The creative team behind a musical adaption of Breakfast on Pluto have come under fire for their attempts to justify the casting of a cisgender man in the lead role of trans woman – Pussy Braden.
Irish actor Fra Fee will be starring as Pussy Braden in an off-West End London theatre adaption of Breakfast on Pluto. On Twitter, the actor wrote, “It is the honour of my life to get to breathe life into this extraordinary character.”
— Fra Fee (@frafee) March 9, 2020
People swiftly expressed their grievances with the production choice to cast a cis man in the role. One person responded to Fee’s tweet with, “Please rethink this and step down. For a cis man to play a trans woman is derogatory and cruel. We aren’t something for you to ‘be honoured’ about.”
Trans actress Kate O’Donnell has withdrawn from her role as the character’s adoptive mother in the musical production. Speaking to BBC News, she said, “I was offered the part and realised with the heaviest of hearts – because West End theatre production roles do not come along every day especially when you’re a trans performer – that I was going to have to decline the role.”
On Twitter, O’Donnell further expressed her feelings towards the casting decision, “While @DonmarWarehouse are thrilled, the trans community less thrilled, once again we are left out of the telling of a trans story. I was cast to play Pussy’s adopted Mother but had to decline due to a cis man being cast to play her. It’s been a shit few days.”
While @DonmarWarehouse are thrilled the trans community less thrilled once again we are left out of the telling of a trans story. I was cast to play Pussy’s adopted Mother but had to decline due to a cis man being cast to play her. It’s been a shit few days https://t.co/kdVljZA1yt
— Kate O'Donnell (@kateodonnellx) March 9, 2020
The creative team, consisting of Landmark Productions, Galway International Arts Festival, the Birmingham Repertory Theatre and the Donmar Warehouse, published a joint statement on the casting decision. They wrote, “We acknowledge that we all need to do more to support the trans community and the development of trans artists and we are looking to amplify and celebrate trans voices in other ways as part of the production.”
Donmar Warehouse published the joint statement on their Twitter page with the following caption, “We understand that a number of people are upset and disappointed about the casting decision for Breakfast on Pluto and so the four partners would like to share a statement with some further context.”
We understand that a number of people are upset and disappointed about the casting decision for Breakfast on Pluto and so the four partners would like to share a statement with some further context. https://t.co/4AdS95m4Ml
— Donmar Warehouse (@DonmarWarehouse) March 10, 2020
The press release documents an audition process in which the Irish trans community were involved. It also notes, “We have been keen to ensure that trans voices have been central to the development of this new musical. A key member of the core creative team is trans, and a leading trans actor, Rebecca Root, has been production consultant since last year; her brief includes advising on script as well as the casting process.”
People were quick to point out that the statement is lacking in terms of an apology. There have been various calls for recasting the lead role, with one person commenting, “Terrible way of ‘apologising’. Clearly you haven’t listened at all over the past day. Re-cast and apologise appropriately!”
Another person tweeted, “This still doesn’t explain why you thought it was okay not to cast a trans performer in the lead, trans, role. This was an opportunity to ‘do more’ – although many would argue that would be doing the ‘minimum’.”
Furthering calls for reacting the lead, one person wrote, “Well…You’ve still got time y’know to make this a little better… First up obvs recast, then apologise/acknowledge, really reflect, train, move forward… this is art for you, the show will open and close, but it’s our community/ lives, and you need to take more care, please.”
The statement highlights a planned collaboration with trans-led charity Gendered Intelligence to showcase trans performers in theatre. One of the organisation’s consultants previously spoke on the casting issue, “Having a cisgender man playing a trans woman however, is problematic. When he turns up to awards events in a tux with a beard looking like the man he is, many people internalise the myth that being trans is a performance, a deception, that trans women are ‘really men’. This does a lot of damage to trans women in particular, and trans people in general.”
Breakfast on Pluto has been described as a “dazzling musical of self-discovery”, yet the casting of a cis man as a trans woman throws into question what can be truly discovered without the element of lived experience. As one person commented, “Casting a man as a trans woman is feeding into the dangerous and ever-growing rhetoric that trans women are really just men in disguise. I believe that the choices we make in theatre are always political, and whether meant or not this choice stakes a noxious political stance.”
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