Hello my people. Lisa Kron here, reaching out to address the concerns floating around out there in inter-web land that there was an effort to “de-butchify” Alison by the producers of the Fun Home tour. As a lesbian who has been creating unapologetically lesbian theater for over thirty years, believe me, I understand where these concerns come from. I loathe pink-washing as much as the next old school lesbian-feminist. I have loved butch women all my life – I married one in fact. From the moment I began adapting Alison Bechdel’s book, I felt a keen responsibility not just to retain the undiluted butchness of the main character but also to give audiences a way to see the same swaggery, sexy power I see when I look at a butch woman. Our producers backed this approach 100%. We worked hard on instilling our marketers with an ethos of direct, unapologetic presentation of the show’s queer content. Our producers went to the mat to show “Ring of Keys” on the Tony broadcast. Presenting a number at the Tonys is the biggest marketing tool there is in theater. “Ring of Keys” was our producers’ first and only choice.
The Fun Home tour has been put together and is maintained by that producing team, and our ethos is unchanged. So, who asked for changes in Alison’s costume? ME. When I showed up for technical rehearsals in Cleveland (where the tour opened) Kate Shindle was up on stage in a ringer-t just like the one Beth had worn. She has a very different body than Beth Malone, however. She’s a curvy amazon, and on her frame the effect of this same costume was completely different – somehow neither swaggery butch nor, thanks to her character-appropriate sports bra, quite sporty femme either. Kate, total pro that she is, didn’t question the costume. I went to David Zinn, our costume designer, and said, “A butch woman with that build would not wear that outfit. Can we please find a new version of this costume that looks like what a butch woman with that long, tall, busty body would choose for herself?” He agreed, and that is how the decision was made to change the costume. Kate is wearing a rayon, man’s cut, Penguin/vintage style button-down shirt – a style of shirt you will find hanging in the closet of many a butch—over a men’s cotton ribbed muscle-t. She is definitely not wearing a “chiffon blouse” or “camisole.” The track jacket she is wearing is like one Alison Bechdel herself wears regularly. The jeans Kate is wearing are ones that worked the best on her for this character. As for her hair: indeed, Kate inquired about keeping her long hair and wearing a wig in the show. 95% of all actresses who are asked to cut their hair for a show ask if they can wear a wig instead because it gives them more professional versatility. In this case, we responded that she did need to cut her hair because it was important both for the show and for the character. Kate said, “Great. No problem.” We told her she could wait until the beginning of technical rehearsals to cut her hair. She showed up with the deed already done on the first day of rehearsal.
Every show is a complex organism made of many components that shift from day to day, city to city, actor to actor, audience to audience and the further the show moves out into the world, the greater the variance in its expressive palette—that is the blessing and the curse of a successful show. That being said, the producers, the creative team, and I have never stopped our guardianship of the queer, feminist, lesbian, middle-aged, art-making, truth-seeking heart of our show. I love Kate’s version of Alison. I feel good about the change in her costume. You may disagree. But was this decision, or any other, ever made to “de-butchify” the show? No way. Not on this femme’s watch.