Doubt Over Doubtfire: Transphobic Legislation Casts a Shadow on Florida's Theatre Community

Will Florida’s new anti-LGBTQ+ legislation impact the entertainment industry?

By: May. 23, 2023
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BroadwayWorld has followed as across the country, Republican-controlled states have enacted legislation targeting LGBTQ+ individuals, mainly those who are transgender, both in terms of their access to healthcare and their constitutional right to free speech and self-expression.

In Florida, the DeSantis administration, which began targeting drag shows and brunches last August, continues to ramp up its attacks on the queer community.

In the final days of Florida's legislative session, bills that passed included:

-A bill that would make it difficult or impossible for transgender Floridians to access appropriate restrooms, domestic violence shelters, correctional institutions, or other spaces that match their gender.

-A bill to criminalize essential health care for transgender youth.

-A bill that would allow healthcare providers to discriminate against LGBTQ and other groups of patients.

-A bill that bans any mention of LGBTQ people, history, or issues in school curriculums through the 12th grade.

Last week, the assault on Florida's queer community continued when DeSantis signed several bills which ban gender-affirming care for minors, ban children from attending drag shows, and how students learn about and engage with the LGBTQ+ community. One of the bills bans instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Broadway performer and Drag Race legend Jinkx Monsoon is bringing her live performance to The Coral Springs Center this summer. Monsoon's show is currently the only one on their website which lists an advisory that the event is 18+.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Doubtfire: The Musical is set to play at the Barbara Mann Performing Arts Hall in Ft. Myers in March 2024, after which it will play stops in Tampa, Ft. Lauderdale, and Orlando through the end of April. The musical, recommended for children 8+, includes drag - as did the major motion picture it is based on that is a family favorite and modern cinema classic. While the musical does not feature any transgender characters, the show could run afoul of Florida's new legislation.

Notably, many in the transgender community have expressed frustration with the 'man in dress' trope used in Broadway musicals and highlighted that characters in shows like Mrs. Doubtfire (upcoming) and Tootsie (which played several Florida venues on tour in 2023) deceive characters about their gender - which is a narrative that can be harmful to the trans community. That harm can be exacerbated in conservative states with laws on the book targeting them.

It is our understanding that the new legislation would in fact make the Mrs. Doubtfire musical an 18+ event in Florida - though of course, it's not possible to predict how enforcement might play out at this time.

The Book of Mormon, which has a drag moment early in the first act that often goes unnoticed by the audience, is also set to play both Jacksonville and Fort Lauderdale in December 2023 and might be the first Broadway tour that could potentially be affected by the legislation.  While it's certainly not suitable for young children, it's definitely a show that is popular with teenagers.

There are also concerns for those working in touring entertainment on travel to the state. In response to the climate of fear and uncertainty, organizations have started issuing travel advisories for Florida. These currently include Equality Florida, the NAACP, and The League of United Latin American Citizens.

Several current and former touring employees both on-stage and off, many of whom are part of the LGBTQ+ community, have expressed concern about potentially working in Florida.

And while major theatrical performance venues might have the funds and connections to ensure they will not be targeted by the state, smaller theaters creating work with local actors, and drag queens who haven't had national air time and substantial financial means may not.

Miami-based theater nonprofit Area Stage puts on performances that have included drag in its work - notably, the company cast a drag performer in the role of Miss Hannigan in its production of Annie. Its upcoming production of The Little Mermaid was set to include a drag performer in the role of Ursula, a character who was based on the '80s Drag Queen Divine.

In a statement to NBC in April, prior to the latest legislation, Area Stage Associate Artistic Director Giancarlo Rodaz said their plan was just to "keep doing what we're doing."

Attempts to reach Area Stage for an update on their upcoming production were unsuccessful at the time of writing.

BroadwayWorld reached out to several theaters in Florida scheduled to present the tour in their upcoming 2023/2024 seasons. None were willing to go on the record about their upcoming seasons and how they think the new legislation might affect them.

In the 2016-2017 season, on average, Broadway tours contributed an economic impact of 3.27 times the gross ticket sales to the economy of the metropolitan areas in which they played. There are at least six Broadway touring seasons that have regularly presented productions in the state, and in many years, additional venues pick up other tours. Even a small reduction of shows coming to the state would have a potentially massive local economic impact.

The legislation goes beyond just the professional and amateur stages. Several Florida-based theater educators (we won't name them to protect them from retribution) told BroadwayWorld the ongoing onslaught of legislation targeting the LGBTQ+ community has created a chilling effect in their classrooms. Their administrations had already told them to expect more scrutiny on shows selected for the upcoming year.

The teachers said they were actively looking to relocate outside of Florida.

While future theater tour stops for productions like Mrs. Doubtfire, Hairspray, and potentially an upcoming tour of Peter Pan which is traditionally cast with a woman in the title role - Pride organizers in the state are feeling more immediate effects.

Pride organizers in several Florida towns have canceled events slated for June just days after the legislation came into effect. Organizers said the events were 'unsafe' to hold as planned.

Other organizations plan to move forward, writing on social media "No unconstitutional law will keep us from celebrating our PRIDE event."

With transphobic legislation and discourse on the rise in several parts of the country, BroadwayWorld stands with the trans and queer community in Florida, and we will continue to follow this story.

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