Hedwig In North Carolina
The impact of bringing a Broadway musical to the HB2 state.
I am an actor. I specialize in musicals and usually of the gingham-wearing, toe-tapping variety. Over the last few years though, I have been involved in a show that has really opened my eyes to the power of theater: Hedwig and The Angry Inch. Before the Broadway incarnation, I was cast in the regional production, playing the role of Yitzhak at some liberal cities across the North. The audience response to this show has been unlike anything I’ve experienced before. On the thresholds of stage doors I have been met by audience members throwing their arms around me, thanking me for telling this story, telling me that this story was theirs.
Two years had passed since I’d donned my fake mustache and grown out my armpit hair for Hedwig, when we were asked to re-mount the production in Fayetteville, North Carolina. HB2 had recently been passed and every Tom, Dick and Bruce (Springsteen) were pulling out of performing in the state. I told some of my friends that I was about to do Hedwig again and everyone seemed thrilled…until I revealed the locale. Reactions ranged from “You should protest and say no!” to my mother pleading with me to stay North of the Mason-Dixon line if I insisted on continuing to be involved in “the only bloody musical in which you don’t wear lipstick!”
I thought about saying no. Then it occurred to me that many people in Fayetteville might never have even met a trans or gender non-conforming person. Perhaps this musical would introduce them to one and meeting Hedwig would humanize the trans community, perhaps highlighting how inhumane HB2 is. Maybe none of this would work and I’d get lynched, but you know what, Yitzhak has balls and so do I.
We were asked by the theater to play a couple of promo gigs in rock clubs in the town. One was called The Rock Shop and it appeared to be an enormous tin shack sitting in the middle of a field. As we entered I trailed behind my co-star, who was dressed in all of his dragged-out glory, and I noticed the men eyeing us with suspicion. These men, hmm, how to describe them. Think Hells Angels, but a scary version. Yeah.
As the first song finished, the room was filled with cheering and applause. One of the scarier-looking biker guys came up to the stage to fist bump me: “You’ve got an awesome voice, bro!” he said. I’m thinking of adding this quote to my resume.
Newly confident, we hurled headlong into Opening Night. I have, in the past, casually approached an opening night, or even gracefully glided into one; this one, however, was a full-on shove. We stepped out onto that stage with no idea how this small, religious community would react.
JJ Parkey (playing Hedwig) opened with this: “Since Governor Pat McCrory has launched a literal pissing contest with the trans community, I think I may have come up with a solution. I am going to take all of my empty Mountain Dew bottles, fill them with urine and launch them at the Governor’s mansion, that way Pat can do with my piss as he pleases.” The crowd went effing wild. They LOVED it. The rest of the show rolled along as it had in previous incarnations and at the curtain call we were met with a standing ovation and some very enthusiastic cheering. Bloody hell!
At the opening night party the artistic director gave a thoughtful speech about how proud he was of the production, but just as he was finishing, his wife asked if she could say a few words. “I didn't realize how personally affected I would be tonight…” she began tentatively, “Maybe it was because I saw so many members of the Fayetteville LGBTQ community here, people I had never seen at the theater before. While I don't personally identify as LGBTQ, being the daughter of a gay man means that this community is family to me. Tonight is the first time in my almost five years living here that I feel I can publicly say that I am the proud daughter of a gay man and a staunch ally and supporter of LGBTQ rights. After the passing of Amendment 1 a few years back and now HB2, North Carolina has not made it easy to reveal that part of my life to people here. It was so important having Hedwig in Fayetteville, so that people like me and the entire LGBTQ community here could know that they are seen, that they are loved, and that they are valuable members of our community.”
With that I knew I had made the right decision. Educate the people. Go out there and talk to them. Isolating a state that is struggling to accept LGBT people will only make them more insular. Also, I must add, that I did not meet one person there who supported HB2.
When the run of the show ended I returned to New York City. As the plane landed at La Guardia, I turned on my phone and saw a Facebook message put out by a local Fayetteville girl who had been our sound design intern. It read, in part: “Working on Hedwig has taught me so much about love and acceptance… This show, that I never expected to connect with, has taken a deep root in my heart because in the end we are ALL ‘the misfits and losers spinning to our rock and roll’.”
And even my mother thought I did the right thing by going. Small victories all round.
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