Theater assistant professor Donald Shorter Jr. said when he auditioned for a big role on Broadway, his agent told him the producers thought he was too gay for the role in the final casting. 

The experience hit Shorter hard, but it allowed him to grow into new opportunities like teaching, he said. 

“I don’t want anyone to have to go through any of this struggle that I had gone through,” he said. 

After getting more education, he began teaching about representation in theater. This is his first semester teaching at UTA, Shorter said. 

The performance Queers in Revolt, which is a collaborative process between Dance and Woman Studies and the Department of Theatre Arts, lit up Irons Recital Hall on Nov. 4. 

Queers in Revolt is comprised of a series of dances created by Shorter and fellow artist Jesse Factor that explore gender, performance art and queer theater. 

Shorter said the inspiration to create this performance comes from Andy Warhol’s movie, Women in Revolt, which stars two transgender women. 

Shorter said he grew up in the dance community and shifted toward theater after moving to New York. 

He said he performed in Hairspray, A Chorus Line and La Cage aux Folles on Broadway. 

Musical theater freshman Jackson Banfield, a gay student, has been told countless times he is too feminine. 

Shows have to have characters people can like and relate to, Banfield said. He said gay representation in shows is low because some people still prefer a heteronormative society. 

“The stories that get told are usually centered around cis-gendered straight white people,” Shorter said. “Even as a person of color, or a queer person of color, or trans person or nonbinary, like, we are always in service of that narrative.” 

Musical theater freshman Olivia Newbold said she went to a performing arts high school where the director preferred males over females on stage. 

Traditionally, there would be more men characters, and men would play the few available women roles as well, Newbold said. 

“We need to see the people that we see in our everyday lives on stage,” she said. 

She said LGBTQ+ actors should be able to play a role regardless of the character they are portraying.

People need to fight for more LGBTQ+ representation on the stage, in producing, writing and directing, Shorter said. 

Felicia Bertch, head of the Bachelor of Fine Arts in acting and assistant professor of instruction, said the university produces seven to 10 shows per academic year. 

Typically, the department assembles one classic play or musical, Bertch said. But they will only perform contemporary pieces this year. 

She said the performance came together as UTA is adding more plays by minorities and incorporating minority themes into the productions. 

Austin Eyer, head and assistant professor of musical theater, said he wanted to be an educator because he wanted to create inclusive spaces for queer and questioning students in theater class. 

Eyer said he plans to propose a musical with a nonbinary character in the production. 

Through future productions like 9 to 5, which features three leading women, and Lydia, which features a Latinx cast, UTA wants to include as much representation as possible, Eyer said. 

Musical theater freshman Janessa Whitlock said she is Hispanic but has been considered white-passing. 

While struggling with her racial identity, she has always second-guessed if she could act in the roles that align with the racial identity she identifies with, Whitlock said. 

But being able to be herself in the classroom has helped, she said.

As a theater educator, Shorter wants to provide a space where students can be their authentic selves, he said. 

Eyer believes educators should bring more projects that can increase inclusion in the industry. 

UTA theater has undergone many changes in the past few years. This semester marks the first-ever gender-neutral private dressing rooms and makeup rooms at UTA, Bertch said. 

UTA also created a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, which has hired more people of color and minorities and added workshops and classes for faculty to be more aware of blind spots in the theater department and industry. 

But Banfield said there are still problems with representation in theater. 

“Yes, we’ve made great strides everywhere toward better representation for people in the LGBTQ, but there’s a long way to go,” he said. “The only way to really change it is by going out of the way to make sure that there is representation.” 


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