Stage 773 presents THE CIVILITY OF ALBERT CASHIER: Preview

Stage 773
Photo courtesy of Stage 773

Stage 773 presents an unusual hero

Set between 1862 and 1915, ALBERT CASHIER tells the astonishing true story by detailing the soldier’s life. Fighting in more than 40 engagements during the Civil War, the musical follows Cashier through retirement and the onset of dementia, when a life-long secret was discovered: That Albert was born Jennifer Hodgers. Causing an uproar in the small southern Illinois community where Cashier lived, Cashier was prosecuted for impersonating a soldier, requiring fellow soldiers to return once again after 60 years to detail Albert’s heroism and life.

In a recent interview the playwright, Jay Deratany, answers questions:

 

Picture This Post:  Is this play about a female hero who had to hide her identity to fight or is this a  transgender man who happened to be a hero?’

 I don't mean to be evasive at all, but the true answer is that it is up to the audience member to give their interpretation as to what this play is about.  As a writer, I don't try to give the audience specific answers. I liken this to a play I wrote called Haram Iran, about two boys who were accused of being gay and were hanged, audience members asked "were they actually gay" or was one of them gay and the other not. I answered with "what do you think?" because truly the audience must experience this for themselves and come up with their own interpretation.  Besides, did it really make a difference whether one or both of the boys were gay? They were children being killed for the perception of them being gay--so in my view it is irrelevant.
 
 With regard to Albert Cashier,  as a  feminist, you certainly can take away the idea that this was a female hero who fought for our country, and that's fine.  But I do think it is important to understand that Albert did continue to identify as male after the war, which makes this story unique from the other valiant female soldiers that fought for our country, hiding their identity, but then returning to life as a woman once the war was over.  I will say that even though there were no words to describe Albert as "transgender" back then,  you can also completely come away stating that, had Albert been identified with modern terminology, he would be described a transgender individual.   But whatever however an individual audience member chooses to relate to Albert, the point is Albert was a hero and he wanted to be identified as a "He" and he deserved that respect. So whether you think that Albert was a lesbian who wanted to live a life without a man; or a straight woman who maybe wanted to live a life unencumbered by the highly sexist and awful constraints put on women, or whether you believe that Albert was truly transgender, the point is still the same. Albert identified as male and that right to live his life as he wanted should be respected.  That message hopefully gets imparted to all audience members.
 

Why was this story important to tell? What prompted you to write it?

When I was young I had a very hard time coming out. It was the 80s and this was before the internet and all that. Added to that, we were in full blown AIDS crisis, and I kept hearing these asshole right winged evangelists yelling how the "gay cancer" was brought on by God as punishment against the Gays.    All I heard was that gays were "bad" and pedophiles and "sick" and I hated myself for a while. But then something happened, and people started changing their views. I attribute this to pop culture and iconic figures like Cher, Ellen, Madonna, and Elizabeth Taylor who started affirming our rights.  The boat was starting to slowly rise against the hate and prejudice.
Stage 773
Dani Shay as young Albert Cashier Photo courtesy of Shout Marketing
The LGB community isn't there yet, but we can not deny that there has been a lot of progress.  But the "boat" that lifted some of us up, but it did not lift all of us up.  The "T"s that are an essential part of our identity have not been lifted out of the extremity of hatred or prejudice I remember someone saying "well at least you aren't a fem". Bottom line is that the trans community has yet been lifted into the boat of acceptance and it is important that we shine a light on this and bring us all up together.  The LGB is not enough--we will not be complete without the T and the Q being lifted up together

With so much current focus on transgender individuals is the play about transgender rights?

 It is absolutely about transgender rights, but it is also about women's rights, and LGBTQ rights and more than anything---human rights.  One of my favorite musical lines in the play is "The rights of one are the rights of us all". This resonates with me strongly because really, if we as a society allow the horrific treatment and discrimination of transgender individuals to continue then this is not only morally reprehensible to do to the trans community but it is wrong for all of us.  There is a poet named Martin Niemoller, who talks about how they first came for the Jews, and there was nobody to protest, then they came for the socialist, etc etc, and then they finally came for me.  That poem is so important right now.  The message of our musical is also so important. Because in this political climate, the "trumpers" and others are going for the Muslims, and they are going for the Trans... and if we allow this to occur then as Moeller says ..."it is only a matter of time" before they come for you.
Stage 773
Dani Shay as young Albert Cashier Photo courtesy of Shout Marketing

What message do you hope the play imparts?

 
As I told the actors and our wonderful director, Keaton Wooden,  "you may just save a life". I don't mean to be too melodramatic but the truth is there is a lot of young gender non conforming,  and trans individuals who are suffering and may be thinking of taking their life, as so many LGBTQ individuals have done over the years.  By spreading the word of this incredible individual Albert Cashier, I  hope that we change that mothers view that would have criticized or scolded their trans child, or maybe make that dad who can't understand why his son wants to wear female clothes to reach out and try to understand.  I also want that conservative white straight male who believes he may never have even seen a "trans gender" individual to come to our show and to walk out and say " well I don't know about all this --but damnit it all Albert was a war hero and "HE" deserved to live his life in peace after the war. 
 
 

After seeing the play what sort of dialogue do you hope people will have?  

Since I'm a writer I'd rather write it out. Imagine the coffee or wine talk after.
Conservative guy (maybe he even voted for Trump):  I don't know about all that transgender rights stuff, but you know that Albert was quite a hero
Trans individual who happens to overhear:  "Hi I'm Joe, I hope you enjoyed  the show" 
Conservative guy:    "I did, I like civil war stories and in fact, I'm a civil war re-enactor and I just loved how Albert fought in Vicksburg and was captured ...
and then at some point it occurs to the conservative guy, or maybe he's told that he is talking to a trans individual, and the light bulb goes off, and his mind is opened up.  
Stage 773
Dani Shay as young Albert Cashier Photo courtesy of Shout Marketing

We need to talk to each other,  to understand each other. In this day and age we seem to be shouting and talking over each other, and this is significantly been brought forward by a leader who is truly a bully.  We can fight back not with screaming and shouting (although sometimes that's good too) but also with private conversations, with one on one discussion and with truly learning about our neighbors on this earth. 

 Were there specific challenges to getting a play on this topic produced? 

 Putting on my producer hat for a moment, my biggest challenge is that people see this as exclusively a trans play and the general public doesn't come because "well it isn't about us" or it just isn't relevant so they think.  This is a play about the civil war, about individual rights, and it is an American Story that needs to be told. I want everyone to see it and be moved. Besides, it actually is entertaining and the music is wonderful to listen to, and we largely have to thank our lead composer Joe Stevens (a trans man btw)
 

 Do you think this registers differently for people who have been in the service vs. those who do not have that history? Did you serve in the military or were/are you close to people who have? 

I think it will.  I have a very close friend who was a Gay Ranger, who was shot down in Mogadishu and who struggles every day with PTSD.  He served our country when many were advocating that gays be kicked out. He served while remaining closeted, and in my view, nobody who serves our country should ever have to fear that the country they serve, would dishonor them by kicking them out.  This is also a historical play, and we have kept a lot of the names of the actual soldiers who were part of Albert's regiment (Company G of the Illinois 95th) and have retained many historical facts.  So I'm hopeful historians will enjoy the play.

When:

August 31 - October 15, 2017

 

Where:

Stage 773
1225 W. Belmont Ave
Chicago

Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of COMING SOON.  To find out more about other exciting programming and events coming to Chicago’s stages, click here to read — 

COMING SOON!!!– Your Guide to Upcoming Events in Chicago

Tickets:

$30+, can be purchased via the Stage 773 website.

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