There's a new set of cast members bringing a rainbow of representation to Neptune Theatre's main stage. With the opening of the theatre company's latest musical, Peter Pan, Neptune is making strides towards inclusivity. In fact, one performer is shining the spotlight on transgender representation.
Her name is Avery Jean Brennan.
She's the first out transgender woman to perform in a Neptune production on Neptune's main stage. She's playing Fudge, a transfeminine girl looking to find herself.
"What I hope audiences get from seeing me on stage is the idea that this doesn't have to be an anomaly," Brennan says. "Because I grew up as someone who never got to see this happen on stage and never thought it would happen because of that. I never thought that I would get to be a part of the stories we told as my authentic self."
But getting to where she is now wasn't easy. Brennan knew she was transgender early in her career but didn't want to come out, for fear of losing everything she had built.
Brennan grew up in Halifax and took theatre classes at Neptune Theatre and Zuppa Theatre while in high school. She then attended the Canadian College of Performing Arts in Victoria where she later worked as an artistic director intern and a guest director and musical director. After theatre school, Brennan worked across the country.
After six years, she decided to transition. Unfortunately, Brennan's once-internal fears soon turned into reality: Opportunities began to disappear and it became more difficult for her to find a job.
Still, she wasn't giving up.
She shifted her focus from performing to writing and education. Last year, she wrote her first musical called The Pansy Craze: A New Musical, an eight-person show where four of the cast members were transgender. She also created a workshop series for theatres to learn more about how to support transgender people's needs. Brennan has led these workshops at different organizations across Canada.
Brennan says there's a "severely high rate of unemployment for all transgender people in any industry." She says businesses and people need to understand transgender people's needs, use appropriate language and not force them into positions of advocacy just to be able to work.
At Neptune, Brennan hopes to see herself performing on stage many more times. Peter Pan is a stepping stone for what Brennan hopes to see in her and the theatre's future.
"What I'm hoping will happen," she says, "is that a whole bunch of different little girls who are just like me get to see themselves on stage and they don't have to grow up thinking the same way, thinking that they're alone, thinking that they're not important or belonging in this world."