Trans characters have become a growing presence in the arts over the past few years, from award-winning television shows like Transparent and Orange Is the New Black to cinematic Oscar bait like The Danish Girl and Dallas Buyers Club to big Broadway productions like the recent revival of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. But increased visibility doesn’t always translate to more accurate representation. In fact, sometimes it can do the opposite, an issue Trans Theatre Festival cofounders MJ Kaufman and Maybe Burke hope to address with the pioneering fest at Williamsburg’s Brick Theater.
“Right now, a lot of writers are writing trans characters,” says Burke. “But sometimes the writing can have a lot of assumptions and problematic stuff. My last four auditions, I’ve been told to act more timid and shy. There’s a huge need for trans people to be authors of our own work.”
The Trans Theatre Festival includes 12 live productions, a documentary, visual art displayed in the theater’s lobby and even a brand-new web series debuting during its run. There will also be a live panel discussion on trans experiences and a workshop on gender pronouns. All of the work either features trans artists, is produced by them or both.
“We wanted to showcase a wide range of trans talent and address a whole gamut of questions relating to the trans experience,” says Kaufman. “The show topics vary: Pass/Fail takes on the idea of passing and the privilege of that, Queer Heartache explores questions of love and family, and Maybe’s show, Love Letters to Nobody, or Insignificant Others, looks at desire, sex and trauma.”
The festival launches with a free cabaret preview tonight that features short works from trans artists, and excerpts from this year’s shows. Shows, Burke is quick to note, that are meant to tell specific truths to wide audiences.
“It’s important to see yourself represented accurately onstage and that there’s not just one way to be trans. But it’s also important for cisgendered people and allies to look outside of their own lived experience, which they’ll be able to do at this festival.”