“Think trans Shakespeare meets Charlie Brown.”
That is how Lisa McNulty, the artistic director behind WP Theater, described the play “Galatea or Whatever You Be,” adapted for the modern age by a creative team comprised of playwright MJ Kaufman, director Mo Zhou and producer Yuvika Tolani.
In the wake of Women’s Project rebranding itself as WP Theater with the explicit commitment to being intersectional and trans-inclusive, this year’s 2018 Pipeline Festival opened March 29 with a theatrical celebration of trans identity, experience and perspective. The play follows two young people on the run, each disguised as a man to avoid being sacrificed to Neptune. As they make their way through a magical forest populated by gods, deities and nymphs of all persuasions, they fall in love and discover the beauty in themselves and each other.
The work is special for a variety of reasons. Kaufman, Zhou and Tolani adapted what was originally an Elizabethan-era stage play into a piece that feels timeless, asking questions about society, patriarchy and even climate change. One of its unique joys is how seamlessly it shifts from the measured meter and tone of Elizabethan theater to moments like the one in which Venus, the Roman goddess of love, sex and desire, enters a scene to the 2013 Lady Gaga song of the same name.
The WP Theater’s recent production featured an entirely trans cast, which brought a palpably unique energy to the stage and built a world where the trans experience was front and center. In a conversation with ALL ARTS, Kaufman and Zhou spoke to the process of coming to that intentional casting decision. “I realized that if you have to go through so much personal struggle to define and accept and love who you are as who you are, it carries a different kind of perspective and energy into acting,” Zhou said. “There is something very unique and special about trans actors and I’m excited that people can come and experience this special talent pool.”
“For me as a trans writer, it was really transformative to arrive at the gift of having every single person in the world of this play be trans because I don’t know if I would have imagined that on my own,” Kaufman said. “If you think about it, in our world we don’t have trans gods and trans fathers and trans lovers everywhere we look. The idea that every single person you meet in this world could be trans is a different lens that I didn’t even think broadly enough to have until we started developing it.”
The 2018 Pipeline Festival bills itself as the best place to meet the next generation of women and trans theater-makers, and now through April 29 the WP Theater will present a new play each weekend created by collaborative creative teams from WP Theater’s two-year lab residency. More information on showtimes and tickets can be found here.
Top Image: Actors perform “Galatea or Whatever You Be” at the WP Theater’s 2018 Pipeline Festival. Photo courtesy Joan Marcus/WP Theater.