You’ve Changed: An interview with trans theatre-maker Kate O’Donnell

This June Trinity Centre‘s IGNiTE and Beacons, Icons & Dykons are teaming up to bring a new LGBTQ+ show to Bristol: Kate O’Donnell‘s You’ve Changed (Fri 8 June).

You’ve Changed is a critically acclaimed show about the changing trans experience over the past decade and a half, which was a hit at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

Kate O’Donnell is trans performer and theatre-maker who is artistic director of theatre company Trans Creative. She was also the first trans person to play Feste the Fool in Twelfth Night and has since been very busy championing and creating work with a focus on the trans experience. Here’s an interview with Kate about her upcoming show and her company.

Tell us about You’ve Changed

You’ve Changed is about how much I have changed over the last 15 years since I transitioned in 2003. It also asks the audience how much they have changed around trans issues, which are, of course, very hot right now but 15 years ago were not. It was like transitioning in the 1930s, hence why the show is set then.

Which creatives did you work with on the production?

After my first show (Big Girl’s Blouse), a second show felt like the tricky second album, so I knew I had to work with a great team and really challenge myself. I wanted to get dance into the show (it’s tag line is “let’s face the music and dance”). We were lucky to get Lea Anderson to choreograph and work on the show, along with her musical team. She found me a Fred Astaire style dance graduate Sean Murray. Then I had Mark Whitelaw, who directed my last show, to help develop it. Finally Kat Heath came on board again as designer and brought thirties glamour and style to the show. I love my creatives.

What were you hoping for when you made You’ve Changed?

I wanted to chart some recent trans history and celebrate what feels like our golden era of trans. I also wanted to get my non-trans audience up to speed and help my community feel more empowered and more able to face the music. I also wanted to dance again at 53, so it was a now or never situation!

How has it developed throughout the time it’s toured?

Doing Edinburgh festival was where the show grew. The first time I did the show off-script with a fully working set was on stage in Edinburgh in front of the national press! I don’t remember that show but we got some great press and that was the beginning.

I edited and changed bits of the show during that thirty-show run. That was hard work, and since then I am much more relaxed and have a lot of fun with the show and the audience. It’s definitely got more interactive and that helps me tell my story.

Tell us about Trans Creative

Trans Creative is all about telling our own stories and we were lucky to get Arts Council Elevate funding to grow and develop the structure of the company. We’ve already held a Trans Arts festival in Manchester and our message is to be a creative voice and advocate for the trans community. We curate and promote creative art hoping to change the world!

Setting up Trans Creative coincided with many other projects that happened in 2017. It was quite the year for the company and me. I left my full time job and got a part in Twelfth Night as the first Fool to be played as a trans woman, appeared in the opening ceremony of MIF (Manchester International Festival). I curated a Trans Arts festival, developed You’ve Changed and directed the trans show Transpose at the Barbican. I feel You’ve Changed was lucky to be part of that creative wave last year, and sat in the middle of all that other work!

How did Trans Creative come into being?

I am the Artistic Director and I wanted to create something in the north of England that was trans and creative. The name says it all really! It was a bit of a ‘build it and they will come’ plan, which is still ongoing. The company Trans Creative in Manchester will be a hub for trans art voices and its hope is to trans up the city; its people and its buildings. During our Trans Creative arts festival we brought trans work into so many buildings who had never had trans work before. It’s a great plan which we hope to develop in other cities here and around the world!

Artists who are trans are becoming more prominent, Edfringe 2017 was particularly impressive with work at the Traverse and other spaces.

Who are the trans or trans-positive artists, performers and creators who inspire you and why?

I loved being part of 2017 Trans Edinburgh arts festival, as I called it. We had a strong presence and we became close. As an artist and curator I am always looking to work on collaborations with other trans creatives writer like Jo Clifford, theatre-makers like Kit Redstone, star of Testosterone. I also love non-binary artists Krishna Istha and Travis Albanza who I directed at the Barbican along with CN Lester and other trans opera singers. I am a big fan of writer Juno Roche and appear in her latest book Queer Sex. This year I will be working with trans men Serge Rizzler Nicholson and some new theatre makers from NYC on a new piece along with writer Laura Bridgeman. I also want to develop some ways to get new trans voices heard. Hopefully the Trans Creative arts festival will inspire more creatives this year.

You can catch Kate O’Donnell in You’ve Changed at the Trinity Centre on 8th June, 7.30pm. Book tickets here.

Watch the trailer: