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Scandal-Plagued ‘Jagged Little Pill’: Alanis Morissette’s Tony-Winning Musical Sees Performers Quit Over Trans Controversy

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at September 27, 2021


Alanis Morissette musical Jagged Little Pill won two Tony Awards Sunday night ahead of its planned Broadway reopening on October 21—but the musical has also become embroiled in controversy, with two investigations launched in recent days and several lead cast members exiting the production over its alleged mistreatment of trans and nonbinary performers.

Key Facts

Jagged Little Pill initially drew outrage earlier this year over concerns that one of its characters, Jo, was originally written to be gender non-conforming, but the producers changed the character to be a cisgender woman when it came to Broadway and denied ever intending the character to be nonbinary.

The producers issued a statement in mid-September addressing those concerns, saying they were “deeply sorry” and would take steps like hiring a new team to “revisit and deepen” the script, hiring a director of people & culture, opening its casting of the role in the future to nonbinary performers and partnering with The Trevor Project and Trans Lifeline.

Former cast member Nora Schell, who is nonbinary, then said on Twitter Friday they were “intimidated, forced and coerced” by high-level members of the production team to put off urgent care for their Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome in order to not inconvenience the show.

Schell said their doctor ultimately told them she could not “ethically” continue to treat Schell if they “remained in a work environment that would ask me [to] negate my medical needs,” and they are “still dealing with the consequences” of putting off their care.

After producers released a statement saying they would hire an outside firm to investigate Schell’s allegations, fellow nonbinary ex-cast member Iris Menas said that was “not enough” and claimed to “have PTSD” from the higher-ups’ “traumatizing” behavior.

Leading performers Celia R. Gooding and Antonio Cipriano announced they were both exiting the production after Sunday’s Tony Awards over the controversy, with Gooding citing the “harm Jagged has done to the trans and nonbinary community.”

What To Watch For

The Jagged Little Pill producers said in response to Schell’s allegations they had hired an external firm to “conduct a comprehensive investigation” into the incident, as well as an external review of the production’s policies and procedures regarding employees’ well-being. Actors Equity also announced Sunday it had opened its own workplace investigation into the production. The union represents both Broadway performers and stage management, including stage managers that Schell alleged had been among the people that mistreated them. 

Crucial Quote

“First and foremost I want to thank my trans and nonbinary friends and colleagues who have engaged with me in difficult conversations that have joined me in dialogue about my character Jo,” Lauren Patten, who plays Jo, said in her acceptance speech Sunday after winning the Tony Award for best featured actress in a musical—an award some criticized her for accepting. “I believe that the future for the change we need to see on Broadway comes from these kinds of conversations that are full of honesty and empathy and respect for our shared humanity.”

Chief Critic

“Broadway shows are by their very nature collaborative, so there is nothing more important to us than our people,” the show’s producers said in their statement responding to Schell’s allegations, which they said they were “deeply troubled” by. 

Key Background

Jagged Little Pill debuted on Broadway in late 2019 and uses Morissette’s catalog of songs to tell the story of a suburban Connecticut family facing turmoil from such issues as opioid addiction and sexual assault. The show debuted to largely positive reviews, and in addition to Patten’s win Sunday, the show’s writer Diablo Cody also earned the Tony Award for best book of a musical. The controversy over the production comes amid a larger moment of reckoning for Broadway over broader issues of alleged worker mistreatment and injustice. Broadway performers, creators and workers of color have pushed the industry to confront its marginalization and lack of equity for non-white people in the theater, and powerful Broadway producer Scott Rudin stepped down from his major projects in April in response to reports about his alleged abuse of his employees.

Further Reading

The Complete List Of 2021 Tony Award Winners (Forbes)

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: Broadway’s Jagged Little Journey Toward Nonbinary Inclusion (The Brooklyn Rail)

Jagged Little Pill Actors Call Out Production’s Treatment of Trans Cast (Vulture)

Actor Lauren Patten Speaks Out On Broadway’s ‘Jagged Little Pill’ Controversy & Reveals Her Future With The Show As Producers Apologize For Erasing A Nonbinary Character (Deadline)

‘Jagged Little Pill’ Producers and Actor Address Controversy, Key Changes Around Gender Non-Conforming Character (The Hollywood Reporter)


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