The producers of the Tony-nominated Broadway musical Jagged Little Pill are apologizing in a formal statement for erasing a non-binary character.
The character Joe, played by Tony nominee Lauren Patten, was played as a non-binary person during the show’s pre-Broadway run in Boston in 2018. When the show moved to New York City the following year, all non-binary references to the character were removed.
According to Deadline, Lauren stopped referring to Joe as “they” or “them” and began using “he” or “her” to describe the character.
Now, both the show’s producers and Lauren are speaking out to apologize for erasing the non-binary character. The makers have also resolved to rewrite the character and ensure an inclusive casting process in the future.
“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,” the producers said.
Lauren is a favorite to win the award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical at next weekend’s Tony Awards. You can hear her version of “You Oughta Know” below.
STATEMENT FROM LAUREN PATTEN
I sat down with my friend @shakeenz on August 19th to have a conversation around my experience with @jaggedlittlepill. The discussions I have had over the past 3 years around the development of Jo have primarily taken place offline, but for transparency and accountability, Shakina and I decided to make this conversation public. I am extremely excited and grateful for the opportunity to return to this character with the reopening of Jagged on Broadway, and I know that comes with responsibility. Our goal 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.
I know this video is long, but I felt strongly that this situation is too important for me to address it any other way. I have wanted to have full transparency about this for a long time, and I am grateful for the opportunity to do it now. I hope that it provides some clarity and insight into what the development process looked like, and into my relationship to Jo and my queerness in both sexuality and gender. I am profoundly sorry for the harm I caused, and I am thankful to Shakina, as well as the friends and colleagues with whom I have spoken privately, for holding me accountable. It is my deepest hope 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.
special thanks to @earthtooliver for editing our humble lil home video! hope y’all enjoy Snug insisting on making himself known during the convo, too.
STATEMENT FROM THE PRODUCERS
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