The production of Hedwig And The Angry Inch, which was set to open at The Enmore Theatre in Sydney as part of Sydney Festival 2021 on January 2, has been postponed. The decision was made following concerns raised by members of the LGBTQI arts and broader communities in an open letter addressed to Sydney Festival, Hedwiginoz and actor Hugh Sheridan.

The concerns centred upon the casting of Sheridan to the central role of Hedwig. With the concern being around a cis-gendered man being cast in a role that was described by writer and creator John Cameron Mitchell as being ‘gender queer’.

As a character, it is not so much that the idea of Hedwig has developed or changed in the 22 years since the musical’s Off Broadway premiere, but that the language used to describe them has.

Sent out on Monday, November 16 the open letter, put together by artists Daya Czepanski, Zoe Terakes, Daniielle Alexis and Tyler Ray Hawkins, called for the producers of Hedwig and The Angry Inch to seriously consider their choice in casting Hugh Sheridan in the lead role.

We would like to express our profound sadness and disappointment that trans performers are still fighting for equal opportunities and representation within the film, television, theatre and wider performing arts and the entertainment industry,” the open letter read.

The choice to cast a cisgender male as a transgender character is offensive and damaging to the trans community, and continues to cause genuine distress and frustration amongst trans and gender non-conforming performers all across Australia. Diversity is vital, and the value of genuine representation for transgender youth cannot be understated.

We are beginning to see change in our industry, but it is clear no effort has been made by Sydney Festival to continue this trajectory with authentic casting. Trans performers have been told for decades by agents, casting directors, and media, that the world will not accept our bodies on screen or stage; that the roles just aren’t there; or that the timing is not right for us.

Since Monday, the open letter has now attracted more than 1700 signatures from individuals from both the creative industries and the LGBTQI communities.

 Despite the decision to postpone the January season of Hedwig Deni Todorovic (former Fashion Editor for Cosmopolitan Magazine), who helped orchestrate the open letter, believes the casting choices point to much larger issues which still underpin  many facets of the Australian creative industries and media landscapes.

The bigger issue at hand isn’t even targeted at Hugh at all, it’s about the bigger issue of genderqueer and trans roles not being given to that community of people. It’s also not about cancelling anyone or anyone’s credibility as an actor at all. The whole purpose of the open letter was to speak to the larger issue in the media and arts around casting issues. The reaction has been huge in a really great way, I’ve worked in media and publishing for a long time, and I’ve seen the internal and implicit bias and real segregation of sexuality and gender.

“I think what’s happened is that they’ve actually listened,” Todorovic adds, “The main touch points of this are that trans folks should be given trans roles. People should listen to trans people when they’re tell you they are hurting, there is a huge amount of violence that is given to trans people, this whole saga is a great example of that.”

Among the many names that have signed the open letter were a number of prominent figures in Australia’s arts and cultural scenes, including First Nations actress Elaine Crombie (Top End Wedding, Black Comedy, Redfern Now, Kiki and Kitty) who told Star Observer that“as a strong, staunch ally to my queer community and especially for my trans brothers and sisters, sadly I’m not surprised with the social media response I saw going back and forth with Hugh and Zoe the other day. When people can’t even recognise the shoes, they’re meant to wear how are they supposed to portray them properly? That is why the only person to play a trans character IS a trans person. It is the world we live in now; this is the Arts – people! Catch Up!

Another who signed off on the open letter was Melbourne based creative Gavin Roach (GLOBE Artist of the Year 2016) who added.

I can understand why he [Sheridan] was cast, in terms of selling the show and the way that the role has been sometimes cast in the past, but it is a missed opportunity to create a unique production and provide an opportunity to shine a light on talented performers who are too often relegated to the shadows.

I signed because not only does it stand for what I believe in, but it was something I knew I needed to put my name to. It’s not enough to just share or like pages and comments from others, make pledges online or advocate without stepping up and doing more.

 All this comes at a time, when the Australian arts and creative industries has come under increasing scrutiny for what many have long recognised is a serious issue with gender and the representation and presence of minorities within artistic and creatives spaces. This year alone, Queensland Theatre were forced to apologise for a lack of First Nations work in its 2021 program announcement. While others have recently written about the further impacts COVID-19 will have on gender in performing arts.

Despite requests, the producers declined to make further comment when approached by Star Observer on Wednesday, November 18, referring only to a statement which appeared online late on Tuesday.

“In light of recent community conversations and concerns, we have made the difficult decision to postpone the 2021 Sydney Festival season of Hedwig And The Angry Inch. In casting Hedwig we auditioned a wide, diverse range of performers and no one from any background was excluded from this process, and were encouraged.

“We wish to assure the Trans and LGBTQI community that the issues raised are respected and taken very seriously. We appreciate your patience in giving us time to properly consider these concerns and respond accordingly.

“Please note that comments or actions of any individual, including by way of any personal social media account, should not be taken as the views of the producer, or as endorsed by the producer. We do not believe in censoring legitimate conversation and will not condone silencing.

In a similar statement on the Sydney Festival website the organisation added that “diversity of representation is critically important to our industry — Australia is home to a cadre of brilliant performers from all backgrounds whose work Sydney Festival aims to showcase and celebrate.”

All ticket holders who purchased tickets via Sydney Festival will be refunded in full and automatically within the next five working days.

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