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BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Lisa Stephen Friday

The multi-talented performer on her tour de force solo show Trans Am and more.

BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Lisa Stephen Friday
Lisa Stephen Friday.
Photo by Stephen Dimmick.

Today's subject Lisa Stephen Friday has a remarkable story to tell as she is currently living her theatre life as the writer and performer of Trans Am. The show begins performances at Keegan Theatre on January 29th and will run through February 26th.

Lisa's previous stage credits include Finian's Rainbow at Goodspeed Opera House, the national tour of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, and productions at Alabama Shakespeare Company and Ordway Theatre.

For six years she fronted her own band called Lisa Jackson and Girl Friday and was lucky enough to share the stage with such "little known" singers as Pat Benatar and The Psychedelic Furs.

You might remember Trans Am having a virtual run a little ways back in this pandemic that just won't end. If you saw it in the comfort of your own living room then, please consider supporting LIVE theatre and go see it in person. The story is one that needs to be heard and Lisa's performance is one for the ages.

The mid-winter blues are getting a swift kick with Trans Am at Keegan Theatre. Grab your tickets and see for yourself the ridiculously talented Lisa Stephen Friday in action for yourself. Her story is one you all need to hear and see. That is living your theatre life to the fullest.

At what age did you get interested in performing?

Probably around the age of 6 but I didn't give my first performance until my freshman year of High School when I signed up for the talent show. I stood onstage with a microphone, my Fender Strat and a drum machine and I did a cover of Bryan Adams "Summer of '69". It was a very Napoleon Dynamite moment. I was hooked

Did you go to school for theatre or music?

I never studied music or theater in college. To be honest I was terrible when it came to academics and even though I had received a small music scholarship to a college in North GA. I knew I didn't want to go. Instead, I took private acting and voice classes at Dorsey Studios in Atlanta. Sandra Dorsey and Sharon Blackwood quickly whipped me into shape and I started working at several of the theaters in the metro Atlanta area. I did this for about two years and it was exactly the path that I needed to take. College wasn't for me.

What was your first professional performing job?

A friend of mine was playing the role of Dennis in the musical Smoke on The Mountain at Theater in The Square in Atlanta. He was then cast in a movie and they hired me to replace him. I had one week to learn the show and just to make it a bit more interesting the character of Dennis also played the upright bass! I had never even touched an upright bass at that point in my life and there were 21 bluegrass songs in the show. I got a 4-hour put-in rehearsal on a Tuesday afternoon and then straight into an 8-show week. It was thrilling!!

BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Lisa Stephen Friday
Lisa Stephen Friday in Keegan Theatre's production of Trans Am.
Photo by Cameron Whitman.

Where did the idea for Trans Am come from?

I think I have been fantasizing about Trans Am since I was 6 years old. It dawned on me the other day that in my song Rock-n-Roll Kid I wrote the lyric "When I was 6 Years old, I listen to the radio, I buried my head in the speakers all night long". This lyric comes from the memory of how I used to take the speakers from my little cassette player and actually put them in the bed with me when I was going to sleep. I would listen to Albums like Journey's Escape and Duran Duran's Rio and fall asleep dreaming about how I would design my live rock-n-roll shows when I grew up! The idea of writing a rock-n-roll musical has always been in my head. It just took me 40 years to figure out what I was going to write about.

With all the theatres in DC to choose from to have Trans Am presented at, what was it about Keegan Theatre that made you say "This is the one!"?

Trans Am was born from a cabaret performance that I did in 2020 for the Keegan Theater's Boiler Room Series. In the cabaret, I simply played a hand full of Lisa Jackson and Girl Friday songs that I had written in the early 2000's which centered around my gender transition and I told stories about how each song came to be. We ended up getting a really great response to this performance and it was pretty clear to us that there might be more to the story. I sat down one afternoon with Susan Rhea and Josh Sticklin and pitched them the idea about creating a one-woman show that centered around my transition and the music of Lisa Jackson and Girl Friday. This was at the height of the pandemic and we were all completely bored out of our minds so they were like YES PLEASE! Within a week or so Susan called and said the show would open in November for a 3-week virtual run and that I needed to complete the script in the next two months! Seriously, we were just hungry to create something so we all just dove in headfirst.

Can you please give us a brief overview of the show?

The show is basically a memoir of my life thus far but it is very focused on my trans experience. We start in my childhood and end in what my life is actually like today and we use the songs of Lisa Jackson and Girl Friday to tell the story. However, most of the story takes place from 1998 to 2006 when I was going through my gender transition and performing with Girl Friday. The show is a trans story but I think that we are able to tell the story in a way that illustrates how my trans experience is simply my human experience. I talk about the joys of my childhood, the excitement of living in NYC, addiction issues, love, loss, and ultimately the chosen family that I have created form myself. A family that has loved me through everything. It's a story of self-actualization.

BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Lisa Stephen Friday
R- Steve Friday (Lisa Stephan Friday) on bass in
Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story.
Photo courtesy of the artist.

Your career includes having your own band and touring in Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story. Why did you think now was the time to tell your own story in a theatrical setting?

In 1993 I moved to NYC because I wanted to be on Broadway. I loved musical theater and from the moment I arrived in NY I started working on a somewhat consistent basis. I did shows at Goodspeed Opera House, Alabama Shakespeare Company and eventually the National tour of Buddy. But there was always a disconnect for me. I was talented enough to score some nice gigs but I was always afraid to really express myself as an actor. When I started coming out with being trans I found that I could really let myself go when I had an absurdly LOUD rock-n-roll band backing me up! There is a certain type of freedom and a rebellion that happens late at night in rock-n-roll clubs and that is where I learned to be free in my self-expression and my artistry. Now a quarter of a century later I have come full circle back to the theater where I am finally ready to shed my imposter syndrome and fear of not being woman enough so that I can now walk on the stage as my female self. I finally came to the understanding that the disconnect I had felt all those years ago as an actor was due to the fact that my true identity is female. Therefore, the idea of walking onstage as a leading man was simply never going to work. I'm available to myself now which is what I needed to learn so that I could be an actor.

What do you want audiences to take home with them after seeing Trans Am?

I want them to leave the theater with the understanding that transphobia is embedded in every nook and cranny of our society. I want them to know that every time a trans person leaves their home they are forced to create a space for themselves in a world that doesn't allow for them. I want the audience to leave the theater with the understanding that transgender people deserve love and respect.

Special thanks to Keegan Theatre's kickin Managing Director Alexis Hartwick for her assistance in coordinating this interview.

Theatre Life logo designed by Kevin Laughon.

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