CHICAGO — When North Carolina defined gender access to public bathrooms in 2016, people protested, corporations yanked expansion plans in the state, sports organizations canceled tournaments and celebrities boycotted. Chloë Orlando, a student in The Theatre School at DePaul University, wrote a play.
"The bathroom bill reminded me how confused, silly and embarrassing it was for me growing up," said Orlando, a transgender playwright. "I wanted to write a play on what it was like to grow up as a confused trans person."
What began as a one-act class assignment for Orlando is now "Growing Up Blue," a play having its world premiere at The Theatre School on May 18. Orlando, who graduates this year with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in English, learned her play was one of three selected as part of the school's New Playwrights Series just months after North Carolina repealed its controversial law in 2017.
"Growing Up Blue" tells the story of Blue Johnson, a 13-year-old assigned male, who inadvertently disrupts the peace of Hometown by announcing at a school assembly that he wants to be a mother. Blue's family, at the center of a reality show, also struggles with identity issues.
"It's a coming-of-age story that shows the experience of being transgender is very similar to everyone else dealing with self-identity," Orlando said. "The story is deep and sad, but there's humor in it."
Plays like "Growing Up Blue" can elevate understanding among all audiences, according to Samantha Close, an assistant professor in the College of Communication who studies gender in media.
"Seeing media about transgender people being written and created by transgender people is extremely significant. Studies of media representation consistently stress that having marginalized people in positions of creative control is essential for making media — and through it our shared culture — better,” Close said.
Aiden Rivkin, a theatre school student pursing a BFA in acting who identifies as neither male nor female, portrays Blue.
"I like that no one in this play is perfect. No one is a villain or a hero," Rivkin said. "Blue can be selfish and cruel. Being transgender doesn't sanctify Blue. I think a lot of transgender stories are tragic narratives."
Carlos Murillo, head of playwriting, called "Growing Up Blue" a production that will make an important contribution to the growing canon of work by and about transgender people.
"In her play, Chloë upends the traditional American family drama in exciting ways — creating a world that is fantastical, yet deeply poignant, hilarious and heartbreaking — exploring in complex, thought provoking and theatrically inventive ways our received notions of gender identity," he said.About the production
"Growing Up Blue" opens May 18 and runs through May 26 at The Theatre School at DePaul University, 2350 N. Racine Ave. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday.
A post-show discussion will take place following the May 20 and 24 performances. In addition, the May 24 performance will be interpreted in American Sign Language. The May 26 performance will offer an audio description.
In addition to Rivkin, the cast features Eliana Beigel (Court), Kyra Brickhouse (Trish), Christina Euphrat (Chelsea), Elliot Gross (Charlie) and Noah Kurnik (Gray).
The production team includes Shade Murray (director), Paloma Loscin (scenic design), Emilee Orton (costume design), Jack Riley (lighting design), Sarah Parker (sound design), Ethan Gill (technical direction), Rachel Perzynski (dramaturgy) and Erin Collins (stage management).
Murray teaches at The Theatre School and is associate artistic director and an ensemble member of A Red Orchid Theatre. He has directed productions at Steppenwolf Theatre Company, The House Theater, Steep Theater and The Second City.
Tickets are $15 with discounts for DePaul students and employees. Tickets are available online at https://bit.ly/2rfHZlS
or by calling the box office at 773-325-7900.