ENTERTAINMENT

Actor Lauren Patten Speaks Out On Broadway’s ‘Jagged Little Pill’ Controversy & Reveals Her Future With The Show As Producers Apologize For Erasing A Nonbinary Character – Update

UPDATE, with Lauren Patten statements When Boston area audiences saw a pre-Broadway performance of the Alanis Morissette musical Jagged Little Pill in 2018, they saw actor Lauren Patten sing a powerful, showstopping rendition of the hit song “You Oughta Know,” with the young performer delivering the blistering number as a lovestruck – and gender non-conforming – teenager.

When Broadway audiences saw the same show in 2019 – which reopens from the Covid pandemic shutdown on Oct. 21 at the Broadhurst Theatre – audiences again saw the scene-stealing, soon-to-be-Tony-nominated Patten in the role, but references to the character’s being nonbinary were all but gone. And on social media, Patten, a cisgender woman, had shifted from referring to her Jagged character Jo as “they” or “them” to “she” or “her.”

When discussing the matter in public, producers insisted that the character had never been written or conceived as nonbinary, describing the role more along the lines of a young person on a journey of self-clarity.

Well, Jo – and Broadway audiences – seem to have clarity coming their way.

In an expansive statement from Vivek J. Tiwary, Arvind Ethan David and Eva Price, the three lead producers of the musical apologize for Jo’s transformation from Boston to Broadway and pledge to take action both to rewrite the character and to take a more inclusive approach to future castings of the role.

“In Jo, we set out to portray a character on a gender expansive journey without a known outcome,” the producers write in a statement posted on the show’s social media pages (read it in full below). “Throughout the creative process, as the character evolved and changed, between Boston & Broadway, we made mistakes in how we handled this evolution. In a process designed to clarify and streamline, many of the lines that signaled Jo as gender non-conforming, and with them, something vital and integral, got removed from Jo’s character journey.”

The producers continue, “Compounding our mistake, we then stated publicly and categorically that Jo was never written or conceived as non-binary. That discounted and dismissed what people saw and felt in this character’s journey. We should not have done that.”

Later, the producers write, “We should have protected and celebrated the fact that the non-binary audience members saw in Jo a bold, defiant, complex, and vibrant representation of their community. For all of this we are deeply sorry.” Their actions, the producers say, put “our cast and our fans in a difficult position.”

One of those cast members, no doubt, is Patten, who today took to her Instagram page to present her take on the controversy, posting both a written statement and a 43-minute video conversation with her friend Shakina Nayfack, a trans actor, writer and activist in which the two discuss the various facets of the controversy and the importance of trans representation on the stage.

“Our goal,” Patten writes in the message accompanying the video (read and watch both below), “was to discuss my part in the harm caused to the trans + nonbinary community, share my experience creating Jo, and to explore the nuances and complexities of queer + trans representation in theatre.”

Patten, who says she is “profoundly sorry for the harm” she caused, writes that she wants to provide “clarity and insight” into how the character of Jo developed, and “into my relationship to Jo and my queerness in both sexuality and gender.”

“It is my deepest hope,” she writes, “for Jo to be a character that can be claimed and owned by folks of many queer identities — butch and masc women, nonbinary and genderqueer folks, trans men, and many more. Theatre has the power and the potential to be expansive, and I hope that Jo can be a representation of that moving forward.”

During her conversation Nayfack, Patten discusses the “complicated, messy” process of the character’s development, and suggests the situation was not as “cut and dried” as a cis female actress taking a role that was written “canonically as trans.” That scenario, she insists, “would not fly.”

“Because the situation is messier than that and more nuanced than that…ultimately every time I’ve been on stage as Jo…the character lives deeper in my body and in my spirit than I can properly express,” Patten says.

Asked point blank by Nayfack why she simply doesn’t walk away from Jagged Little Pill, Patten concedes that she’s “thought about it a lot,” but that because the creation of Jo was not “cut and dried,” she feels a responsibility to see it through, and that she “ultimately wanted to be part of the reopening of the show on Broadway” to experience what will eventually be a “closure” for her and the character that is “not the weird, two-show Covid March 11” shutdown.

Patten also adds that she has felt a responsibility to the many “queer folk” who have found inspiration in the original Broadway iteration of Jo, and says she remains “excited” by knowing that the time will “come to pass this off to the next person and the next person and the next person, and I know that this character will be played by trans and nonbinary folks.”

In the producers’ statement, they outline a series of actions – including future recastings – that they have or will take to rectify the situation, which they describe as an “on-going process”:

  • The production has hired a new dramaturgical team which includes non-binary, transgender, and BIPOC representation “to revisit and deepen the script. In particular, we commit to clarity and integrity in the telling of Jo’s story. The story of a gender nonconforming teen who is on an open-ended journey with regard to their queerness and gender identity.”
  • Producers have instituted practices that “intentionally broaden the casting of all roles to artists of all gender identities. We already have and will continue to make it explicit in all future casting that the character of Jo is on a gender journey and prioritize auditioning actors for the role who are on gender journeys or understand that experience personally – including artists who are non-binary, gender fluid, gender-expansive — or otherwise fall under the trans community umbrella.”
  • Producers will “cultivate a more participative, responsive, safe, and equitable working culture, specifically for our returning and newly hired non-binary, trans, queer, and BIPOC company members. This work includes listening and learning sessions, bias training related to transphobia and anti-racism, and continuous avenues for measurable allyship and advocacy.
  • Producers have recruited a Director of People & Culture to be an ongoing source of support, training, and advocacy for the company and crew.
  • The production will partner with The Trevor Project and Trans Lifeline “in order to help amplify their voices and bring much needed attention to the important work they are doing. These relationships will build over time – starting with an initial donation – to a broad range of fundraising and policy initiatives.”

