A New Brain, a show put on by Celebration Theatre and Los Angeles LGBT Center, delves into the concepts of mortality, second chances, and the healing power of art. It follows songwriter Gordon Schwinn, who, after collapsing into their lunch and waking up in the hospital, is faced with the possibility that they might die before writing their greatest songs. The show, Celebration Theatre's first musical in years, is performed with gender-expansive casting. We get the opportunity to learn more about the experience of being in this show and theater through A New Brain's lead actor, Amanda Kruger (they/them).
Hannah Gumpert (she/her): What do you feel the importance of this gender-expansive casting is?
Amanda Kruger (they/them): I think it's an especially essential moment to provide Trans and Gender Non Conforming representation in media because our nation is so plagued with anti-trans legislation. We need to show our community that there is space for us to be seen, celebrated, to express and create, to thrive. Gender expansive casting in musical theatre pieces that have already been performed, like A New Brain, is furthermore an opportunity to demonstrate that the shows that inspired so many of us TGNC folx are not completely unavailable to us as so many would have us believe. Too often I have been relegated to roles that either didn't fit me or were downright dysphoric, now I allow myself a bit to dream of the roles that speak to my heart, my personal experience, and that just FEEL right. I also think for this piece and many others through the use of gender expansive casting the story receives new life, nuance and layers that maybe weren't there before. For A New Brain, for example, we got to examine what it is to be a Trans or Gender Non Conforming individual facing a health crisis - as a non binary person I have to advocate for myself in every space I enter, even and especially medical spaces, furthermore the message of "time," I came out later in life (at 35) and sometimes my heart aches for the time I've missed getting to live life authentically. At the end of our show when Roger sings "I give you time," it makes me emotional every time, it's the ultimate gift.
What impact do you hope the show will have on people in the audience?
I hope that for any Trans and Gender Non Conforming folx watching the show they see their experiences reflected, that they feel SEEN and celebrated. I hope all audience members experience the passion each member of the cast and creative team has brought into the space. The insatiable need we all have to tell stories is so palpable it makes this cast and team so special. I hope folks take away what I know was so palpable to William Finn, the idea of second chances, the things that matter, the unenviable battle of the artist to find their authenticity and greatness.
What do you personally feel about the show you're performing in?
At this point in the process it feels like a treasure hunt. Khanisha Foster, our most brilliant director, built this story with so much of each of our own personal experiences and impulses, that each performance is like stepping into a slice of my life, allowing me to now see what I discover about my emotional life and experience each night. I suppose I touched a bit on it earlier that this show so beautifully speaks to the artistic journey and a bit about what we have an artistic community have gone through recently with COVID-19. The global health crisis shuttered theatre and creative outlets for quite a while, and now we are finding our way back which feels so much like the "Spring" we sing about in the show. I feel like this show speaks to so many experiences and hopefully is reminding us all that time is precious, love is precious, and we are not powerless in our lives, "life is a cause you have to take up" might be one of my other favorite lyrics in the show.
What is your experience like in this cast/theater? If you've worked in any others, how is it different?
The experience with this cast and theatre have been incredible!! Our cast is full of the biggest hearts and talents and has truly become a big whacky family, I think the best part of our performance days is knowing I get to laugh with them. Celebration as a company did so much right when it came to the care and safety of telling this story and in this way. Having Nico Pang as our assistant director a fellow non binary artist was incredible, it was my first time working on a production with another gender expansive person behind the table. I cannot speak highly enough about Khanisha Foster and her absolutely beautiful heart and artistry. Working with her was an artistically elevating experience and I would do it again ten times over. Gregory Nabours is a musical wizard, he is known as such throughout the community, but I don't know that anyone truly realizes how important what he did with the score for New Brain truly is. Finding keys that sat well in my vocal range (the role of Gordon was written for a cis male actor so the original keys are not all suitable) and any keys that couldn't be changed, Greg adjusted melodies so that it still sounded right, his ear is unmatched and I felt so supported and set up for success. Celebration's leadership has been absolutely lovely, making sure we are all being taken care of and receiving the support we need. I don't work much in traditional musical theatre admittedly, but from what I have heard or witnessed even through friends is that actors are often treated like cogs in a machine, that couldn't be further from the case here, each of us were treated like artists essential to the process.
Check out A New Brain before it closes on June 24. Just $5 with your TeenTix Pass!