An Australian production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch starring newly out Hugh Sheridan was suspended Tuesday (17 November) after more than 1,700 signatories denounced casting a cis man for the lead role.
In a statement, 2021 Sydney Festival organisers heeded the calls of a petition that described casting Sheridan as the eponymous Hedwig, a genderqueer East German rock singer, as “dangerous and offensive”.
Often wearing a worn-out blonde wig, the role of Hedwig has long been played by a rafter of cis men, from Neil Patrick Harris to the show’s own creator John Cameron Mitchell.
This continued casting of cis men in trans and gender-nonconforming roles “continues to cause genuine distress and frustration amongst trans and gender non conforming performers all across Australia”, an open letter by Queer Artist Alliance Aus said.
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Uploaded to Instagram Monday (16 November), the self-described “anti-Cancel Culture” LGBT+ advocacy group lasered in on the show’s producer and the festival chiefs to “rectify the casting choice” by casting a trans actor in the role.
“It is unquestionable Hugh is a talented and deserving actor,” the letter added, “it is not appropriate for a cis actor to be the gatekeeper of a trans story.”
‘It’s not about cancel culture,’ says non-binary actor calling for change in Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
Leading the social media campaign was Daya Czepanski, a non-binary actor who collected more than 1,700 signatures calling both for the tweaked casting and for the festival to employ trans advocates on its creative team and include “trans advisors and talent” in the production.
Such simple rejiggers would have a seismic effect, Czepanski told Guardian Australia.
“It’s not about cancel culture,” they said, “it’s just about bringing an awareness that systemic change needs to happen from the ground up, and if we can fix the root cause of the problem we can work towards a healthy environment for non-cis trans artists.
“People in positions of power in Australia need to take a leap of faith and allow trans, non-binary and genderqueer to tell their stories on the Australian stage.”
They stressed that the campaign was designed to sow division or frustration, nor was it to shutter the show completely, but to nurture change.
“In light of recent community conversations and concerns, we have made the difficult decision to postpone the 2021 Sydney Festival season of Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” the show’s producer David M Hawkin said in a statement.
“In casting Hedwig we auditioned a wide, diverse range of performers and no one from any background was excluded from this process, and were encouraged.
“We wish to assure the trans and LGBTQIA+ community that the issues raised are respected and taken very seriously. We appreciate your patience in giving us time to properly consider these concerns and respond accordingly.”
Similar commitments to more diverse casting were echoed by Sydney Festival, which wrote in a statement: “The values of equality and inclusivity have long guided the work of Sydney Festival.
“With these values in mind, the Festival supports the producer’s decision to postpone the January season of Hedwig and the Angry Inch as they respond to issues raised around casting in the production.”