Transgender issues take center stage at Madison’s StageQ this month. The company opens its 2014–15 season with Standards of Care, a play about a therapist specializing in transgender issues whose professional and private lives collide.
It’s a big step for StageQ, which is considered the premier queer theater in Madison (if not Wisconsin), yet has only produced one play with a transgender focus in its 14-year history — 2008’s Looking for Normal. Standards of Care looks to be a powerful follow-up, with author Tobias Davis — himself transgender — examining the lives of two trans characters mid-transition with humor and heart.
“My own experiences being trans affected the narrative in the sense that I like to create stories about trans people,” says the Massachusetts-based Davis. “That said, neither of the trans characters in the play are particularly like me. I wanted to explore some of the nuances of different trans identities.”
The two central trans characters are David (Rowan Calyx), who needs a letter from a therapist in order to pursue genital surgery, and 16-year-old Jessica (Loryn Jonelis), who’s beginning to discover his own transgender identity as Jason. They’re initially connected only secondhand through the play’s third major character: Nancy (Petrovinia McIntosh), David’s therapist and Jason’s mother. But when Nancy refuses to accept that her child could be trans, Jason visits a local LGBT center and finds a mentor in David.
The ensuing collision results in an honest exploration of some of the harsh realities members of the trans community face — not just in adapting to their new identities, but in adapting to a world that doesn’t understand them. The misunderstanding world isn’t limited to straight cisgender individuals, according to director Callen Harty.
“I believe that the next important civil rights battle will be for transgender rights,” Harty says. “For years, even the bulk of the queer community tended to ignore the ‘T’ part of ‘LGBT.’ It has only been in the past several years that a concerted effort to understand transgender issues and incorporate those into civil rights struggles for all has come into the forefront.”
Harty calls this production a critical one for StageQ. “As an LGBT theater group,” Harty says, “I felt it was a very important project for StageQ and for Madison. I believe it moves our understanding of transgender issues forward, but it does so by showing us real characters living real lives. Parts of the play are very funny and other parts are poignant.”
The lessons in the play may be especially important for the sizable cross-section of cisgender members of the gay and bisexual community who are sympathetic to transgender issues but don’t really understand them. Davis’ goal in crafting the play was to open the eyes of allies on both sides of the sexual orientation spectrum.
“I would like audience members to leave with a little more insight about some of the issues facing the trans community, especially surrounding mental health care and family support,” Davis says. “I also want audience members to empathize with the characters — to laugh and cry with them and be touched by their stories. I think the world is lacking in compassion and theater is a place to really connect with each other’s humanity.”
Stage Q’s 2014–15 season
Tobias Davis’ Standards of Care opens a season marked by humor, music and maybe just a little heartache.
Christmas with the Crawfords (Dec. 5–20): Just in time for the holidays, StageQ recreates the infamous 1944 Christmas Eve broadcast from Joan Crawford’s California home. Numerous stars drop by to steal Crawford’s limelight, including Judy Garland, Ethyl Merman and Bette Davis in her “Baby Jane” drag.
Body Awareness (March 27–April 11): A controversial painter of female nudes shakes up the lives of a lesbian couple hosting him in their home for a Vermont college’s “body awareness” week, especially when one of the women considers posing for him.
Queer Shorts 10 (June 12–20): Playwrights and actors come together for a variety of short plays based on LGBT themes. Fans of the series take note: This might be the last season of Queer Shorts.
Standards of Care runs Sept. 5–20 on the Evjue Stage at Madison’s Bartell Theater, 113 E. Mifflin St. Shows are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 14. Tickets are $20, $15 for Thursdays and matinees. For more details, visit stageq.com or call 608-661-9696.