With less than a week to go before opening night, it’s crunch time for the cast and crew of Neptune Theatre’s Peter Pan in Halifax.
Avery Jean Brennan will be on stage playing Fudge, one of the lost children, on Wednesday, and it’s far from her first time on stage. Brennan has been involved in acting since she was a child, and spent much of her youth taking part in programs at Neptune Theatre.
She then attended theatre school and her passion for performing took her to stages across the country.
But this performance will be special. It will be Brennan’s first time performing on stage since coming out as a transgender woman.
It will also be the first time a transgender woman performs on the main stage at Neptune Theatre.
“I feel incredible, I feel surprised. This is something I never thought I’d see happen,” said Brennan, who uses the pronouns she/her and they/them.
“To be the first means a whole lot to me, and it helps me know that I can show other people that they can do this too.”
But she admits that getting here wasn’t easy.
“I knew that I was transgender. I found out during my first year in theatre school,” she said.
“I spent six years in the closet waiting to come out because I knew coming out would mean I wouldn’t be seen for roles anymore, it would mean I wouldn’t get to act anymore, and that’s the only thing I wanted to do.”
And they say that’s exactly what happened. Prior to coming out, they were getting callbacks, getting roles and performing on stage, but after coming out that all changed.
“I would submit, saying like, ‘Hey my pronouns are she/her, they/them and I’m a woman, please consider me for this role,’ and I would never hear back,” said Brennan.
“After I came out, all of the auditions went away, I stopped getting called in for things, I stopped being seen for things.”
She said the transition was difficult but her passion for the theatre never wavered and so she threw herself into other work.
She began writing and producing her own musical, which debuted at Toronto’s Fringe Festival. The Pansy Craze focuses on the ideas of sexuality and gender identity and the cast and crew were made up entirely of members of the LGBTQ2 community.
Brennan then developed a workshop series with Young People’s Theatre to help educate arts organizations on the needs and interests of transgender people.
It was that work that brought Brennan back to her hometown of Halifax and to Neptune Theatre, where she approached artistic director Jeremy Webb about the possibility of getting back on stage.
For Webb, it was an easy decision.
“For all our shows, we are making sure that everyone knows that everyone is welcome to be on our stage, and so when she approached and submitted, I was thrilled,” he said.
“I think it’s really important now that we’re in 2019 to acknowledge the fact that Canadians or human beings need to see themselves reflected on the stage to see that they are, in fact, accepted and part of our society.”
Brennan auditioned and landed the role of Fudge. She says she’s excited to get to be a lost child and help tell their story.
“The story of these kids who had to go and find their own home and their own community and own family with other young people who really understand themselves resonates with me so strongly as someone who has grown up all their life as a queer person and knowing that you do have to find your own community to a big degree,” they said.
Brennan says both the cast and crew at Neptune have been incredibly supportive, welcoming and accommodating. She says while they have come across unique challenges along the way, she’s never been afraid to speak up.
“Every time I’ve brought something up it’s been addressed immediately, it’s been addressed with kindness and it’s been addressed with love,” she said.
And some challenges that came up were things even she had never considered, like what dressing room she would use.
“I would really love to share a dressing room with the other women in the lost kids, but on the other hand, there’s a whole lot of things I need to be able to do to get ready for to a show that I need to do in private,” said Brennan.
“When I told the stage manager that, she immediately was like, ‘Great, you have your own dressing room.'”
Brennan says she was surprised at how accommodating they were, considering that private dressing rooms are usually reserved only for lead roles.
“To know that they would make that change, and alter that internal policy to be able to support me and make the show accessible to do that just meant the world to me.”
As opening night draws closer, Brennan says she hopes that her presence on stage can help to inspire others like her and show them that if this is something they want to do, then it is possible. She also hopes that her role can help to break down barriers not just in theatre, but for all transgender women who are underemployed across the country.
“I think being able to come in and do this and come in and say ‘Hey, there are spaces that we’re working to make safer and safer and safer,’ it means everything.”