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Talking Back #7: Delia Kropp

Since our incredible kick-off, The Chicago Inclusion Project has continued to explore how we will sustain our efforts and where we can make the greatest impact. Fully aware that we don’t have all the answers, we seek out others who may be passionate about our cause, and reach out to those who have experienced our intentions first hand. For this reason, we’ve interviewed the actors who were involved in our first reading of The Time of Your Life by William Saroyan, performed on June 1, 2015 at Victory Gardens Theatre. Delia Kropp gave us the real deal in her incredibly honest and candid answers.

Delia Kropp

This specific casting of “The Time of Your Life”...Did it tell the story, in your opinion?

As far as a reading could go, yes. The artistry was incredible, the character studies and story points dead on. Since so many concerns about inclusive casting center on appearances, I'm not sure a reading format addressed those, stuck behind reading stands as we were.

How did it feel to read the role(s) you were given? Would you have asked to be seen for it?

As to how it felt, overall, aside from so much focus on my temporary vocal disability, I felt excited and exhilarated, lots of adrenaline. It was mostly fun.

I definitely felt my two roles (Society Woman, Second Hooker) were within my range, despite an interesting little setback on performance day. That morning a cold led to laryngitis, leaving me just a very few deep notes to my voice. For a transgender female, the voice is the hardest aspect of the actor's instrument to conform to hetero-normative standards, and this made my efforts many times harder. But throughout the afternoon, on my own, I re-worked both roles with different line readings and even character traits, and according to some in the audience I was sufficiently loud and clear, and even sounded reasonably female. That felt great.

Honestly I also felt more exposed than I'd anticipated, and vulnerable. Not just because of my vocal setback but many other reasons too. It had been 10 years since doing any professional role, and I've yet to actually perform a female role, for real, without reading stands. In real life I no longer care if I'm "read", that is, detected as trans instead of female, but on stage those apprehensions came back. I felt the audience was judging me by that "passing" standard, and with my impaired vocal apparatus I feared the worst. For this and other reasons I'm still not sure if the audience accepted me as a female and that was very stressful.

Another point of vulnerability: one of my roles was a hooker, the kind of part that gay drag and trans women are over-boxed into. I was given the part as part of a last minute re-casting, and felt gratified to have more work, but it was never worked through with the director and remained problematic for me. But then again many of the female roles were stereotyped, with less depth and variety than the male parts, which is another issue beyond Inclusion.

Listening to it or watching it, did anything take you out of the story?

Not out of the story so much, but our cast had me constantly thinking about how engaging, vital, and real this show felt compared to the white cisgender movie version I'd recently watched. There was definitely another level of awareness in place, especially at the beginning of the reading. Guess I was constantly listening, evaluating if any roles or situations worked just as well "not white". And they most certainly did.

Was working on “The Time of Your Life” different from working on other plays for you? If so, how?

Now that I've transitioned, all plays feel different. Speaking to the diversity of the cast, it felt tremendous to be surrounded by artists of color, most of whom I'd never worked with, and to listen to their stories offstage. It just all felt more real somehow. Hard to explain.

What are challenges we still face as a community?

The main problem is our aging audience, and its racial-ethnic makeup. We need to build younger audiences and reach out to people so underrepresented they just stay away from theatre. We despair when Broadway audience members go onstage to charge their iPhone, or to find a working toilet, but to me there's a grain of reality there, demonstrating just how un-involved many Americans are with live theatre. They know rock concerts and sporting events but their stories are largely canned content, that is to say, movies or TV shows, and that needs to change or theatre will just die off.

What would you like to see done about it?

Inclusive casting is an important part of bridging that gap. But we need to see the right plays too. Works like the new Broadway musical "Hamilton", with cast and music that disregard so-called "historical verisimilitude" while brilliantly dramatizing the ideas, passions, human relationships in the story. Once theatre directors and audiences see the power in such shows, I feel sure they will bring that framework and expectation back to other, older works, and not only accept inclusive casting but actually prefer it. The new works prime the pump, as it were.

If we had more time, what questions do you wish were asked at the panel discussion? or what concerns do you wish were addressed?

Mostly I wish the audience had more time to ask their questions or remarks, in response to what they just saw. Many told me afterwards they were excited and really wanted to be included in the discussion. The moderator and panel seemed more prepared to talk in generalities, abstractions, and what-ifs and less about the actual performance.

For me, personally, it would have been very useful to ask the audience if I passed as female or not, and if not, if that was a problem for them.

Each artist said “yes” to this project for different reasons. What were yours?

Well, I was excited that the founders felt gender diversity needed to be part of the inclusive recipe. There are few transgender people with the years of training and experience I have, so in a way I felt incumbent to represent.

More personally, I was wondering how to restart my acting career but as female, and didn't know where to start. This gave me a helpful push, introduced me to fantastic creative people, and infused me with confidence even long before "The Time of Your Life" reading.

Delia is currently understudying Good for Otto at The Gift Theatre.

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