In continuation of groundbreaking performances, Out Front Theatre‘s latest production, I Am My Own Wife, marks the first time the Pulitzer- and Tony Award-winning show has been staged with a transgender performer, Peter Smith, playing all 35 roles. (Typically, the roles have been performed by a cisgender male actor).
The theater company—Atlanta’s first and only devoted to LGBTQ stories—opened in 2016 by Paul Conroy with a production of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical, the Broadway version of the 1994 cult classic film. But it was the final production of the theater’s first season garnered the most attention. The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, a re-telling of the biblical Adam and Eve as gay couple Adam and Steve, who join lesbian couple Jane and Mabel as they travel through history to present-day New York City. Conservative Catholic group America Needs Fatima protested the show’s portrayal of the Virgin Mary as a lesbian, describing the portrayal as “a vile insult.” But the show went on, premiering in late April 2017. The company’s second season kicked off with another cult film adaptation, Rocky Horror Picture Show, and the current season debuted the Southeastern premiere of musical The View Upstairs.
Out Front’s staging of I Am My Own Wife will be the second time the play has been performed in Atlanta, after Actor’s Express staged it in 2007. The show follows Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, a trans woman who survived life in Berlin under Nazi control and East German communism. Illinois-native and New York-based performer Peter Smith is a triple-threat entertainer with experience in theater, burlesque, and stand-up comedy. Smith (who uses they/them pronouns) began performing at an early age, writing and performing plays with their neighbor as a child before pursuing a professional career on stage. Smith appeared in Bard College’s SummerScape Theater performance of Peter Pan as well as Comedy Central’s Upcoming Variety Performers, along with hosting a weekly late-night stand-up show in New York City. Smith says that stand-up experience helps with undertaking such a large role. “Stand-up is a solo endeavor, so I’m confident as myself and alone on stage,” Smith says.
But that doesn’t make the preparation for I Am My Own Wife—getting into the mindset of all 35 characters with only three to four weeks rehearsal—any less of a challenge. “It’s very intense and very personal, and to have to mentally and emotionally go to 35 different places, in the beginning there was a little of sobbing and calling my friends to remember who Peter was and who Peter is,” Smith says.
Smith first saw the show in Chicago during its original run in the early 2000s as a “dysphoric Midtwestern preteen,” an experience they noted in a public statement as being “eternally grateful” for.
“I want to tell the stories of queer ancestors,” Smith says to Atlanta. “[to] give that [validation] to someone else who might be confused or who didn’t know [Charlotte] existed. I’m trying to prove that we’ve been here, we’ve survived, and we’ll continue to survive.”
See the show: I Am My Own Wife runs through March 30 at Out Front Theatre, 999 Brady Avenue Northwest. Tickets are $15-$25.