К. Woodzick is a multi-hyphenate creative wonder. They are an actor, director, writer, editor, producer, podcaster, marketer, feminist, and activist, for a start, but if that’s too much of a mouthful, you can just call them a theatrical mustang.
Woodzick is currently pursuing a PhD in theater and performance at CU Boulder, after originally moving to Colorado for Naropa University’s MFA program in contemporary performance. But making the move was a decision inspired as much by self-discovery as by creative drive. While working as a non-profit arts marketer in the Seattle area, Woodzick created the self-titled Theatrical Mustang podcast in order to amplify the voices of marginalized people making powerful art, while the popular press glorified art by cisgender, white males.
“To me, the podcast and my gender are inextricably linked,” Woodzick said, since it led to their coming out as non-binary and genderqueer about six months before starting at Naropa. “No one in Boulder knew me as anything other than Woodzick, other than they, them, and their. It was sort of wiping the slate clean, because until I came to Boulder, I hadn’t come to that realization about myself fully, and therefore I hadn’t created any work about that part of my identity.”
At Naropa, Woodzick felt encouraged to create work that both represented and investigated their gender identity. They created The Milo Triptych right around the time that Milo Yiannopoulos lost his book deal with Simon & Schuster, and Woodzick played Yiannopoulos in three segments that pulled from real public appearances and interviews.
“There is something incredibly powerful about taking the words of your oppressor and putting them in your own mouth and subverting them, giving them a different meaning than the purely hateful one they initially had.”
While self-producing appeals to Woodzick because it affords them more creative control, they’re also clear that having an impact requires taking on more traditional roles and projects, too. Working as an actor or a director on shows at bigger institutions often means Woodzick is one of, if not the first, non-binary persons those theater groups have encountered, and that gives them an opportunity to make a lasting difference.
“I think more meaningful change happens sometimes when you’re a smaller fish in a bigger pond,” they said.
Whether they are teaching in a classroom or working in the theater, Woodzick strives to make it known that they speak only for themselves, not for all trans or non-binary folks. And as a white person who was assigned female at birth; was socialized as a woman in the Midwest; and now identifies as non-binary, genderqueer, and gender fluid; Woodzick is passionate about using their inherent privilege to advocate and educate.
But, ambassador fatigue is very real.
Folks regularly approach Woodzick, either online or in person, with some version of, ‘What’s it like to be you?’ Woodzick assumes that folks’ intentions are, for the most part, good, that they want to educate themselves and are simply unaware of the existing resources that have been created by queer and trans folks.
“A lot of it is about active listening and giving folks the space to be vulnerable who actively want to ally,” Woodzick said. “But it’s also really important for cis folks who are asking for that one-on-one help, buy that person a meal or some coffee or shoot them a couple of bucks to their Venmo.”
Compensating the emotional labor required of ambassadors and advocates is one of the ways Woodzick hopes those who do want to ally will step up to the plate. The transaction doesn’t necessarily need to rely on a cash exchange, but it should definitely exceed verbal gratitude. If allies can share a professional connection or open a door to a new opportunity, that makes a difference. Taking action to value advocates’ time and effort makes it that much easier for them to tolerate answering those awkward questions and to create safe spaces for allies to ‘fail forward.’
With their Non-Binary Monologues Project, Woodzick is tackling gender diversity in theater from within the worlds where its lack plays out. When their thesis advisor, Leigh Fondakowski (who was also the head writer on The Laramie Project), asked if Woodzick knew of any resources to serve the growing numbers of trans and non-binary students cropping up in theater programs across the country, Woodzick decided that if the resource didn’t yet exist, they would just have to be the one to create it.
The collection started with a single, non-binary monologue called Headstrong that Woodzick’s friend Daniel Burns had written for them to perform at the Fort Collins Fringe Festival in 2017.
“Daniel was like, ‘We’re just going to make the character non-binary,’” Woodzick said. “Poof. You see how easy it was to do that? You just say so.”
As word about the project spread on social media, theater people started coming out of the woodwork to contribute their own research and to create entirely new, non-binary monologues for the site.
From original pieces to adapted, classical works, each monologue is listed with a brief, dramaturgical introduction and tags that make it easier for trans and non-binary actors to find the right material for their audition or performance. Since then, the journey has been guided by a whirlwind of support and serendipitous connections.
The Non-Binary Monologues Project was featured on PBS Newshour, and soon made its way to the stage in Boulder and then at Denver Pop Culture Con. Colorado’s own Square Product Theater signed on as a producing partner, which led to a Boulder County Human Relations grant.
Since meeting Headlong Co-Director Amy Smith at a conference, they have been working to develop a partnership that will allow donors to make official contributions through Headlong’s non-profit status as a fiscal sponsor. The database is still actively growing.
Woodzick hopes the Non-Binary Monologues Project will help theater communities push harder to break free of their old ways and take a stand for inclusivity.
“If you unpack that choice to cast a cisgender actor in a trans role, it perpetuates violence and hatred against trans people,” Woodzick said. They envision a three-step solution in which theaters are first, committed to telling trans stories, and second, are dedicated to telling those stories authentically, which means casting trans actors in trans roles.
Finally, Woodzick dreams of a world in which gender-diverse actors are considered for all roles in a play. “We are going to push back on the assumption that any role that is not designated as a trans role is by default a cisgender role.”
Until that world takes hold, Woodzick’s theatrical explorations of gender and identity are taking theaters by storm and blowing audiences away. When Woodzick rewrote classic cabaret tunes and love songs like “As Long as He Needs Me,” “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” and “My Way” with gender-neutral pronouns for their Genderqueer Cabaret at the 2017 Boulder Fringe, it was the second-best-attended show of the entire festival. In directing their MFA thesis at the Made in Boulder Festival last year, the show sold out so far in advance that the run had to be relocated to the largest space the Dairy Arts Center could offer.
“I think that’s profound. It’s a profound statement that folks really want to see these stories,” Woodzick said. “Not only am I advocating, creating, and producing my own work that is exploring these themes of gender identity, but people actually dig it. There’s an audience for this that very enthusiastically wants and needs to see themselves represented on stage in a meaningful way.”