Tonight The Public Theater held a town hall meeting on Transgender representation in light of the controversy surrounding casting non-trans actors in trans roles for their production of Southern Comfort, which opens tomorrow, and which is written by and featuring dear friends of mine.
Here is the statement I gave at the forum. I hope it was received with both the respect and critique I intended to offer:
March 7, 2016
My name is Shakina Nayfack. I'm the artistic director of Musical Theatre Factory, a transgender performer and activist, and co-founder of the newTrans* Actors Guild. Both of my solo shows, bookending my gender confirmation, premiered across the hall at Joe's Pub. Incidentally both shows feature songs written by Julianne Wick Davis, composer of Southern Comfort, and Joel Waggoner, one of the SoCo cast members and musicians. Both shows will also be having encore performances at the Pub in June, so come hear me sing about my Brand New Pussy.
I was also the associate producer at Barrington Stage Company in 2013 when we produced the world premiere of Southern Comfort. I was beginning my medical transition at that time, and worked with the creative team to support their efforts in accurately representing the transgender experience. I want to put myself back in the narrative surrounding this show, since my involvement hasn't been mentioned in the midst of the casting controversy, and up until now I've chosen to remain silent.
I loved being part of the chosen family of Southern Comfort, and I know how hard it is to break a show family up. Over a year ago, when The Public was in talks with the SoCo producing team, I met with director Tom Caruso and advised him that continuing to cast the show without Trans actors would be a grave mistake for the production. I admire the production's loyalty to the artists who originated the roles, and I admire those artists themselves, but we've reached a moment politically when it's no longer justifiable to let non-Trans actors represent us. Not when there are so many gifted Transgender actors looking for work, and not when there are so many Transgender people facing violence and discrimination--oftentimes these same actors, and often on a daily basis.
I commend the Public for standing by this show, its creative team and phenomenal cast. And to my fellow activists and agitators, I commend all of your work as well. I only ask that we consider the foundation laid by those who came before us before striking out in righteousness or anger, even when both are justified.
For me personally, Joe's Pub at The Public has been an artistic home. I'm proud to contribute to the lineage of transgender and gender-non-conforming performers who have carved out space for our stories on that stage.
We are at a pivotal moment in the quest for transgender liberation, a liberation that not only grants us equal freedom to pursue our life, liberty, and happiness, but also puts in place strategies to dismantle the systems that have kept us invisible and oppressed. As theatre makers and audiences we can agree that storytelling is one of the most essential tools for creating this sort of political, social, and cultural change. I hope from today on the creative and producorial teams behind any project featuring transgender characters will engage in exhaustive casting efforts to ensure these roles are represented authentically. We cannot and should no longer allow for transgender people to be relegated to supportive roles in the telling of our own stories.