The first time transgender actor Jacob Michael auditioned for “Hir,” he didn’t get the part.
The play was being cast for its 2015 Off Broadway premiere and Michael had just undergone top surgery, but decided to pursue the role anyway.
“I had just come out of surgery, and thought there’s no way, but they allowed me to send in an audition tape,” recalled Michael, 21. “I got called back and read more of the script.”
Michael didn’t realize it at the time, but he related to the characters and situations in Taylor Mac’s family comedy, pronounced “here.”
Set somewhere in the suburbs, the play introduces Isaac, who has been dishonorably discharged from the military for drug use and returns home to discover a household in disarray and revolt. The insurgent is his mother. Housework has become off-limits and she has put her stroke-addled husband in clown make up and a dress.
Siding with Isaac’s newly out transgender brother as her ally, Mom is on a crusade to exact revenge after an abusive marriage. But, she soon discovers that annihilating the past doesn’t necessarily free her from it.
“(Hir) is about a dysfunctional family but that doesn’t begin to cover how chaotic this show is,” he explained. “There’s a lot that goes on in such a short time. It’s fast-paced and funny in a sort of odd way, but that’s been my entire life.”
Michael paused before adding, “It’s so fun to read and more fun to perform—even in rehearsals—because I totally understand what this is like. So many of the situations hit close to home. Never before had I had the privilege to bring so many of my own experiences to a role.”
Michael started acting in New Jersey while in high school and decided early on that he would like to pursue a career on the stage. His plans were placed on hold two years later when he came out as transgender and focused on his transition.
“I went on hormones and then I decided to get top surgery. That year gave me time to feel more comfortable in my own skin before pursuing a career because it requires so much confidence. I needed my exterior to reflect how I felt on the inside. I was auditioning while still recovering from surgery,” said Michael.
Initially, Michael focused only on trans roles.
“I didn’t know how directors would perceive me, so I decided that my way in was by playing trans people. After a while, after getting more comfortable with my transition, for lack of a better term, I just stopped caring. It’s no loss to me if they don’t want to cast me. I had to find that confidence,” he said.
Fortunately, the actor landed a role in a community production of “Avenue Q,” playing a cisgender character.
The experience was a turning point for Michael: “The director didn’t know, but once I got in and got comfortable with everyone, I was able to be frank about it. I was met with such support like I’d never seen before.”
In just a short time, his career has come full circle and Michael finally landed that once coveted role in “Hir,” this time in a regional production at Island City Stage in Wilton Manors opening next week.
“I’ve definitely been more open about who I am with each production,” said Michael. “It’s liberating and I’m really happy.”
Island City Stage, 2304 N. Dixie Hwy. in Wilton Manors, presents Taylor Mac’s “Hir,” Nov. 9 – Dec. 10. Tickets are $35 at IslandCityStage.org.