“Jagged Little Pill” fails to provide the representation it promises


"Alanis Morissette - Jagged Little Pill tribute" by kingArthur_aus is licensed under CC BY 2.0

One of the factors in the musical’s success was having the first non-binary supporting character in a Broadway musical. However, the producers did not handle representing the character of Jo with the due care that they deserved.

“Jagged Little Pill,” Diablo Cody’s, best known for “Juno,” musical based on the Alanis Morrisette album of the same name, roared onto the Great White Way with the aim of representing challenges that face our society today. Sounds promising, right?

Content warning for the discussion ahead of transphobia, medical neglect and harmful workplace behavior.

One of the factors in the musical’s success was having the first non-binary supporting character in a Broadway musical. However, the producers did not handle representing the character of Jo with the due care that they deserved.

Originator of the role of Jo in both the out-of-town tryout and in the Broadway production, Lauren Patten was awarded a Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Broadway Theatre award, more commonly known as the Tony Award, for her efforts. However, she portrayed the role of Jo in the Broadway production as a cisgender lesbian woman.

This would have been fine had that been how Jo was portrayed to begin with. Lauren Patten and the rest of the production team instead chose to gaslight their fanbase into thinking that Jo was a cisgender woman instead of a non-binary person.

However, audio recordings from the American Repertory Theatre production tell a different story. The dialogue in those recordings clearly stated that Jo was, indeed, non-binary. One such line was “My mom is fine with the whole lesbian thing. Just not the gender thing.” This evidence points to the fact that Jo was indeed a non-binary character using they/them pronouns.

The producers of “Jagged Little Pill” then released a statement apologizing for their portrayal of Jo’s character in the Broadway production. However, the show’s fanbase was not satisfied with this obvious attempt to save their own necks, and wanted to see actionable steps towards proper representation of non-binary and trans characters.

The controversy didn’t stop there. At the Trans March on Broadway, organized by actress and activist Sis, actors Iris Menas (zie/hir) and Nora Schell (they/them) shared stories of mistreatment by higher-ups in the “Jagged Little Pill” organization.

Menas stated that zie was the only openly trans actor in the production and zie learned of this fact when zie arrived at rehearsals, which led hir to question hir safety. In addition, zie stated that the production staff would bombard hir with invasive and traumatic questions.

Zie realized that hir experience was being made palatable for the consumption of cis people. Menas felt incredibly unsafe in what was supposed to be an incredibly safe workspace for all involved.

Even more egregious was the mistreatment of Nora Schell. Schell was denied appropriate leave and time off for a potentially life-threatening medical condition. They were diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or PCOS, in the spring of 2019.

Around that time, “Jagged Little Pill” was transitioning from the American Repertory Theatre to New York to begin previews for their Broadway run. They had a procedure done to remove polyps caused by PCOS.

Even after Schell spoke to the production team in regards to their condition, the production team refused to grant them appropriate time to seek care for themselves. By that time, the polyps made an unfortunate return, and Schell’s doctor advised them to go into surgery immediately.

They were basically coerced into not seeking appropriate treatment, which led to their doctor stating that she could not ethically continue to operate on them if they remained in a work environment that negated their medical and health needs.

Therefore, they left the production and decided that they would not be returning to that work environment when the production reopened. This led the production team to issue yet another vague Public Relations statement, which once again angered fans of the show.

The “Jagged Little Pill” production staff has since stated that the production will take necessary and actionable steps towards building a better environment for everyone involved. Actors Equity Association has launched an investigation with regards to the mistreatment of cast members.