A Sandspit playwright’s transgender play has won a major grant from Creative New Zealand to produce performances for school students starting in Warkworth.
Testostrogen, by Joanna Pearce, tells the story of a man dealing with a powerful inclination to dress in women’s clothes and then making the decision to switch genders completely.
The Creative New Zealand grant came about after Auckland University research fellow Dr Barbara Snook saw a performance of the play at Pitt Street Theatre in Auckland last September.
In a letter of support for Testostrogen, Dr Snook wrote that the play “would be of particular interest to youth who are often struggling with their own identity confusion and for those who simply don’t understand what others go through”.
Joanna says that many Auckland high schools are dealing with students who are transitioning from one gender to another – including one prominent girls school where 12 girls are becoming boys.
The grant will permit matinee performances throughout the Auckland region and Whangarei at no cost to senior school students.
Performances will begin at the Warkworth Town Hall on March 21. Teachers at local schools can opt to make attendance part of a class activity or it may be an optional extra for interested students.
There will also be an evening performance at the Warkworth Town Hall for the general public on March 21 at 7.30pm.
The play partially mirrors Joanna’s own gender transition journey and she plays the part of the main character, Steve, who later becomes Stephanie.
Professional actor Denise Snoad will play two roles – Steve’s partner and boss.
The play is directed Adam Burrell.
Joanna says the play has undergone some significant revisions under Adam’s direction and based on public feedback following the Pitt Street shows.
“There’s a lot less explanation in the dialogue. The essential points are emphasised by action. It’s more show, don’t tell,” Joanna says.
Swear words have also been cut out for the school productions.
Joanna says there’s a huge need for better understanding of transsexuals. Many suffering gender dysphoria (distress over one’s assigned gender) have wrongly been identified as homosexual.
She adds that snubbing, bullying and mugging of transsexuals is common and transsexual suicide rates are high.
“I’m passionate to expose the reasons behind these suicides,” she says.
For those uncomfortable with the subject matter being presented to school students, Joanna has a question.
“Do you want students to have a truthful explanation of what a transgender person is, or do you want them to find out from the internet, talk to their mates or pick it up from hearsay?” she says.