×

Transgender life at heart of Andy’s production

  • Andy's Summer Playhouse premiers July 20 with its staging of "Melissa, So Far," an adaptation of the children's book "George". (Ashley Saari / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Andy’s Summer Playhouse premiers July 20 with its staging of “George / Melissa, So Far,” an adaptation of the children’s book “George.” Staff photo by Ashley Saari

  • Andy's Summer Playhouse premiers July 20 with its staging of "Melissa, So Far," an adaptation of the children's book "George". (Ashley Saari / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Andy's Summer Playhouse premiers July 20 with its staging of "Melissa, So Far," an adaptation of the children's book "George". (Ashley Saari / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Andy's Summer Playhouse premiers July 20 with its staging of "Melissa, So Far," an adaptation of the children's book "George". (Ashley Saari / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Director Brooke O’Harra gives notes to Jess Putney, 15, of Brookline, during a rehearsal of "Melissa, So Far”. Staff photo by Ashley Saari



Monadnock Ledger-Transcipt
Wednesday, July 12, 2017

“It’s a girl’s world, where it’s awesome to be a girl!” sings out Jess Putney, starting off the rehearsal for “George/Melissa, So Far,” the opening production in the Andy’s Summer Playhouse season.

Andy’s, a children’s theatre company in Wilton, isn’t afraid to tackle mature themes with its young actors. This year, with the theme of “adversity,” is no different. 

While Melissa, the main character of “Melissa, So Far,” thinks it’s awesome to be a girl, her family and classmates all still see her as George – as a boy.

And in the other Andy’s production starting this month, “The Amazing Adventures of Arianna Astronaut,” Arianna loves space and Neil deGrasse Tyson. And Arianna is autistic.

Though often adults look at these themes and think they may be hard for kids to grasp, that’s ignoring the fact that many of them not only know about these issues, but are living them, said Wyckham Avery, who is directing “Arianna Astronaut.” 

“It’s not uncommon,” said Avery, of the kids tackling issues like autism or gender or sexuality. “We have queer kids at Andy’s. We have kids who are not neurotypical. It’s there and it’s present. I don’t know if they’re aware of the implications of how groundbreaking this type of work is, but maybe that’s for the better.”

“Sometimes you do feel that sense of vulnerability,” said “George / Melissa, So Far” Director Brooke O’Harra. “You don’t know if you’re going to have people being nutty about it.” But those are the adults she’s worried about, said O’Harra. Children rarely have those prejudices unless it’s instilled in them. 

That is true of Putney, the lead of “George / Melissa, So Far,” the premier of Andy’s summer season. The show is an adaptation of “George,” a children’s book about a grade-school aged transgirl who wants to try out for the part of Charlotte in the school production of “Charlotte’s Web,” and the process of her coming out.

Putney, 15, of Brookline, said that as soon as he read the play, he was eager to fill the lead.

“I wanted to play Melissa real bad. This is a queer character. I’m a queer person,” said Putney, who is gay.

Putney often plays female roles. 

“I love exploring gender norms and breaking them in half,” he said. 

But he especially related to Melissa’s story.

“Accepting your own identity is a journey we all go through,” said Putney. “I struggled with it. It was easy to tell my mom I was gay, but telling her that I didn’t always feel like I matched my gender, that was much harder. I can’t help that some of the emotions from my journey come through in the play.”

Both of these stories, as well as Andy’s third, musical production in August, are written specifically for Andy’s. “George / Melissa, So Far” was adapted last year as a stage reading as part of Andy’s Greenhouse Initiative, with assistance from both the original author of the book the adaptation is based off of, Alex Gino, and adapted by Jess Barbagallo, and O’Harra, who returned this year to direct the full stage adaptation.

“It takes one read through to be like, ‘Oh, yeah.’ I feel like this play has the potential to be impactful,” said O’Harra. 

At the same time that “George / Melissa, So Far” is preparing to hit the stage, “Arianna Astronaut” is also preparing to begin its traveling show.

Considering that it features an autistic character, the play takes advantage of the nature of the traveling show to increase it’s accessibility to audience members who might also have autism or be otherwise neurodivergent, said Avery. In the past, the traveling show has gone to locations such as nursing homes and Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center, places where the audience is likely to be neurodivergent.

In the play, Arianna can sometimes be overwhelmed by the noisiness and colorful nature of her classroom and the city she lives in, and finds escape inside her space helmet, traveling to other planets and chatting with her heroes.

The play, which was written as well as directed by Avery, is designed to be sensory-friendly.

“There are no bright lights or loud sounds,” said Avery. Usually, the actors are just using the natural lighting of the space they’re in. 

“George / Melissa, So Far” opens on July 20 at 7:30 p.m. with performances each night through July 28 and matinees on July 23 and 26 at 2 p.m., and a closing night performance on July 29 at 5 p.m. “The Amazing Adventures of Arianna Astronaut” is a touring show, with a lineup that includes performances at Crotched Mountain at 1:30 p.m. on August 2, the Peterborough UU Church on Aug. 4 at a time to be determined, Aug. 12 at the Temple Town Hall at a time to be determined and Aug. 13 at 5 p.m. at Cathedral of the Pines in Rindge, with a closing performance on Aug. 14 at 5 p.m. at Andy’s Summer Playhouse. Tickets are $8 for children and seniors and $16 for adults. For more information and to purchase tickets, call 654-2613 or visit www.andyssummerplayhouse.org.

 

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.