A day of mourning and honoring each year, national Transgender Day of Remembrance in Athens is traditionally marked by events, speakers and an in-person vigil. This year’s observation, however, looks a little different.

Trans (Plays) of Remembrance Festival is a three-day online festival that started Monday and ends Wednesday, streamed on HowlRoundTV. 

Ohio University’s LGBT Center is one of many co-sponsors of the event. The center wasn’t able to have a public gathering this year for Trans Day of Remembrance, Jan Huebenthal, assistant director of the center, said.

Each night’s performance has a different theme; Monday was Coming-of-Age, Tuesday was Trust and Wednesday is World-Making. The festival reflects just a sliver of LGBTQ+ experiences, Huebenthal said.

“The LGBTQ community is incredibly diverse,” Huebenthal said. “When you see all these letters, that really harbors many different identities and experiences. I would say by and large, trans people tend to face the greatest discrimination. They’re the ones who are really having to overcome a lot adversity that many gay and lesbian folks — not all — are not facing in quite the same way.”

According to the Human Rights Campaign, so far in 2020, 36 transgender or gender non-conforming people were killed — the majority of whom were Black and Latinx transgender women. Huebenthal added that it is these intersectionalities that must be highlighted in trans remembrance. 

In addition to the LGBT Center, the Women’s Center is also co-sponsoring the event. Though the Women’s Center is a space with a gendered lens, it is inclusive of all identities, Geneva Murray, director of the Women’s Center, said. 

“As a Women’s Center, we value and try to represent the diversity of women’s experiences,” Murray said. ”They’re not monolithic. Women are incredibly diverse. We have tried to intentionally be inclusive in regards to that.”

The Women’s Center was eager to support the Trans (Plays) of Remembrance festival. One does not have to be a cisgender woman to seek space within the Women’s Center.

“We do function in a referral kind of way,” Murray said. “If a student comes to us for support, we can ascertain support they're looking for; sometimes, they’re looking for connection ... Our referral depends on the nature of support, but we do try to connect people with those who are going to be most qualified to help.”

Luke Woodward, a fifth-year studying playwriting, is both the creator and curator of the Trans (Plays) Festival. The idea came from a women and non-male playwriting class Woodward was in last fall.

“One of the first assignments in the class was: bring in an article to class that focuses on a female or non-male playwright,” Woodward said. “I brought in an article that was a bunch of trans theater makers discussing the state of being trans in the theater, and one of them mentioned how there's no trans theater festivals.”

Then Woodward met with Wendy-Marie Martin, a Ph.D. student in interdisciplinary arts/theater, and discussed doing that: creating a trans theater. The idea became this week’s ongoing festival.

The playwright festival was initially planned for in-person performances at OU. But Woodward thinks the show has potentially benefitted from its virtual format. 

“I think that the end product is better off being a more online experience,” Woodward said. “We have actors from all over — a lot on the West Coast — that we wouldn't have been able to get in this festival. It just cut down on overall costs, too.”

The show is also co-sponsored by Tufts University Department of Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies and the Tufts University LGBT Center. The festival’s guest director is Jo Michael Rezes, a third-year Ph.D. theater and performance studies candidate at Tufts in Massachusetts. 

Monday night’s virtual turnout was very successful, Woodward said. At 500 viewers, more people potentially watched it than they would’ve been able to in person at OU. Woodward believes it might be their most-viewed work.

Each night also features after-show discussions. Though the fate of the festival is undetermined per future years, Woodward is happy for this year’s product. For Woodward, it is a huge personal achievement. 

“It’s very affirming to me, as a trans theater maker. This was the first time working (on at festival) that I was ever in a rehearsal (Zoom) room with all trans-identifying people who actually get to read scripts. As the curator, I chose the plays of the festival to read. So many pieces of theater written by trans people about trans people,” Woodward said. “You don't really see that in a lot of media.”

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