Training Cisgender Producers and Directors: It’s More than Remembering Pronouns

Nicolas Shannon Savard: Hello, and welcome to Gender Euphoria, the podcast, supported by HowlRound Theater Commons, a free and open platform for theatermakers worldwide. I’m your host, Nicolas Shannon Savard. My pronouns are they, them, and theirs. For today’s episode, I had the chance to chat with actor, advocate, solo performer Maybe Burke about her role at the Transgender Training Institute.

The discussion really beautifully blends the deeply personal and broadly systemic. We talk about big questions about inclusion, and access from college theater programs, to primetime TV sets, the inextricable links between performance and activism for trans artists, and of course her seminar she facilitates, titled Supporting Transgender Actors and Creatives.

To give a brief introduction, Maybe Burke is a New York-based actor, writer, and human rights advocate interested in telling stories that haven’t been told. Their work has been seen at Joe’s Pub, Lincoln Center, Cherry Lane Theater, Arts Nova, New Dramatists, Here Art Center, The New York City LGBTQ Center, and more.

Maybe has spoken on many panels and facilitated several workshops around trans and queer identities. They have spoken all over, from Broadway Con, to Buzzfeed, to universities. Maybe is a queer educator and core trainer with the Transgender Training Institute, which we will be diving into more in depth today. You can read Maybe’s full bio in the show notes.

Rebecca Kling: Gender euphoria is…

Dillon Yruegas: Bliss.

Siri Gurudev: Freedom to experience—

Dillon: Yeah, bliss.

Siri: masculinity, femininity, and everything in between—

Azure D. Osborne-Lee: Getting to show up—

Siri: without any other thought than my own pleasure.

Azure: as my full self.

Rebecca: Gender euphoria is opening the door to your body and being home.

Dillon: Mmm. Unabashed bliss.

Joshua Bastian Cole: You can feel it. You can feel the relief.

Azure: Feel safe.

Cole: And the sense of validation—

Azure: Celebrated

Cole: —or actualization.

Azure: Or sometimes it means

Rebecca: being confident in who you are.

Azure: But also, to see yourself reflected back.

Rebecca: Or maybe not but being excited to find out.

Nicolas Shannon Savard: Hello and welcome back to Gender Euphoria, the podcast. I am here with artist, actor, performer, educator activist, Maybe Burke. Today, we’re going to be talking a bit about building a more trans-inclusive theater and a bit about Maybe’s role at the Transgender Training Institute and their intensive workshop, specifically for cisgender producers, directors, other artistic leaders looking to create more gender inclusive educational spaces, rehearsal rooms, theatrical venues. Basically, how do we create inclusive spaces and practices around us in the theater? Maybe, could you tell us a little bit about what is the Transgender Training Institute, and how did you come to create this particular training for the performing arts specifically?

Maybe Burke: Yeah, definitely. The Transgender Training Institute, we’re a trans-run organization that provides trainings facilitated by trans and non-binary educators. We have a goal of contributing to a more just, equitable, and affirming world. Everything we do is just for the people and by the people. We’re doing all kinds of content and workshops, webinars, courses for making sure people have the tools that they need to make spaces more inclusive and comfortable for the trans and non-binary people in their lives.

Nicolas: That’s beautiful. Can you tell us a little bit about how you ended up creating this? I read on the website ten-hour class specifically for creating these kinds of inclusive spaces for trans and non-binary actors.

Maybe: Yeah. It’s 10 hours overall. It’s not 10 hours straight.

Nicolas: Yes, I figured that. That would be a long time. When I say ten-hour courses, people are like, what?

Maybe: When I started working with TTI, we had a program called An Ally/Advocate Training Camp, where we were teaching people how to be allies and just building that toolbox for folks. We started getting a number of theater and TV people showing up to those things. Then when the pandemic hit, we moved everything online and started doing virtual offerings. Eli Green, our founder, called me and was like, “Do you want to do a course just for your theater people?” I was like, “Yes, I do.” That was the genesis of this course because we had a bunch of intimacy directors specifically, but a lot of producers and indie directors and folks showing up, wanting to have more specific conversations to the industry and to our field.

I was like, “Let’s just do it then.” Now we get to dive into conversations about representation. We get to dive into the meat of casting issues, and how we deal with transactors and creatives on set. We get to talk about what we do when somebody messes up or addressing microaggressions, but in specific contexts, it’s not as general as just learning to be an ally. It’s learning to be a colleague. It’s learning to work within our field, and within our structures, and have these conversations.

