The Story behind Transgender Talent
by Ann Thomas
How Things Led Up To This
In support of the transgender community, the Dr. Drew show on HLN wanted to have an episode with an all transgender audience. I came to understand through conversations with Burt Dubrow, Executive Producer, and Bill Hinkle, Senior Editorial Producer, that they were sincerely wanting to help our community. I was willing to spend the time to help them understand the transgender community in depth, and brought friends to a key meeting we had to let them know about our diversity and overall rejection from society due to society’s misunderstanding of us. There were many subsequent phone calls, including production meeting conference calls where I filled in more details.
At one point they chose to expand it to 2 one hour episodes, called “Transgender In America”, aired August 26 and 27, 2015 on HLN. The first episode being about transgender issues in general. The second episode was about transgender people of color, as the producers were unaware of the high murder rate and violence against trans people nationwide, particularly for those of color.
I really earned the title of “cat herder” doing that set of shows. I brought about 50 transgender people for those two episodes, which we taped back to back. There were an additional 20 or so that came via the efforts of Dr. Drew’s staff.
Casting Society of America
In the fall of 2015, we got our first casting call from a major network. I sent my usual, “we need to see the script first” message, to which the casting director obliged and requested that we chat on the phone. We did, and I remember very little about the conversation, as I didn’t realize how important it was at the time.
About six months later, I get an email from this same casting director, wanting to know if I’d like to work with an organization to provide free auditioning lessons for transgender actors. It was signed “Russell Boast, VP Casting Society of America”. I was floored. Of course I said yes.
In early June 2016 we had our two day series of lessons, taught by Marci Lieroff the first day, and we split the 70 or so actors into 4 groups at the end of the first day. The next day each group had individual reads with critiques by Amanda Lenker Doyle, Jeremy Gordon, Geralyn Flood and Jami Rudofsky. It was a huge help to our trans community!
With the visibility in media, we are becoming more and more the place to turn to for both independent productions as well as the major studios. We are in the loop for most places, in tv, theater and film for finding transgender people. It is not uncommon for our company to provide the majority, if not all the actors for a casting call. Some calls are extremely difficult to fill due to the way the script is written, so we openly might have a couple of people that fit it. But the majority of our submittals have been at least a half dozen or more people that fit the breakdown. At times they come in a steady stream, keeping Ann quite busy. Some roles have been really major, like a series regular on a major network.
Casting calls have been running approximately 80% for trans women, 20% for trans men, and 2% for non-gendered (doesn’t matter, just have to be transgender).
Several people have come and gone, helping here and there with projects. Eventually things have settled down and regular help has been provided by a few individuals.
We’re planning for the long term, like how to make sure there’s still work for transgender people if and/or when industry loses interest in highlighting us.
Transgender Talent is just beginning…