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The Ensemblist is an inside look at the experience of being a Broadway performer- from the first rehearsal through performing eight shows a week and beyond. Whether you’re an experienced theatre professional or a passionate fan, The Ensemblist will give you the opportunity to get to know new performers and the great work they do onstage, while also shedding light on some of the hidden innerworkings of the Broadway experience. Created and hosted by Mo Brady (The Addams Family, SMASH) and Nikka Graff Lanzarone (Chicago, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown), The Ensemblist is the only podcast that shows you Broadway from the inside out. 

Blog

Donnie Cianciotto: Trans and Non-Binary Actors to Know

Angela Tricarico

Interview by Anna Altheide

Donnie Cianciotto (Photo by THEGINGER3BEARDMEN for The Ensemblist)

Donnie Cianciotto (Photo by THEGINGER3BEARDMEN for The Ensemblist)

What musical had the biggest impact on you growing up?

The musical that had the biggest impact on me growing up was Into the Woods. There are others before like Oliver! and after like Rent that were also influential to me, but Into the Woods is the one that made me sit back and think, "Yes, that. That is what I would like to do with my life." The first time I saw it I was nine years old and the original Broadway cast recording was playing on PBS. My father, who was an actor in community theater on Staten Island where I grew up, had strongly suggested that I watch it despite the fact that 90210 was on that night so I obviously already had plans. I turned to Into the Woods during a commercial break and never turned it back. It was so magical and beautiful to look at and laugh out loud funny, and I was really intrigued by the idea of taking well known stories and characters and tweaking them and intertwining them. I was also instantly smitten with Bernadette Peters who to this day is one of my idols and I might have a framed autographed picture of her hanging on my bedroom wall. It also began my love affair with Sondheim, and I know it may seem silly to say it had the biggest impact on me growing up because I can't point to one specific thing that deeply resonated with me on a personal level aside from the fact that it brought me so much joy, but this was the one that was life-changing for me. It made me decide I wanted to pursue theater and that's exactly what I did.

What’s your dream role and why?

I find this to be a difficult question to answer because I spent three decades living and working as a woman before beginning my transition, so I didn't give much thought to any male roles I wanted to play. My first instinct when asked this question is still to respond, "The Baker's Wife in Into The Woods" or "Mama Rose in Gypsy." Old habits die hard. But as I get more familiar with the changes my voice and body have gone through, I've started to see what kinds of roles I could realistically play. At this point I'm not sure there is one singular, all encompassing "dream role" that exists out there for me although I would certainly enjoy playing Mark in Rent or Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors. I think what I'm waiting for is someone to write a badaass transmasculine role in a new musical with me in mind and then that role will wind up being my dream role. In the meantime, I look forward to playing Thernardier and Basilius in my future.

How do you believe your identity has played a part in developing your current career?

My identity and my career are inextricably linked. I was living in Tucson, Arizona producing and directing musical revues and community theater and firmly believing that my transition would prevent me from working professionally ever again. In 2015, The Public Theater changed all of that by holding auditions for a new musical called Southern Comfort where they were specifically looking for transgender actors to play trans characters. When I got the role of Sam, I moved back to New York and found myself making my off-Broadway debut as a trans man playing a trans character. I never would have believed that my professional theater debut would have been due in part to my transition, but it was further proof of just how important it was to embrace my authentic self as fully as possible and to continue pursuing the dream I'd had since I was a child. After Southern Comfort closed in 2016, I've had a lot of opportunity to develop new works that tell trans stories, and find that activism and acting often go hand-in-hand which has led me to speak about trans issues on panels from BroadwayCon to VICE News and NowThis Media. It was also through meeting so many talented trans and nonbinary actors in New York City that I decided to start producing Trans Voices Cabaret, a musical revue featuring all trans, nonbinary, and gender non-conforming singers at The Duplex. We've been running almost 2 years now and have sibling branches in Chicago and London, which is indicative of just how needed this was. I still play cisgender roles and am always happy to do so, but the fabric of my identity is interwoven with my career and I will always be grateful to The Public Theater and Southern Comfort for giving me that gift.

Donnie Cianciotto (Photo by THEGINGER3BEARDMEN for The Ensemblist)

Donnie Cianciotto (Photo by THEGINGER3BEARDMEN for The Ensemblist)

What advice or wisdom would you give your younger self, or a young person in a similar situation?

I'd advise myself to not date the blonde girl from high school first and foremost. 

I think the earlier in life a person embraces their true self the healthier and happier they will be able to be all around. For Trans and Gender Non-conforming people who elect to pursue medical transition and hormone therapy, this can be daunting in our line of work because it means changes to our voice and appearance which leads to concerns like, "Will I still be able to sing after hormones?" and "Will producers see me as castable in roles of my correct gender?" and it's pressure that is specific to our industry. For many years, I put off transitioning in the way I knew was right for me because I was afraid of losing my singing voice, but I wasn't happy at all during those years. I needed to make the best choice for me and that choice was to medically transition. It was only after I started seeing and hearing the man I knew I was in the mirror that I began to feel a deeper peace within, and everything started to fall into place in all aspects of my life, not just my career. My advice to someone younger would be to remember that they need to take care of themselves emotionally and physically first because they are the most important part of their life, and being in a healthy place mentally, emotionally, and physically are tools that we as performers - and as humans - need to succeed. Transitioning is different for everyone - not all of us pursue a medical transition - and finding what is right and feels best for you as an individual is crucial to living your best life. My advice would be to embrace your authenticity fiercely and firmly and stay true to yourself.