The Australian production of ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’ has been postponed after a petition highlighted the lack of LGBTQ representation in the show and expressed “disappointment” over the casting of cisgender actor Hugh Sheridan in the lead role of Hedwig.
Actor and ‘Wentworth’ star Zoe Terakes posted an open letter to Sydney Festival, written by Daya Czepanski, explaining why trans representation is vital when telling the story of a trans character. The letter also called for the recasting of Sheridan, who in October said he was attracted to both men and women but avoids labelling himself or his sexuality.
“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 non-gender conforming performers all across Australia,” read the letter, which was co-signed by prominent figures in the theatre industry, including Daniielle Alexis, Suzy Wrong and David Campbell.
“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.”
The letter stated that the signees understood the commercial benefits of casting a household name like Sheridan but reiterated that trans people have been excluded from telling a story from their community and that Sydney Festival had earlier made a promise on its website to “recover, reconnect communities and reinvigorate Australian” actors in 2021.
In the postponement announcement, the ‘Hedwig’ team said it “auditioned a wide and diverse range of performers” but wanted to reassure the trans and LGBTQ community that “the issues raised are respected and taken very seriously”.
The trailblazing story of Hedwig has gained a cult status since emerging from the Lower East Side of New York City as a punk-rock drag show, a Broadway musical and then a 2001 film. Hedwig, described as a transgender East German “slip of a girlyboy,” has been played memorably by a number of male stars, including John Cameron Mitchell, who also created the show, and Neil Patrick Harris, who won a Tony Award for the role. In one Broadway run, both Lena Hall and Darren Criss shared the title role. Nonbinary performer Mason Alexander Park recently played Hedwig on Broadway.
The Sydney Festival production was meant to premiere at the Enmore Theatre in Sydney from January 2, 2021 but has been postponed.
The decision was praised on Instagram by many, including Park, who said in the comments section of the postponement announcement “there is nothing appropriate about continuing to tell stories about gender variant people without putting them at the center” of the story.
“You made the right call,” Park continued.
“Anyone who sees the show with a trans/nonbinary/gender nonconforming actor will be much better for it.”
Shock jock Ben Fordham claimed it was “digraceful discrimination” against Sheridan by “fun police” as the theatre world “tried to get back on its feet”.
Sydney Festival said an announcement on the new cast will be forthcoming.
This report has been updated to include that Daya Czepanski wrote the open letter.
This report includes additional reporting by Curtis M. Wong of HuffPost US.