With theatres closed and auditions sparse, I sat down (via Zoom) with actor Aitch Wylie to discuss their experience of life in the industry. A passionate, driven, trans non-binary actor who openly admits, “You’ve seen my tweets; I’ll ruin my own career”, Aitch is a force to be reckoned with.
It’s safe to say that Aitch hasn’t let three lockdowns stop them. They left drama school, got an agent, performed in online concerts, workshopped new musicals, started an embroidery business and a consultancy business. Whilst many have been resting, it doesn’t seem like Aitch even considered that. Although, they would like you to know they did perform in an MT Pride Concert with no trousers on, so they have embraced part of the lockdown way of life.
In their second year of auditioning for drama schools, whilst attending a part-time foundation course, Aitch gained a place. But their training wasn’t what they had imagined. Aitch got into drama school before they came out. When Aitch approached the school about their gender, they weren’t sure how to proceed. Aitch was asked to provide documents on what gender identity meant to them, and essentially how to teach them. To Aitch, it felt like the school had “no training, no education on gender diversity”. They ended up repeatedly coming out to freelance teachers, and explain they/them pronouns, which Aitch describes as “absolutely tiresome”. The school started using the terms ‘biologically male’ and ‘biologically female’, explaining to Aitch they had to learn ‘biologically female’ dances, even though Aitch owned the male attire.
“For those particular classes we were often in skirts and heels, which obviously was a really dysphoric experience.” Aitch told me that they were even told by one teacher, “I don’t get you; the industry doesn’t understand you, you’re not going to work, you’ve got to pick a side”.
Aitch was about to prove them wrong. Through mutual friends Aitch was asked to perform a song from the new musical Stages at a concert. The next day Aitch was asked to perform the role at Stages‘ upcoming run. Aitch convinced the school to allow them time off, and then began the rehearsals.
“I played the trans card. It’s a non-binary role in musical theatre; that doesn’t happen. I had to play this role!’”
Stages was “incredible” for Aitch; “I felt respect in a room which accepted and welcomed my identity,” working with creatives who understood Aitch, and therefore treated them correctly. After the run, Aitch went back to training, now on Zoom. It was then that Aitch experienced “equity in the room” for the first time whilst training due to working with an “amazing” director. This director understood Aitch’s concerns having been cast once again as the Mother and allowed Aitch to bring themselves to the role. “It was absolutely golden,” they told me. Afterwards, Aitch and the director went to the school to discuss what they had discovered by working together. “This is incredible, we need this in my third year, we said.” But they were met with the response that if Aitch wanted to bring their identity as a trans person into a role, “then I could play a magical character.” From that, Aitch knew they had to leave the school.
“My training started at the end of my second year. I knew I was never going to work with [the director] again and would never get the same respect in this institution again.”
Now out in the industry, life as a trans actor still isn’t easy. Aitch explained to me that one casting site still only allows actors to sign up as a Female or Male actor. When Aitch questioned this, they were told to pick a gender, make an account, and change it later. “I don’t have the biggest tool of a working actor. I’m automatically at a disadvantage, as are so many trans people.” With productions casting cis actors in transgender roles, justifying the reason being that they couldn’t find the right actors, Aitch links this to the fact productions are casting from sites that trans actors cannot get on. “It’s the biggest gate-keeping thing in the industry. It’s so inhumanely frustrating.”
Aitch also works as a consultant, helping creatives and productions create environments that are safe, making rooms more equitable. Although the charity ‘Gendered Intelligence’ is used more, “they don’t fully understand our industry,” Aitch explains. They believe it all comes down to a lack of knowledge:
“What blows my mind is how okay people are with how uneducated they are. In every facet of my life I am having to talk to uneducated people.”
Aitch uses their Twitter to call companies out and advocate how change needs to happen. I asked Aitch if they’re ever worried this might affect their career. They responded, “If people don’t want to work with me because of my views, then I don’t want to work for them. I will not be working with transphobes.”
And why should they? Aitch has proved that working in equitable, inclusive spaces is possible and has worked with countless creatives who believe so too. In October, Aitch workshopped a musical called The Phase, where Aitch played a non-binary character who they described as “essentially me”. With trans non-binary roles scarcely written in theatre, I asked Aitch if they feel a pressure to create roles for themselves like many actors do.
“I’m not going to make my own parts because the parts that I play are mine in how I present them. I hold space for myself as a human being, because I have to in a society that doesn’t want me to take up that space.”
I decided to end our interview by asking Aitch the big question – where do you see the future of our industry going in relation to equality?
“There’s more understanding than there was, but until that carries on growing, and we start having positive, active conversations, that’s when inclusivity and equality will begin to happen.”
You can find Aitch Wylie on Instagram, @en_broider_by, and on Twitter, @AitchWylie
Image courtesy of Rob Laughter.