Drag King Lucy Jane Parkinson / LoUis CYfer on starring in Jon Brittain’s Rotterdam: ‘We have removed the shackles from defining what is an entertaining narrative’

Lucy Jane Parkinson - courtesy of Max Zadeh

Lucy Jane Parkinson, aka LoUis CYfer is a British actor and drag king, who encourages conversations about gender binaries through their performance. Lucy has played Joan of Arc in one-person show ‘Joan’, written and directed by Lucy J. Skillbeck for Milk Presents, and performed as part of a cast of four in ‘Bullish’, a retelling of the myth of the Minotaur, about struggling with an identity in transition – and focusing on trans-masculine identity, at Camden People’s Theatre. They have just been cast in Olivier-winning ‘Rotterdam’ by Jon Brittain, directed by Donnacadh O’Briain. Here they discuss trans stories on stage.

Tell me about the character of Fiona/Adrian who you play in Rotterdam.

Fiona is in their late twenties, they’ve lived in Rotterdam for about seven years. Fiona is in a long-term relationship with Alice. Alice is just about to come out to her parents when Fiona declares that she no longer wants to be a woman and wants to be a man, Adrian. The drama comes from that moment.

What do you hope to bring to the role?

I hope to bring some of my own experiences navigating my own gender identity to the role. I hope I tell a good story and I hope I don’t make it look too hetero, I hope I don’t piss off the queer community!

You sound really confident and secure, so for anyone that may be struggling and think they may never get to the point you’re at now; was navigating your gender identity a challenge for you?

My hands are covering my eyes right now because gender identity is an absolute minefield for anyone to navigate. My own experiences were a lot to do with my identity as a masculine female and I am grateful for that experience now that I’ve been through it. You have to breathe into that discomfort but eventually, you get out the other end.

What made you want the role of Fiona/Adrian?

I’m in a show called Bullish with Milk Presents and the news about the auditions fell into my lap because I am a queer performer and in the character description for the role, it said BULLISH in capital letters and I thought I definitely have to get this part. I tried really hard in the audition and I was told I had the role three days after that.

So it was meant to be?

I don’t usually believe in fate but I was putting stuff in a storage locker the other day but I found a Rotterdam flyer in my old things from six years ago.

Hartshorn – Hook Productions' Rotterdam
Hartshorn – Hook Productions’ Rotterdam

After writing Rotterdam, Jon got involved with Gender Intelligence, doing writing workshops with people who identify as non-binary and trans. Do you think we need more initiatives like this?

I think we need to give ourselves a bit of a break – because the binary mind has only just been blown – and we get a bit impatient. But really we are only just starting to have these conversations. Jon has become a solid ally – a white, straight guy is bringing forward the story of a transmasculine person. We are hitting a few major high marks with Jon Brittain in terms of the quality of the writing and the humour of the writing for a trans story.

Do you think his sense of humour makes it easier for audiences coming to see a play about queer identity for the first time?

That’s the power of theatre – to be able to have a conversation about an uncomfortable issue.

With recent shows like Summer in London, The Boy in the Dress, Hir and Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, do you think trans stories are finally getting the platform they deserve in the performing arts?

I agree we have taken the shackles off from defining what is an entertaining narrative and broadening the kinds of people do we care about as audiences and we are seeing more appreciation for different people’s stories – on-stage, we are embracing more diversity.  With Brexit and everything that’s happening int he world, shows like Rotterdam show a nice soft side of British people, of an understanding side. I was talking to a friend and she said when the country is in crisis people want to see stories of old kings and queens, it is interesting there’s a demand for that now.

Why do you think people talk less about being transmasculine [people who are assigned female at birth, but do not identify as female] than transfeminine?

Sexism was a deep virus in many social ways and so women assigned female at birth have gone on the backburner but I feel its changing and there’s been a release of power and we are having a bit of a moment.

Do you think trans roles should only be performed by trans people?

The actor picked for the role, regardless of gender identity, just needs to be right for the role and the best actor in the casting room. It would be useful for the director to get actors who are trans and non-binary in that room. I am not sure it has to be a trans actor every time a trans role is cast but they would have to do a whole lot more research in order to compete with someone who is trans. Otherwise it would be like getting someone who couldn’t play piano, to play piano.

Do you have a role you’d love to play?

I would love to play Frank N. Furter in the Rocky horror picture show. I used to play it on video every day and every night, I think that could be what got me into drag in a big way because I was influenced by all these strong brilliant personalities in the film.

Anything else?

Support queer arts and artists and come see the show!

Rotterdam goes on tour from 4 April at Rose Theatre Kingston, concluding on 12 June at Devonshire Park Theatre. See all venues on the website rotterdamtheplay.com. Follow @RotterdamPlay on Twitter and on Instagram @RotterdamPlay

[Main image: Lucy Jane Parkinson – courtesy of Max Zadeh]

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