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THEATER Trans performer Sis is doin' fine in 'Oklahoma!'
by Jerry Nunn
2022-01-05

This article shared 3505 times since Wed Jan 5, 2022
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This isn't your typical grandma's Oklahoma! The very first musical written by Rodgers and Hammerstein opened on Broadway in 1943 and continues to captivate audiences today. The dialogue remains the same, but updated casting choices have brought new life to the classic text thanks to producer Eva Price and a countrywide tour.

Set in Oklahoma's rural territory, the story covers a cowboy named Curly McLain who competes against local farmhand Jud Fry for the hand of the lovely Laurey Williams. Transgender performer Sis stars as Ado Annie Carnes who has her own love triangle to deal with in the plot of the show.

Sis hails from Houston and went to college at San Francisco State University. Before gracing the stage on this tour, Sis moved to New York and appeared on television on the ballroom culture series Pose and the TBS comedy show The Last O.G.

Sis talked about the Tony-winning revival of Oklahoma! before making a quick stop in Chicago during the national tour.

Windy City Times: Hey, Sis. Did you always want to be in the performing arts?

Sis: For the most part, yes. When I was younger, I really liked Barney & Friends. That got me singing, dancing and performing at a young age. I didn't think I could be on TV, so I did theater starting in middle school.

WCT: Well, it has certainly paid off. Did you ever come out as trans at a particular time in your career?

Sis: Coming out was not a part of my personal journey. My transness or queerness is not utilized as a label for me. I exist as me on this day. I don't think coming out was ever necessary.

I always lead with my full self. That is why the opportunities that I have created for myself have been honest and real. I am just me. Either you want me or you don't.

WCT: Do you have a favorite musical?

Sis: I really enjoyed The Wiz, in terms of story and music. That is the one that comes to mind today.

WCT: What led you to Oklahoma!?

Sis: Auditioning. I did Oklahoma! in college and the first time I saw it was in high school. I loved it!

I moved to New York in the middle of the Broadway run and didn't get to see it. I am glad I didn't because I wanted my own interpretation of this production. The fact that I am now going around the country singing "I Cain't Say No" is beautiful.

WCT: Talk about your character, Ado Annie Carnes.

Sis: Ado Annie is a bad bitch. What can I say? She is all we want to be on the inside. I am like her in some ways.

She is different from the other characters because she allows herself to question things. She makes her decisions based on how she feels. The characters in Oklahoma! are figuring things out, but allow other people to take the reins instead of doing it themselves. Annie answers the questions but already knows the answers. She is open to what her heart and body feel, so she leads with that. That is what I love about her.

WCT: What is different about this revival of Oklahoma!?

Sis: It takes the text and puts it right in front of you. Here they strip away all the glitz and glamor of a musical and just give you the story.

Audiences can take from it what they want. It was written a long time ago but shows us how we exist in communities today. We get to see these characters from a different point of view.

Sasha Hutchings plays Laurey Williams; you get to see two Black women with very different experiences of life on stage with this Oklahoma! tour. People can see and hear things they haven't before in an honest way.

WCT: Did you learn to square dance with this production?

Sis: I am from Texas, so I already had that in my tool belt!

WCT: How is the toxic masculinity in Oklahoma! addressed?

Sis: We didn't change anything so it is all there. However, people feel about toxic masculinity is there and audience members have to navigate that. That is how the world was and is today.

WCT: This production shows that there's no need to change words in the book. If casting agents picked a wider variety of people, it would automatically become more inclusive. How do you see that changing?

Sis: We need more people of varying experiences to get up to bat. We are still in a white-centered America, which is the problem.

If you have a different experience than other people in the room, you can bring a new voice to the text. The director Daniel Fish brought a different voice to this text and that is what the people he casts are doing.

I am saying these lines [differently] from any other person before me because they were cis white women. Now there is a Black, trans woman who is in a world that is against her. There is a rebellion that I have [toward] the text that I am showcasing around America.

We have to get more creative in the industry. I hope as we get more agency in the world that it will change.

WCT: Do you have any thoughts about the Jagged Little Pill [situation involving] trans and non-binary performers?

Sis: There are several shows on Broadway that have issues right now. The focus should be on people telling stories that we have never seen or heard before. That is where we should put our energy.

I think Jagged Little Pill shows that the industry needs to change. We are starting to, slowly but surely, but it will take people with varied experiences.

When I am one Black person walking into a room with a white director and team, my experience will be diluted. By the time it gets to the stage, I will be a sliver of who I am. It is a forced perception of who someone wants me to be instead of who I am.

WCT: Talk about your project, Cisgendered.

Sis: Cisgendered was my sold-out 54 Below show. The full thing is on YouTube if people would like to watch it. It was a celebration of my life and showcased me.

The title is about gender identity being equivalent to a person. Being trans is specific to who I am, and [it] incapsulates me. I am Cisgendered at the end of the day, along with all the other things that I am.

WCT: Will you possibly perform Cisgendered in Chicago one day?

Sis: Get it to some people who will produce it and I will!

WCT: How was being on the set of FX's Pose?

Sis: It was a dream come true to be in a space with so many people I share things in common with. I got paid for celebrating my Blackness, queerness and transness. That show changed my life and the whole trajectory of where I was going to go. Getting to be on set for the ending was immaculate.

I am just getting started. I can't wait for more people to know about who I am and what I do. I am focusing on things to create and what I want to do. I want to change the world and I am excited to do that!

This limited engagement tour sweeps down the plain to the Windy City on Jan. 11-23 at the CIBC Theatre, 18 W. Monroe St. Tickets for Rodgers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma! can be found at BroadwayInChicago.com .


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