Producers respond to Pricilla Queen Of The Desert casting backlash

A few weeks ago, a call was put out online for Trans performers to audition for the upcoming tour of Priscilla Queen Of The Desert (the original film and Musical features a trans woman). Seven Trans performers were seen at the audition and Allie Daniel has been cast as the Understudy for the Trans role, Bernadette, whilst Cis male, Miles Western has been cast as the main performer of the role.

There has been backlash online since the casting announcement, with many people expressing their anger towards a non trans person being cast in the role, whilst a trans person has only been given the role of understudy.

I spoke to one transperson who auditioned who said:

“They could’ve done so much more. I feel like they just saw us for the sake of it. Didn’t tell us what roles were open for the audition, so we were all kept in the dark. They basically just invited us in to show they knew it was wrong to cast a cis man but they’ve still gone ahead with keeping the cis man. It’s all a very weird situation.”

I asked Producers for the tour for a statement on the matter and they said:

“Our Production of Priscilla was originally cast in 2019 and the tour was interrupted by the pandemic in March 2020. When we originally cast the production we did audition trans performers but despite seeing talent did not find anyone suitable for any role in our production. We believe we cast very talented actors who would tell the story of Priscilla in the best way possible. However as some of our cast were not returning to resume their roles it gave us the opportunity to expand our casting process so this time we included an open casting call for Trans performers because on other shows we have had success with open casting calls. We looked for talented performers who can Act, Dance and Sing but required no previous experience as we have always been prepared to invest our resources in talent. On all our shows we look to find diverse talented performers and look to be inclusive at all times. Every production is a journey and we hoped to find a performer in our open call who could join us on that journey. 
Following our open audition process we are delighted that Allie Daniel will join the company as part of the ensemble (a role previously performed by a cis female) and acting as one of our understudies for the role of Bernadette. We chose Allie not because she was a transgender performer but because she was the best actor for the role.
We are aware that for some people casting cis performers in the role of a trans character does not sit well. We believe that inclusivity extends to all members of the company and that all roles are open to everyone. With that principle we believe we have cast the very best performers to portray all the parts in this glorious show which centres its themes about inclusion, acceptance and Tolerance.
Our job in theatre is to tell stories in the best way possible and we believe that by having more diversity and inclusivity in our shows we are better able to do that. We think that the theatre has been trying to lead the way and has made much progress in the last few years but there is always more we can do to reflect the society we live in. The last year while our industry has been shutdown has given us opportunity to reflect on how we do things and there have been many discussions on how we can improve. As Producers we are very happy with our casting process and the excellent talented performers we have engaged for our production.”

As with a lot of big announcements that are happening these days, I think matters like this should be spoken about more transparently from Producers. The official casting announcement mentioned no information or explanation for a topic that you would expect they would anticipate attention for and so why not just release a statement like this along with the press release so people online know the details and don’t have to speculate why casting choices were made?

Visibility is key and young trans people that may go to see the tour deserve to see themselves represented on stage. I don’t think saying “When we originally cast the production we did audition trans performers but despite seeing talent did not find anyone suitable for any role in our production” is really acceptable, If you can’t find the perfect trans performer for the role then keep looking until you do (look at Miss Saigon – they literally searched the world until they found Lea Salonga). All people deserve to be represented fairly.