Hollywood often casts cisgender actors to play transgender roles. For every LaVerne Cox (Orange is the New Black) and Jamie Clayton (Sense8), there’s a Hilary Swank (Boys Don’t Cry) and Jaye Davidson (The Crying Game) and even Jeffrey Tambor (Transparent).
Street Children, a new play to open in New York City, actually casts transgender characters to play transgender roles. That shouldn’t be a radical, transgressive act, but sadly it is.
The play is set in the West Village during the 1980s at the height of the AIDS crisis. After the death of their “house mother,” several queer and transgender people fight to maintain their chosen family. Between scenes, cast members vogue – an underground dance that originated in Harlem and is driven by queer and transgender people of color (QTPOC).
Street Children isn’t perfect. The writer and the director are both cisgender white women attempting to tell a QTPOC story. In many hands, that has been a recipe for disaster. However, the writer invited the queer actors and actresses to rewrite the script’s language and plot points. The story feels authentic as a result.
Street Children has partnered with local activist organizations to empower LGBTQ populations. For example, youth from the Ali Forney Center’s LEAP work readiness program received jobs as interns during the production. The play also partnered with the Trevor Project and the Stonewall Community Foundation.
Street Children also did the impossible: It attracted non-theatregoers to the theatre. Theatre is an expensive endeavor, with tickets to amateur shows running upwards of $20 or $30 (professional shows can run north of $100). Street Children is no exception. Student tickets are $18 and general admission tickets are $28. Despite the steep prices, the director noticed many members of the “vogue and ballroom scenes” in attendance – this means queer and/or transgender people of color, a generally marginalized community.
Will Street Children pave the way for more transgender stories? One can only hope. Perhaps the next show will be pioneered by transgender writers instead of cisgender ones.