Jagged Little Pill, which features the songs of Morissette (co-written with Glen Ballard), direction by Diane Paulus and an original story by Diablo Cody, chronicles a year in the life of a picture-perfect suburban family whose many problems slowly come to the surface. The principal roles are played by Kathryn Gallagher, Celia Rose Gooding, Derek Klena, Sean Allan Krill, Lauren Patten, and Elizabeth Stanley.

Jagged Little Pill has been nominated for 15 Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Direction. Among its performers, Patten, Stanley, Klena, Krill, Gallagher and Gooding will compete for trophies next week at the Sept. 26 awards ceremony.

The full statement from the lead producers follows:

Broadway is back. Rehearsals for Jagged Little Pill are starting and our cast, our crew and our entire company are filled with excitement and anticipation.

The past year and a half have been the toughest in living memory — tough for the whole world, and in a specific and existentially unsettling way for our cast and company who were shut down only short weeks after we had started. The relief we feel in knowing we will all be together again is palpable and heart-bursting.

But before we reconvene, there are some things we need to say:

We want to recognize the reasonable and deeply felt upset around the issues of transparency and accountability and the character of Jo.

We are thankful and grateful to those who have spoken up on this subject, both within our company and in our audience. We owe you a response in both words and actions. It has taken a moment to put in place the actions, so we also apologize for the delay in these words. We recognized the importance of the work and decided that doing it well was more important than doing it quickly.

In Jo, we set out to portray a character on a gender expansive journey without a known outcome. Throughout the creative process, as the character evolved and changed, between Boston & Broadway, we made mistakes in how we handled this evolution. In a process designed to clarify and streamline, many of the lines that signaled Jo as gender non-conforming, and with them, something vital and integral, got removed from Jo’s character journey.

Compounding our mistake, we then stated publicly and categorically that Jo was never written or conceived as non-binary. That discounted and dismissed what people saw and felt in this character’s journey. We should not have done that.

We should have, instead, engaged in an open discussion about nuance and gender spectrum.

We should have protected and celebrated the fact that the non-binary audience members saw in Jo a bold, defiant, complex, and vibrant representation of their community.

For all of this we are deeply sorry.

As leaders of this very special enterprise, we should have done better and recognize our failure and its consequences. We put our cast and our fans in a difficult position. Torn between their love for the show we created and their hurt and disappointment around this issue and with our words (and then with our silence).

Jagged Little Pill addresses many topics: opiate addiction, transracial adoption, sexual assault, gender identity, marriage crisis, and mental health. Many times, we were told “this is too much” – but always, encouraged by the bravery of our creative team, most of all by Alanis, we persevered.

We are very proud of the show we made and its transformative power. It is precisely because we have made this show about these charged and nuanced issues–a show about radical empathy and truth-telling, about protest and vulnerability–we have to hold ourselves to a higher standard. We owe it to the show we made, the extraordinary people we have made it with, and to you our audience, to keep striving through our imperfection. As a start to that on-going process, we have undertaken the below actions:

We have hired a new dramaturgical team (which includes non-binary, transgender, and BIPOC representation), to revisit and deepen the script. In particular, we commit to clarity and integrity in the telling of Jo’s story. The story of a gender nonconforming teen who is on an open-ended journey with regard to their queerness and gender identity.

We have instituted practices that intentionally broaden the casting of all roles to artists of all gender identities. We already have and will continue to make it explicit in all future casting that the character of Jo is on a gender journey and prioritize auditioning actors for the role who are on gender journeys or understand that experience personally – including artists who are non-binary, gender fluid, gender-expansive — or otherwise fall under the trans community umbrella.

We will cultivate a more participative, responsive, safe, and equitable working culture, specifically for our returning and newly hired non-binary, trans, queer, and BIPOC company members. This work includes listening and learning sessions, bias training related to transphobia and anti-racism, and continuous avenues for measurable allyship and advocacy. To support this work, we have brought into our senior leadership team a Director of People & Culture, who will be an ongoing source of support, training, and advocacy for the company and crew.

We are putting in place partnerships with The Trevor Project and Trans Lifeline in order to help amplify their voices and bring much needed attention to the important work they are doing. These relationships will build over time – starting with an initial donation – to a broad range of fundraising and policy initiatives.

We do these things not to quell debate around these issues. We are humbled by, and grateful for, the critical conversations that continue to occur. We welcome all who would be constructive in this enterprise. Broadway has much work to do. We have much work to do. We look forward to doing it together.

Vivek J. Tiwary, Arvind Ethan David, Eva Price —
Lead Producers, Jagged Little Pill
September 17, 2021

 

Watch Patten’s Instagram video here:



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