing number of Mark, Tick…Boom! will be “Louder Than Words. ” A lyric from that will song stuck with Frazier through the entire creation process:

Why do we blaze the trail 
When the particular well worn path appears safe and 
Therefore inviting?

Cages or wings, cage or even wings
Which do you prefer?

The image of cages speaks volumes to the encounters of many TGNC actors, which have struggled to fit into the historical theatre binary to book work. And the wings? Those would be productions like this one, which provide a platform pertaining to transgender and gender nonconforming actors in order to step in to the fullness of themselves. They are few and far between, but they have the potential to resonate plus spur positive change within both the future of musical theater and the particular lives associated with TGNC viewers who are able to truly see on their own onstage meant for the initial time.

BoHo Theatre’s production of Tick, Tick…Boom! runs January. 12-Feb. 5 at the Edge Theatre. Audiences should note that there is an understudy performance on Jan. 26th. Other performances associated with note include open caption performances on Jan. 21 and 28, and a good industry night on January. 30. BoHo Theatre is also offering a flat ticket rate of $12 for just about all TGNC audience members in order to increase accessibility to that neighborhood. In addition, the Center on Halsted is getting LGBTQIA+ youth to see the display.

K. Woodzick (they/them) is a theatre artist and journalist currently residing in Northern Wisconsin on Anishinabek land. They hold an MFA in contemporary overall performance from Naropa University, and their writing has appeared in Theater Topics plus HowlRound. They are the founder of   The Non-Binary Monologues Project   and host of the particular Theatrical Mustang podcast , which will return in April of 2022 (watch this particular space). More at   www.woodzick.com .

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