Scott Turner Schofield shot to fame last year when he became the first openly transgender actor on a daytime soap opera. But before that, he was an acclaimed theater actor who has spent the last nine years touring his one-man show, "How to be a Man in 127 EASY Steps," which he is bringing to the Center on Halsted's Hoover-Leppen Theatre on Monday, Sept. 12. Windy City Times spoke to Schofield over the phone, and has edited his responses for brevity and clarity.
WCT: Welcome back to Chicago! What have you been up to since we last spoke?
Scott Turner Schofield: Kind of living in the next level I guess is what you could say. With The Bold and the Beautiful role, everything just really, really changed in my world, which was really exciting. So you know, I've been sort of going to parties and auditioning and being a part of trans Hollywood and transforming things over there. In the way that things always happen slower than you'd like, it's not all glitz and glamour, but in the way my life looks compared to one year ago, it's pretty amazing.
WCT: Tell me about Becoming a Man in 127 Easy Steps?
STS: It is a choose-your-own-adventure show. It's kind neo-futurist, like [Chicago production] Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. So what happens in my show is the audience shows up and you'll pick six to eight different stories by choosing numbers between one and 127. They're all stories that go beyond the traditional transgender narrative.
There's something else that happens when you start living in your own true gender. … Gender is so ridiculous and I keep finding myself in these moments where I'm a trans man, which means I'm a man who used to be a woman. I'm also a former lesbian who people think when I'm out with my partner is a straight guy, but when I'm on my own people think I'm a gay man. Gender just leads me into the most absurd situations.
WCT: Has the show's reception changed any since you first began touring it all those years ago?
STS: The short answer is "Really, not at all." The show has been a blockbuster hit as far as theater goes since it debuted. What people love about this show is its total authenticity. This is the work about telling the truth about your life, and being a transgender person, being an actor and an activist the way I am. I'm all about telling the truth about my life. But it's not self indulgent.
These stories help parents and friends of transgender people understand us better without feeling bad or alienated. But it helps transgender people too because there's so little out there. It was the first transgender piece commissioned the National Performance Network. It's gotten really positive reviews from Le Monde in Paris and Time Out New York, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution called it "one of the most essential theatre shows of the year," so it gets consistently excellent reception.
WCT: What's the hardest part about adapting and staging the same show in so many theaters over so many years?
STS: When I started the show back in 2007 it was like very pure solo theatre performance art. It had aerial acrobatics and the audience participation was a big part of it. I found that actually quite difficult to tour, because with the aerial acrobatics part we had to have really high ceilings and safety. Even getting the set in venues where you're only going to perform for one night, getting them to build me a set would be kind of ridiculous. So I kind of pared it down.
Then, last year, at Outfest in LA, a film producer approached me, and we now have a movie deal to make this into a feature film. We're still in the investor phase, but the process of making it is becoming this process of doing it almost as standup. It's not just gonna be another film about transgender identity. It's going to be a whole new way of communicating these stories. And that's our process right now. How do we do this? What platform do we use? It's going to be a whole nother way of telling a story, not just a transgender story.
WCT: How difficult is it for trans artists to break into the theater, whether onstage or as part of the crew?
STS: The thing that's been the hardest for me to overcome is all anyone ever thinks about when they think of me is that transgender guy. They don't think that award winning artist, that acclaimed storyteller, that guy who changed nondiscrimination policies all around the world. And I'm stuck having the same conversation over and over again. …You know I'm so many other things, just like you are. And so what I found is especially in the theatre "he's at transgender guy." Like, I won a Princess Grace award, which is one of the most prestigious awards. It's not for being transgender, it's for acting. At the same time it's really great because the theatre world has always been comprised of incredibly open loving people. It's why I stay in it. There's no money in it, for God's sake. It's for the people. It's a place we can find acceptance for who we are.
WCT: You are famously the first openly trans actor to recur on a daytime drama, and you worked alongside a cis woman playing a trans woman. When I interviewed you for the Gay UK Magazine, you had said before working with Karla Mosley that you were "of the opinion that only transgender people should play transgender roles" Given the controversy surrounding Matt Bomer's casting as a trans woman, should more trans people be cast in trans roles, or is it okay for cis people to play trans characters?
STS: It's a little different, Karla playing a transgender woman, than Bomer playing a transgender woman because if Karla Mosley is playing a transgender woman, then what a transgender woman is is actually a woman. Matt Bomer, or any man, what's-his-face from the Danish Girl [Eddie Redmayne], any cisgender male ever played a trans woman has instructed society that what a trans woman really are is men.
And that leads directly to why we are murdered. Men who find themselves attracted to trans women then feel shamed because society tells them that transgender women are really men, and in order to assuage their shame they commit violence against transgender women. Matt Bomer's role in that movie leads directly to the deaths of transgender women. … I really thought Eddie Redmayne was going to be the last cisgender man we'd see, but I'm really dismayed we have to see yet another movie with a cisgender man playing a transgender woman. There are not that many transgender actors in Hollywood. We need jobs!
I think The Bold and the Beautiful did the best they could with what they had, and if there's a right way to put a cisgender person in a transgender role, it's to make them what they are. Maya is really a woman. She's a cisgender woman playing a woman. And Karla just says, "Yeah, that's what it is." That's what Karla playing Maya says to the world. And that's better. But if you're so interested in transgender people and transgender stories, hire transgender people to act and write these stories.
( In a follow-up text, Schofield clarified that "I am an artist who has been censored twice because I am trans. So I do not believe in censorship. I truly believe that art means transcending boundaries … but, at this point in our culture, we need to make a change. We need to change the way thast trans women are looked at, which means changing how they are represented, and then it will no longer be litearlly dangerous for anyone to play anyone. I look forward to that day." )
WCT: You grew up in the South, specifically in Texas, which, last year, defeated the Equal Rights Ordinance in Houston. Bathrooms, in particular, seem to be the new battleground in LGBT rights. How can we as a community educate cis people and advance equality?
STS: I grew up in Texas but I also grew up in North Carolina. I went to high school in Charlotte. So it's really hitting home. So here's the deal: before I even knew that I was transgender, before I had the wordbecause very long ago it was easy to go much of your life without knowingso I was 19 years old and I went to see a movie with my parents at a Charlotte movie theater. At age 19 I had very short hair, I wore athletic clothes. Other people would consider me quote-unquote a dyke. That's something people said to me a lot. I was a gender nonconforming female person.
And as such I left the movie in the middlewe were watching Meet the Faukers, rightand I left the theater to use the restroom and I walked into the women's room and I walked in and I used the restroom and I bumped into a woman who looked a lot like my mother. White, 50s woman who proceeded to beat me with her large and heavy purse because she thought I was a man. Even though at the time I totally identified as a woman, I had made no changes to my body as a transgender person; I was just a different-looking woman at the time.
So what's really dangerous about these bills is they send us back in time. They basically give anyone who wants to use violence an opportunity to discriminate and be violent against anyone, whether you're a man or woman, transgender, non-binary, whatever your gender isif you don't fit into a really strict mode of what gender is, you're up for a beating.
WCT: What would you say to the younger generation of trans actors and writers coming of age today?
STS: Come on! Use the cultural fascination with transgender identity to your advantage, get your good work out there, bring your best word, and don't just show up and say, 'I'm trans pay attention to me.' Show up and bring your best work and lets make a place for ourselves in this society.
Scott Turner Schofield will be performing "Becoming A Man in 127 EASY Steps" Monday, Sept. 12, at 7 p.m. Tickets are available at community.centeronhalsted.org/Schofield .