Bechdel and The Nonbinary – An interview with Emily Jansen-Adan Star of Left Edge Theatre’s “Fun Home”
Emily Jansen-Adan stars as Alison in Left Edge Theatre’s premiere production of Fun Home, running September 3-18, at The California, 528 7th Street, in Santa Rosa. In this interview, they speak about Alison Bechdel’s powerful story and nonbinary identification.
Cheryl King: Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel was the source material for Fun Home. In your research for the role of Alison, what commonalities did you discover between the two of you?
Emily Jansen-Adan: The more I learn about Alison, the more I know there is both a lot we have in common, and not, at the same time. We are both lesbians and part of the queer community. And in that sense, almost any queer person can share in her experiences. The moments of not wanting to accept yourself for who you are. And the moments of truly realizing who you are, and coming to terms with that. We all have those moments and stories. I see a lot of myself in her. But the queer community is not monolithic, so it is important to me, as I am playing this character, based on a real life person, that I not only bring the realness that being queer does, but also, that I play it authentic to who she was, and her unique experiences in her life and this story.
CK: I note you use non-binary pronouns.. What are your thoughts regarding the cultural issues surrounding non-binary identification and have you had any personal experiences regarding that issue that you would care to share?
E J-A: I am non-binary, and I use They/she pronouns. I can only speak on behalf of myself, as every person who is part of the queer community is different and we all have our own experiences and perspectives.
I do find that a lot of people have a hard time with being able to understand what being non-binary is, both in the queer community, and outside of the queer community.
A lot of people have a hard time using they/them correctly, and that does make it really hard for me, and I am sure others as well. And I think it’s important for people to take the time to truly understand someone’s pronouns, and learn to use them the right way.
I think there is a big cultural shift, and we are seeing a lot more people being comfortable being themselves, and I think the beautiful thing about being non-binary is there is no finite way of being non-binary. Some people use only they/them for pronouns, some use only she/her, or he/him, or both, or all or none. Even the way we express ourselves is different for each person, and I find it really beautiful and inspiring.
CK: Regarding the issues of parents coming out to their children, what have you discovered about the relationship between Alison and her father (Bruce) in the course of rehearsals and homework on the topic? Can you relate any of that to your experience in life?
E J-A I think one of the most interesting things about Alison’s and Bruce’s story is the stark contrast between them. He lived a closeted and secretive life of being gay, up until his last days; and Alison came to terms with herself in college and has lived authentically since. Alison and Bruce have a very complex relationship, so there is a lot that comes into play when we are portraying this story.
I have a lot more in common with Alison specifically, as I was actually around the same age as she was when I “came out” to the world. I also grew up religious, and was a classic tomboy throughout my childhood, and find many commonalities to her life in that regard.
CK You are working with two younger actors who play Small Alison and Medium Alison. Have you done any particular work to align your interpretations of the character? What is that process like?
E J-A We just started rehearsals recently, so there hasn’t been a lot yet, but really it is just us all taking the time to really understand what Alison is feeling in each moment and stage of her life. We’ve been doing a lot of observing of each other, so we can kind of mirror each other in that regard.
CK: Left Edge Theatre has moved to a new location during the rehearsal process. Are you excited about being in the new space? What are you looking forward to?
E J-A This is actually my first performance with Left Edge Theatre. It is really cool though, to be in the rehearsal process in the new space, as they are still getting the space ready, so we are seeing the transformation of the new space day by day.
C.K. What has been your favorite experience in the rehearsal so far?
E J-A For me, this is my first time really being in a fully professional production, and my first time being the main role, so it’s all new for me. I guess my favorite thing, so far, has just been being in the same space and rehearsing with my fellow cast members and seeing the show start to come to life, as the show has a relatively small cast, so it is very important for us to all be on the same page.
CK: Is there anything you’d like to add?
E J-A: I think something cool to note is the cast has a lot of wonderful LGBTQ+ people putting on this show for everyone. I also think it is just so important to know that this show is based on a real-life lesbian person and her life, family, and her real life gay father who died by suicide. The story is very complex, and it shows the humanity in us all. Kleenex is definitely needed as this show will bring you on a roller coaster of raw emotions.
Emily has been doing theater off and on since they were a teen, making their debut on the Cinnabar Young Rep stage as Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors (2012).
Their most recent credits include Fantine in Les Miserables (2019; Music to My Ears), and Gargoyle in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (2020; Music to My Ears).
Cheryl King is a frequent contributor to gaysonoma.com and is a producer for The California.