I spent 2016 drawing a different female musical theatre character every day. Sometimes I would draw them as they looked in a certain production, but most of the time I stuck to my own interpretation of how I wanted that character to look that day. For certain ladies, that meant drawing them differently than how they looked in the original version. Folks would ask me why I drew a character a certain way, but mostly the answer was, “It's just how I wanted to draw them."
Despite the fact that theatre is always evolving and changing– and one production of a show can be vastly different from the last– I've found that the first production most people see is the standard of how all other productions should look or be performed in their minds. In the first show I ever performed in, playing an orphan in Annie, I was so confused as to why our Grace Farrell was played by a girl who was white; I was even more confused later when I saw the 1982 film and again, Grace was white. Prior to doing the show, my only point of reference was the 1999 TV movie, where Grace was played by Audra McDonald. I had automatically assumed the character was written as being black, despite the fact that nowhere is it mentioned in the script what ethnicity the character is. When I realized this, it quickly put my perspective in check: why couldn't a character be played by any ethnicity, as long as ethnicity was not an integral part of the character's narrative?
So often we see the original Broadway or movie version of a character, and because that's the only version we've seen, in our minds that is the only version that exists. Part of doing Ladies of Theatre was exploring different ways well-known characters could look, sometimes intentionally seeing past my own perceptions of them to try and see something new. I found it so reassuring when many people responded positively, saying their perceptions were changed as well. Many talked about how they were grateful for an interpretation that represented their own background and helped them see themselves in a role they might not have before. While Broadway productions and live TV events certainly reach a wider audience, I think it's important as well for regional theaters and fan artists like myself to think beyond the typical perceptions of roles and work harder at being open to different versions of characters. The more places we can find diverse representation, the more it can actually become the norm rather than the exception.