We are delighted to have recently published The Methuen Drama Book of Trans Plays – the first play anthology to offer eight new plays by trans playwrights featuring trans characters.
This edited collection establishes a canon of contemporary American trans plays: from ground-breaking new work from across America’s stages to unpublished work by new voices, these plays address illuminative themes such as gender identity and expression, and racial and religious attitudes toward love and sex.
Edited by Lindsey Mantoan, Angela Farr Schiller and Leanna Keyes, this collection is more than a snapshot of the modern trans experience: it’s a call to action. The plays selected explicitly call for trans characters to be central protagonists in order to promote opportunities for trans performers; opportunities that hitherto have been extremely sparse.
Here, in an extract from their introduction to the collection, the editors explain their selection process for the plays and provide some much-needed context as to why this collection is so desperately needed…
An Extract from Introduction: In a Trans Time and Space
Leanna Keyes, Lindsey Mantoan, and Angela Farr Schiller
A cisgender man dons a Santa costume and prances on tables singing about killing a dog for money. The character presents as a woman for the duration of the musical; most of the cast refers to her with male pronouns. The character, of course, has AIDS, and, of course, dies tragically, which teaches the rest of the cast an important lesson about following your dreams. The man wins a Tony. The cis male writer wins two Tonys, three Drama Desk Awards, and the Pulitzer.
A cisgender man plays a character who undergoes a botched gender confirmation surgery to be with the man that she loves. The man leaves her after only a year. Later, another man whom she has fallen in love with abandons her after discovering she isn’t a cis woman. She breaks down onstage and removes her wig, makeup, and dress, as if her gender is only a theatrical costume. The man who originates the role wins an Obie; the man who stars in the Broadway production wins a Tony.
This is a pattern that recurs year after year, at theatres of all sizes, and also on screen (where such egregious representation is more widely disseminated). Cis actors performing tragic trans characters written by cis people isn’t meaningful trans representation; trans art by trans people, by contrast, avoids inflicting trauma on trans characters to teach cis people important life lessons or make a point. In the shadow of the problematic history of trans representation, one of the questions we received most often when creating this book was, “How are you defining a ‘trans play’?” When writing about something as vast and personal as gender, and particularly transness, it becomes difficult to define strict borders around what “is” and “isn’t” a trans play. Asking whether Wilson Jermaine Heredia or John Cameron Mitchell or Neil Patrick Harris gave authentic trans performances is the wrong question. The right question is: do trans people recognize themselves in the art? In the cases of Rent (which premiered on Broadway in 1996) or Hedwig and the Angry Inch (which premiered off-Broadway in 1998 and premiered on Broadway in 2014), we can recognize that actual trans people and cis-written characters like Angel and Hedwig exist in different circles on the same blurry Venn diagram. Trans art by trans people and art with trans characters by cis people can both explore the way people experience gender—but the positionality matters.
Defining or putting strict borders around “trans theatre” is beyond the scope of a single anthology, and might not even be a useful project to undertake. For the purposes of this book, we employed three metrics when curating plays: 1) that the play be authored by a trans playwright, 2) that the play feature at least one prominent trans character, and 3) that the play offer experiences of trans humanity that move beyond a central focus on surgeries and death. Marquis Bey argues in this book that “trans lives in all their nuance and complexity, all their vicissitudes, are still often eclipsed by popular mythologies of extravagant balls and surgeries, skewed life chances, and death”. While we wholeheartedly acknowledge that there are important plays by playwrights with a range of gender identities that do pivot around these themes, this anthology endeavours to expand the field and spectrum of contemporary theatres by offering stories about trans characters for whom their transition or death is not the central dramatic arc.
The eight plays in this anthology span themes ranging from gender identity and expression to racial and religious attitudes toward love and sex. These texts represent a variety of performance modes and genres and they call for innovative theatrical approaches to telling trans stories. Some firmly reside in the realm of American realism, many playfully weave together elements of magical realism, and others stand as post-apocalyptic considerations of current and even past traumas and delineations of identity. Geographically, it is important to point out that most of the playwrights included in the anthology are U.S-based, in an acknowledgment that context matters. Trans performance, history, legality, identities and expression differ widely between communities within the U.S and around the world.
Although it is perhaps more standard for an anthology of plays to contain only one introduction, written by the editors, we opted to include introductions to every play in this book. We felt strongly that the art deserved scholarly attention from many voices. There are precious few critical engagements with trans dramatic art and these introductions contribute to a growing body of scholarly criticism. The introduction writers situate the plays within a broader theatrical landscape, analyse the plays’ themes, and provide important theoretical and historical context. They also build bridges between theory and practice that we hope will prove enlightening for artists, theorists, scholars and audiences. Almost all of our introduction writers are trans, which was important to us given that two of the three editors of the anthology are cis. We hope that publishers amplify more trans voices going forward.
The Methuen Drama Book of Trans Plays is now available to buy at: https://www.bloomsbury.com/the-methuen-drama-book-of-trans-plays-9781350179219/