This Broadway Play Is Changing Minds on LGBTQ Rights
Prom can be a catalyst for social change.
Emma’s a typical high school senior eager to go to prom and celebrate the end of this chapter of her life.
There’s only one problem — the town she lives in refuses to let her go, because she wants to bring her girlfriend. The homophobia that had lurked under the town’s surface announces itself as a group of Broadway actors travel to Emma’s small town to champion her cause.
That premise doesn’t sound too farfetched in 2018, but it’s the stuff of theater, specifically the Broadway musical The Prom that debuts in November.
The Prom explores the precariousness of LGBTQ rights at a time when, after decades of progress, they’re being challenged by the administration of US President Donald Trump and statehouses across the country.
Global Citizen recently spoke with Caitlin Kinnunen, the lead actress of The Prom, about the role and the play’s reception in different parts of the country.
Kinnunen grew up on Camano Island, a small island off the coast of Seattle, and she’s been acting professionally since she was 11 years old in a community theater and professional theaters. She got her first Broadway break at 16, when she was cast in Spring Awakening.
She hasn’t left New York since, she said.
When she first auditioned for The Prom, she was reading for other roles, like the cheerleader or the girlfriend, but the casting agent wanted her to play the lead role as Emma. That was three-and-a-half years ago, and she’s been with the production this whole time. They’ve done table readings, labs, and out-of-town productions, but now the show will premiere on Broadway in the fall.
"I feel really fortunate to have been a part of productions that are saying something and trying to make a difference and enlighten people," Kinnunen said.
After putting on the show many times in Atlanta, Kinnunen has had multiple audience members come up to her to tell her how much they appreciated her performance.
“You’re telling my story," she recalled one audience member telling her. "You are playing me and it’s incredible to see myself on stage, played honestly and truthfully without being made into a punchline.”
A few years ago, after one of their first performances in Atlanta, there was a Q&A session after the show, and a man came up to the microphone and said that he “came into the show not supporting LGBTQ [people], not thinking that it was right and I’ve left this show with a shift in my beliefs.”
Kinnunen is especially proud to be a part of a show that has been able to change people’s minds about how they perceive LGBTQ people.
There are still states in the US, including Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah, that “restrict teachers and staff from talking about LGBT[Q] issues at school," according to Human Rights Watch.
Kinnunen doesn’t just believe in change and justice in the theater. She believes that to be a global citizen, one must “take responsibility for your actions and for your voice,” and stressed the importance of “listening to other people and taking action."
The Prom begins performances at Broadway’s Longacre Theatre on Oct. 23.