by Martin Denton · October 28, 2015
EXACT CHANGE is a solo play, and the solo form is very distinctive and becoming very popular these days. Why did you decide to tell this story in this very particular medium?
I decided to write EXACT CHANGE as a solo play because the subject of the work, my transgender journey, is so very individual and personal. When you grow up with a gender disconnect, as I did, nothing makes much sense and even small things are distorted. For instance, in the play there is a scene where I, as 12-year-old Richard, see my first Playboy centerfold. And my first thought is, “Wow, that could be me!” Clearly, most boys don’t react that way. With so many of those moments, I felt it would be much clearer if the performer played all the roles, so that the audience can see the entire situation from my admittedly unusual perspective.
How do you write your plays? Do you write on a computer, with paper and pencil, on little note cards, etc.? Do you work with a director or dramaturg to help with shape and structure?
I write on a computer, a process that feels very natural and organic to me now. I worked closely with my director, Scott Plate, for more than three years, revising the play substantially, until it resulted in this finished version. Scott’s input and critical judgment have been vital to the development of EXACT CHANGE.
The play is obviously very personal. What has been the reaction to it from close friends and family members? I’m also wondering if audience members have come up to you after the show to share their particular reactions or resonances?
My family has been incredibly supportive. My ex-wife Dinah (remarried to a man for more than 20 years) has attended one show at virtually every venue where EXACT CHANGE has been performed. And I enlisted her help with the script, to make sure I was portraying her and our relationship fairly. My daughter has also been fabulously supportive—she even did all the social media promotion for the play before and during the play’s run at the 2015 New York International Fringe Festival. My close friends have had similar reactions. My best friend, Judi, who helped me through my process over the years, was in tears after seeing the final version of the show, saying, “You did it! That’s the real story!”
Transgender individuals are clearly much more visible in the media and arts today than they were even 5 or 10 years ago. Do you have an opinion about why that is true? How do you feel about someone like Caitlyn Jenner, who has brought transgender issues so publicly to the forefront?
It’s hard to know why or how the transgender issue finally gained media exposure. Part of it is because people, such as myself, have decided to live their lives openly as who they are. If we can’t be seen, we can’t be engaged and understood. Of course, transgender people have been fodder for some kinds of talk shows for many years, but more as a “freak sideshow” kind of story. Now, transgender people are being seen as whole human beings, and that’s great. I think Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out has been a plus, even though her story is so atypical in many ways. She has comported herself with dignity and intelligence, and I salute her for that.
Could you have written EXACT CHANGE 20 years ago? If you had, what would have been different about it then?
I actually did write it, sort of, 16 years ago. I wrote a one-person play called MAKING FACES, which I did not perform but which played in New York City as an Equity Showcase and also in Cleveland, my hometown. It was well received, but it was not as comprehensive and as honest as EXACT CHANGE is. But if you go back a bit further, say 25 or 30 years ago, it would have been hard to write EXACT CHANGE for many reasons. The most important reason: I was not ready to explore all the ramifications of my transgender experience.
What are your upcoming plans, for this piece and for your career in general?
I am currently seeking new venues where I can perform EXACT CHANGE, or even where other people—male, female or trans actors— can perform it. I am also working on presenting some of my other poetry, mostly humorous and not gender-related, to new audiences.