Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Talking about Transgender Representation with the cast of Spotlight Youth Theatre's WHATEVER, JUST WASH YOUR HANDS (A POTTY PLAY)


by Gil Benbrook

In 2013, Arizona State Representative John Kavanagh proposed Senate Bill 1432, which would find an individual guilty of disorderly conduct if they used a bathroom, locker room or dressing room that's not designated for the sex listed on his or her birth certificate. 

Spotlight Youth Theatre's Artistic Director Kenny Grossman has used that proposed bill, as well as the 2013 time period, as the basis for his original play, Whatever, Just Wash Your Hands (A Potty Party), which plays this Friday to Sunday, both in person as well as virtually.

Set in an Arizona community theatre bathroom in 2013, the play uses humor, wit and a few potty jokes to depict the furor that surrounded the proposed anti-discrimination law that would block transgender people from using the public bathroom of their choosing. Similar laws would pop up in several other states as well over the years.

While the show may be lighthearted, the central message is important, and Grossman has also found a talented group of transgender or non binary and gender fluid youth actors to portray the transgender characters in the show.  Three of them sat down during final rehearsals for the show to answer some questions about the play and the importance of appropriate representation.


AJ King
AJ KING (14) - JOSH

What can you say about the importance of being in a show with transgender teen actors and characters? 

"The importance of being in a show with trans teen actors and characters to me, is feeling seen. Also being able to make connections and bond with other transgender teen actors. As in giving or getting advice and having people I can relate too. "

What can you tell us about the character you play in this show? 

"My character in Whatever, Just Wash Your Hands (A Potty Party) is a transgender boy named Josh. He is not afraid to speak up and is proud of who he is. Josh can also be sarcastic and funny at times. Definitely one of my favorite roles! "

How would you describe the meaning of the play’s story and how it relates to members of the transgender community? 

"I would describe this show as a fun comedy with a touch of reality. You will definitely laugh at some point in this show! At the same time it relates to members of the transgender community by showing what we’ve had to go though just to use a public bathroom. "

What does it mean to you to identify as trans, non-binary, or gender queer?

"To me it means trying to be okay with who I really am. Being a black transgender teen, it’s not the easiest. I’ve struggled a lot with coming to terms with who I am, some days I still do. Honestly, I wasn’t okay with it until I came to Spotlight Youth Theatre and was able to tell a group of teens, kids and adults that I use he/him pronouns. That’s why I’m really happy that we’re doing this show, to show people you shouldn’t have to feel uncomfortable, identifying as trans, non-binary, or gender queer. "

Why do you think that theatre and stories like this need to be seen? 

"I think it’s important that theatres do stories like this to show that it’s okay to be who you are. Whatever, Just Wash Your Hands (A Potty Party) covers the topic of transgender bathroom rights in a way that makes it easy to understand with fun characters. Theatres doing shows like this helps create a safe and inclusive environment, especially for trans, non-binary, or gender queer people. It also makes people like me see that you shouldn’t have to fear something like going to the bathroom."


Audrey Palacios
AUDREY PALACIOS (13) - J.T.

What can you say about the importance of being in a show with transgender teen actors and characters?

"Being around other people with different backgrounds, brings new experiences and can help people have a better understanding of the world and other people."

What can you tell us about the character you play in this show?

"J.T. is an outgoing non-binary actor who isn’t afraid to speak up for themselves and others. They have close connections with the other characters and can’t wait for opening night of the show within the show."

How would you describe the meaning of the play’s story and how it relates to members of the transgender community?

"You’re not better or worse than anyone else just because you don’t share the same experiences. Transgender people are denied access to restrooms and are discriminated against just because some people are scared of what they don’t understand."

What does it mean to you to identify as trans, non-binary, or gender queer?

"Being transgender, non-binary, gender queer, etc. means being your true self for so many people. Gender is a spectrum and simply labeling someone a boy or a girl just because they look a certain way is too normalized. So many people feel so much more like themselves without these labels or with a different label and that is valid."


Sean Haroldsen
SEAN HAROLDSEN (21) - MAGGIE

Why do you think that theatre and stories like this need to be seen?

"It is a real criticism of mine of the current reality between the theatre community and it’s treatment of non-binary, trans and other queer people as a whole. Obviously the theatre has been one of the most openly welcoming communities for queer people - more specifically cis gay people i.e. mostly cis gay men, but, it is of my observations that this welcoming of the queer community is rather dissolved once we go to the actual stage and decide what we present to the world. Once we go to the stage, queer people are almost always expected to play some version of a cis-hetero-character, whether as a named role or background ensemble. Pretty much any ensemble in any musical or play that I can think of involves what I have coined 'The Chorus of Heterosexual Flirting' in which the primary or secondary goal of the background cast is to dance, flirt, talk and jive with members of the opposite gender while acting stereotypically masculine or feminine accordingly. The same is typically enforced 10-fold for named characters in shows. I find this trope tiresome, overplayed, stereotypical, old and boring. I want to see actual role diversity in the shows that we are presenting to the world. Show me characters in which men are wearing dresses, women in suits, men flirting with both men and woman, women flirting with androgynous characters, women leading in dances and men following in dances. The theatre community needs to actually be daring enough in the role diversity shown onstage. This is what is needed in theatre."

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