Australian production of ‘Hedwig – The Musical’ cancelled

An Australian production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch which was scheduled to be performed as part of the 2021 Sydney Arts Festival has been cancelled after activists raised concern over the casting of Hugh Sheridan in the lead role.

Activists had published an open letter to the Sydney Festival arguing that the casting of a cisgender actor in the role was damaging to people who are transgender. The letter which was put together by artists Daya CzepanskiZoe TerakesDaniielle Alexis and Tyler Ray Hawkins called on the producers to re-think the casting of the Packed to the Rafters star. The Queer Artist Alliance was recently established by Czepanski who is a trans non-binary artist.

“We would like to express our profound sadness and disappointment that trans performers are still fighting for equal opportunities and representation within the film, television, theatre and wider performing arts and the entertainment industry,” the artists said.

The choice to cast a cisgender male as a transgender character is offensive and damaging to the trans community, and continues to cause genuine distress and frustration amongst trans and gender non-conforming performers all across Australia. Diversity is vital, and the value of genuine representation for transgender youth cannot be understated.

We are beginning to see change in our industry, but it is clear no effort has been made by Sydney Festival to continue this trajectory with authentic casting. Trans performers have been told for decades by agents, casting directors, and media, that the world will not accept our bodies on screen or stage; that the roles just aren’t there; or that the timing is not right for us.

Sheridan, who recently shared with his fans that he was not heterosexual, has had a successful career on both television and the stage. Perth audience’s last saw him in the musical Hair. The production was also set to star Casey Donovan who is currently appearing in the sold out season of We Will Rock You at Crown Theatre.  

The producers of Hedwig the Musical have responded by announcing the show would not go on. Producer David M Hawkins said they took the issue seriously, and would be taking time to consider the best way forward. The producer also highlighted that a wide and diverse range of performers had auditioned for the role.

The story of Hedwig, a gender queer rock singer who follows the tour of more successful musician Tommy Gnosis around the country. Hedwig and Tommy have interwoven histories, and Hedwig shares her version of their story. She backed up by her husband Yitzhak, who is a drag queen.

The show first debuted off-Broadway in 1998. It was later adapted into a film with creator John Cameron Mitchell starring. The show later re-appeared on Broadway with several high profile actors taking on the title role, among them Neil Patrick Harris, Darren Criss, Donovan Leitch, Taye Diggs, iOTA and Anthony Rapp.

The creators of the show John Cameron Mitchell and writer Stephen Trask, have voiced their thoughts on the controversy, saying the character they created does not need to be played by a performer who is transgender.

The creators said the role should be “open to anyone who can tackle it and, more importantly, anyone who needs it.”

“The character does go on a gender journey, but it is sparked by a coerced, non-consensual surgery. A young fem gay boy is bullied into a gender assignment by his boyfriend and his government in order to preserve the sacred binarchy,” Mitchell and Trask said in a statement.

“Though we’ve always been so pleased to hear trans folks find resonance in the character’s journey to find his/herself, it’s really through drag and performance that Hedwig does so, creating a persona that is ‘more than a woman or a man’ and making ‘something beautiful and new’ out of trauma. Drag is a mask available to all and that’s why anyone should be able to play Hedwig.”

The decision to cancel the show has been criticized by cultural commenter James McPherson, writing in The Spectator, described the opposition to Sheridan’s casting as an example of the LGBTIQ+ community being intolerant.

“Presumably, they will now look to recast Hedwig with auditions from a narrow, uniform range of performers and everyone from all backgrounds except one very specific background will be excluded from the process.

“All this to prove their commitment to inclusion.” McPherson wrote.

In an interview with The Guardian Daya Czepanski from the Queer Artist Alliance said their opposition to the musical was not an example of cancel culture, but they aim is to highlight the need for important dialogue and consultation to occur. 

OIP Staff

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