In this time of immense hurt for our worldwide industry, many theatre professionals and audience members are taking stock of how we can rebuild our work to be better than it was before Covid-19 restrictions. Much of this energy has been dedicated to confronting our failures in providing appropriate representation for people of minority identities, and learning how to be better allies to these communities in the future.
If one positive can be gleaned from the events of 2020, it is that entire industries are beginning to come to the table regarding the idea of accountability for our biases. In the conversation below, non-binary trans masculine actor Nyx Calder of Melbourne’s Harry Potter and the Cursed Child takes us through their experiences working in Australia for the last decade.
As in part one of their interview where Nyx discussed trans and non-binary representation within the world of Harry Potter, their insights within this interview are deeply personal and have the capacity to influence change if we take their words, experiences and advice for the future to heart. If you count yourself as an ally of trans, non-binary and gender non-confirming people, Nyx’s lived experiences and opinions are an essential tool for your education.
Part one of Nyx’s interview can be found here, and we have linked further content at the end of this piece if you would like to continue learning.
Ally tip: if you come across a word you don’t know in relation to the trans, gender-diverse and non-binary community, please look it up. Here are a few reputable sources: Minus18 glossary, Trevor Project, Trans101.
How has the Australian and worldwide arts industry been letting down trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming artists and audiences? What do we need to be doing differently/better?
Nyx: When it comes to the arts, I think everyone wants to see our stories told, but no one is really willing to put in the ground work to make sure they are told accurately. I see excuses of not having the actors available or not having the right trans or non-binary person for the role, but this industry is very willing to exploit the pain of a community that does not have full equity or rights. We use [trans trauma] for entertainment value, but without allowing that community to grow or allowing artists from the community to step in and guide the telling of those stories.
I think that [it’s] a deep, deep crime against the childhoods and the developments of so many people, that they have to fight through what has become the cultural wall of representation to find a story that resonates with them. I think stories are how we build our futures for ourselves, we start to picture what we will be like when we grow up. I didn’t really think I was going to live past the age of 21 because I didn’t see stories of a person like me thriving and being happy or even existing, just getting to be up there.
I had an acting studio teacher at NIDA who really interrogated why I wanted to be an actor because she thought my reason wasn’t good enough. I told her my reason for becoming an actor was for the attention, and she helped me realise I was deflecting from a much scarier reason for why I became an actor, which was because I was so scared of not seeing stories myself in the media that I felt like I had to be part of telling them to make sure that they turned out okay. Even my best mentors have absolutely inspired me and helped me continue to do my work, but it’s at a risk of no one else showing up, or being allowed into the room to do it.
I see and experience of a lot of the same stories being told poorly and inaccurately by cis artists or by cis leads, which furthers the divide of being inside the circle or not. When I was an openly trans-actor, I couldn’t get into audition rooms. So it changed very suddenly for me, I had a successful trajectory cut short by the mark of me being trans, and I knew it would take time for that to wear down a bit, but even now it’s still very difficult. I’m in a very privileged position compared to a lot of other actors from my community, and a lot of other artists from my community.
Something that frustrates me as an ally of gender diverse people is that I can name literally only a handful of trans and non-binary artists cast in leading roles in major musicals/plays around the world in the past couple of years. It’s 2020, yet these people are still at a point where they are being referred to as pioneers for being successful in this industry and being simultaneously open with their gender identity.
Nyx: I’m often asked if it’s exciting to be a trans-trailblazer, and I say no, because it means I fall into every pitfall and basic trap. I’m in a position where I can do the work to un-entrench some of the misguided ideals of some art makers and package that into something that means the next trans person that works with them will hopefully have a better time.
I’ve never worked on a set or a production or a commercial where I have been gendered correctly by every member of the crew and cast, unless the set has been exclusively trans and non-binary. I don’t think it will happen [on a mixed cis/gender diverse set] until we you get more trans-people on all areas of the industry. We need to be given the opportunity to be on-stage, behind the stage, in the creative chairs, in the audition room, in all aspects of entertainment and production. It can’t all be on actors to do this work [in diversifying our industry].
Here is the link to the Cursed Child International Trans Lives Matter video
What tangible action do you want from allies of the trans and non-binary community in the theatre industry today?
Nyx: Firstly, check in on your non-binary and trans-friends and fellow artists. It is essential in a time like this. There is so much hurt in the world right now and this is yet another avenue for that hurt to take place. Reaching out rather than asking to be educated (and educating yourself instead), as well as providing support for people in your life is really crucial right now.
As for larger sweeping change, it boils down to getting more trans and non-binary people and gender non-conforming people into the room with you. Whether that’s in the writing process, in the casting process, at any stage of the artistic process, there should be more of those people involved and I really challenge people in the industry to look beyond an individuals identity to see what else they can play (within the person’s comfort of course). There’s room for trans and non-binary people to be playing a range of characters. If I could only play characters that were written exclusively for trans and non-binary people, I would not have been cast in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
Being cast in this show has been a huge shift forward and proof for myself if nothing else that I can play these sorts of roles. For a while, I was told I would never [have this opportunity]. I was told to my face that I would never play a lead in anything. I want to challenge people to think outside the box when it comes to casting, there are some incredible roles and some incredible people willing to fill roles if only you would let them into the room with you.
To continue learning about trans representation in theatre and musical theatre, we recommend watching NY1’s interview featuring Ezra Menas (Jagged Little Pill) and Alexandra Billings (Wicked). To learn more about trans representation in media, please watch Disclosure on Netflix.