Nicolas: Great. It doesn’t surprise me that kind of intimacy choreographers, intimacy directors, were kind of at the forefront of making this connection here. I had not thought of that before, but this makes a lot of sense to me. Can you talk a little bit about what those initial conversations looked like and what the overlap is between that sort of intimacy work, and creating inclusive spaces for trans and non-binary folks?

Maybe: Yeah, I experienced it firsthand because I worked on a TV show, and I learned what intimacy directors do because I met one. I was cast in a show where I knew I was auditioning to play a man or the role was written for a man. When I auditioned, the role’s name was just “Patient.” Then when I booked the role, they changed it to “Gay Man.” My managers were like, “Ooh, let’s not have that on your IMDB page.” They were like, “We’ll have conversations with casting and see if they can change it back.”

Then the next day, or later that week, the intimacy director on the show called me, Alicia Rodis, who is also one of the top-notch intimacy directors in the field. She was like, “Hey. I heard there was like some uncomfortable gender stuff going on. I’m the intimacy director for the network. Do you need anything? Do you want me to come hang out on set and make sure you don’t get misgendered?”

I was like, “Who are you? What is your job?” I was like, “That’s an option? How do I get your job?” She was just free that day and was like, “What do you need?” To which I was kind of like, “Have you Googled me? I think I’ll be okay.” I was actually already emotionally prepared to get misgendered a ton because I knew what role I had auditioned for, and I was comfortable telling that story. It was like a one-liner. I ended up being written off the show. The show doesn’t even… I’m not in it at all, but that started our conversation. She ended up coming to one of our ally training camps when they were held in person.

That spearheaded this whole shift into a lot more people. She was recommending people to come to this. It’s part of intimacy director is getting certified. They can take my course to be part of their certification and all of these things that… Intimacy directors’ jobs essentially are to make sure that actors and everyone in the room is comfortable and feeling safe when we’re addressing intimacy, when we are dealing with intimate scenes and material.

Part of that is making sure everybody’s gender is being affirmed. Part of that is making sure that everyone feels safe and welcome and respected throughout every part of the day. Whether or not we’re doing a sex scene, intimacy means a lot more than that to me. Intimacy, to me, it’s very intimate for me to walk on a set and be the only non-binary person there, and not know if people are going to get my pronouns right. That’s a version of intimacy for me. It makes sense to me that intimacy directors would play that double game.

Nicolas: They’re really dealing with the power dynamics and emotional kind of landscape of everything.

Maybe: Yeah. That’s a thing that we talk about a lot when I’m working with intimacy directors is power dynamics. You correcting somebody who misgenders me is going to land a lot different than me, this actor who was hired for a co-star and is on set for one day, trying to get people to use the right pronouns for me.

Nicolas: All of that makes me so happy.

Maybe: I know, right?

Nicolas: It makes me so happy.

Maybe: Like, “You do this? Okay.” She checked in with me about how I wanted it done. She wasn’t like, “Oh, a non-binary person is coming. We have to do this, this, this, and this.” She was like, “Hey, how do you want this handled? What do you need in this?”

Nicolas: Yeah. Really putting the agency back in your hands.

Maybe: Yeah, like handing me a sliver of her power.

Nicolas: Yeah. Amazing. Amazing.

Maybe: Also, shout out to Alicia. I just love her and think she’s doing…

Nicolas: Yes. Fantastic. I know that this role with the Transgender Training Institute is not your only advocacy slash educator role. I’m sure some of these ideas come through in your solo performance, in your general career as an actor and a performer. I’m curious, for you, what’s the relationship between your work as an actor and an artist, and your work as an activist? How do those roles, if they even can be entirely separated for you, how do they influence one another?

Maybe: Yeah. The idea of ​​entertainment existing just as entertainment is one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard. The theater has such a political history and lineage, and the ways that so many stories that we’ve told, movies that we’ve watched and all of those things, have deeply rooted political and social justice themes. Literally superhero movies. Star Wars going against the embassy—I don’t really know Star Warsbut the bad guys.

Nicolas: Yeah.

Maybe: A lot of those things are aggressively anti-establishment, right?

Nicolas: The empire, I think.

Leave a Comment