When I was little, I was obsessed with this mini-series on TV starring Pierce Brosnan as Phileas Fogg in Around the World in 80 Days based on one of my favorite books by Jules Verne. In part 2 Phileas meets, who I thought was the most beautiful Indian princess, Aouda (played by Julia Nickson). I was in awe. She was so beautiful, so graceful (and was always draped in a silk sari); when watching her I would only dream of being her. It was just a pipe dream.
It's been 25 years since I first saw Aouda and I've watched her countless times since. Somehow even after my transition, I never thought the chance to be her would ever come to fruition. She was graceful and stunning, and I am clumsy and frazzled on my best days. Plus, I'm not getting any younger. I had heard about a popular play by Mark Brown based on Verne's novels that was making its rounds in theatre companies across the country, so naturally I was thrilled to hear that Village Theatre, a professional theatre company in the Seattle area, was planning on producing it for the 14-15 season. I knew I had to get an audition somehow.
A few months before my audition, I was lucky to be called in for Village Theatre's production of In The Heights. It was my first big singing audition since my transition, and to be seen as a woman and called back for a principal part was reality giving me a swift kick in the behind. "Get your shit together. It's game time. This is what you want," I would tell myself. I worked endless hours with my vocal coach to make sure my baritone pitch could pass as something remotely feminine. I managed to get through the audition even though my nerves were shot. It was an honor just to be called in and have the opportunity to show myself that I can do this.
I didn't get the part but I wasn't surprised or disappointed. I felt successful for having had the courage to go in and sing alongside so many talented women in the industry. Did my being trans have anything to do with my audition? Maybe so, but whatever it did have to do with was all on me. I brought that into the room, when I was probably better off not even thinking about it. Then came my audition for '80 Days'. It's a play so I was relieved to know I wouldn't have to go in and sing for the part, and possibly even lose out on a dream role just because I didn't have the right range. I studied for days before the audition, saw an acting coach and made sure I was going to knock my audition out of the water. This time, I didn't carry my gender identity into the room with me. I simply went in and did what I prepared to do.
Who knows if the people behind the desk knew I was trans or not (I learnt later some did, some didn't). It didn't matter to me. What mattered to me was getting the chance to play Aouda, a dream that had been hatched 25 years before. When I got the call that I booked the show, I didn't even know how to express my happiness. (My husband was on the other side of the world, so I couldn't even give him a hug!) In all honesty, I'm still not sure I know how to express how much this means to me. Being a transgender woman but playing a role that isn't transgender; to be seen simply as a woman, as a professional hired to do a job - that's what matters.
Village Theatre may not realize what an important step they have made for #girlslikeus. But I do. Seattle will. Maybe the rest of the country will catch on. But just not before I'm the first transgender actress to ever win a Tony, for a non-trans role, obviously. ;-)
I am beyond ecstatic to announce my next project: not only is it super exciting because I'm getting to work with some really fun guys and making my debut at a great theatre, but also because it means so much to me on such a deep personal level. My pipe dream has come true.
A Wildly Wacky and Hilarious Journey
Aneesh Sheth will make her Village Theatre debut as Princess Aouda in Mark Brown's "Around the World in 80 Days".
Based on Jules Verne’s popular novel, this is the hilarious story of Phileas Fogg’s whistle-stop journey to satisfy a wager and circumnavigate the world in eighty days. But with bandits, a damsel in distress, and transportation problems around every corner, will he be able to make the deadline? Danger, romance, and comic surprises abound as this adventure is cleverly brought to the stage with five extraordinary actors performing 39 different characters from around the world.
Cast members include Jared Michael Brown as Phileas Fogg, Chris Ensweiler as Passepartout, Eric Jensen, Jason Collins and Aneesh Sheth, making her Village Theatre debut, as Princess Aouda.
David Ira Goldstein will direct the run which plays in Issaquah, WA January 21 - March 1 and in Everett, WA March 6 - March 29.
Select Tuesdays at 7:30 PM
Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 PM
Fridays at 8:00 PM
Saturdays at 2:00 PM and 8:00 PM
Sundays at 2:00 PM and 7:00 PM
*Thursday Matinee: February 12, 2015 • 2:00PM
Preview Performance: January 21, 2015
ASL Interpreted Performance: February 7, 2015
Post-Show Discussion: February 24, 2015
Mark your calendars! Tickets go on sale, Wednesday December 17, 2014!
For more information and to purchase visit http://villagetheatre.org/issaquah/Around-The-World.php