Joey Soloway is Telling OUR Stories

Written by | Stage

Just short of a decade ago, Amazon debuted Transparent, a dramedy focused on the coming out of a trans matriarch and the affect it had on a contemporary Jewish family, each discovering their own identity in this fast-paced and ever-changing world. This unlikely hit became the first show produced by Amazon Studios to win a major award and the first show produced by a streaming media service to win a Golden Globe for Best Series. The show was created by Emmy-winning TV impresario Joey Soloway, based upon their own parent’s coming out as transgender. The evocative writing, the stellar cast, and the critical acclaim challenged Hollywood as to the limits of LGBTQ programming and if the nation was ready for such controversial topics. The show enjoyed four seasons and a full-scale musical and feature-length finale. Now, four years later, the show returns in reincarnated form as A Transparent Musical, a new stage piece, making its debut at Los Angeles’ Mark Taper Forum just in time for Pride and American Jewish Heritage Months. As our nation’s trans community faces political persecution, the arts once again comes forward to fight back.

Joey Soloway returns to the world of Transparent as the show’s book co-writer. Even after the TV show’s finale, Transparent continues to be a discussion piece as more and more LGBTQ programming gets mainstream Hollywood treatment. Did Joey have any idea that the show would have such critical and audience success?

I don’t know if I expected the level of success we had with the show, but it did feel like it was going to be important somehow. The pilot was released on Amazon and within days critics were getting into what it meant. There is no better process where people can see a pilot like that.

It was all so unlikely. This tiny personal story that all of the networks passed on, and that Amazon, because of their process at the time, was allowed to be almost an indie pilot. The TV industry has totally transformed since then, of course, and we are now at the end of the bubble that was created when Netflix and Amazon entered the awards arena.

A Transparent Musical features the same beloved characters from the TV show, but in an original story that audiences unfamiliar with the show can get into. Why resurrect these characters in musical form?

Well, it’s more like these characters keep singing to us. Faith (Soloway) has always been writing this music and this is the music of our family and a lifetime of dreaming about musical classics like Jesus Christ Superstar, Fiddler, and Hair.

There’s something so emotional in telling human stories through song. We’re finding that this musical production is taking us deeper and deeper into universal human experiences, with family, with finding one’s truth, with learning how to love each other better. The music expresses feelings in a visceral way. People just seem to be able to drop so deeply into feeling when they’re in that sacred space of the theater, and they are listening to people and instruments, singing and alive.

We all have authentic selves and even though there may be obstacles to finding and expressing ourselves, when we do, we can become free. Naming our own reality, whether or not it is corroborated by society – is an actual privilege. People walking into this theater and bringing in binary versions of reality will be challenged to find a logic. The relationship – the love and the tension – between transness and Judaism is the deep background of this show. On top of those complicated ideas are songs you can’t stop singing in your head. And this familiar family, these feelings, are still alive.

This show will mark the first time a story written by transgender and nonbinary artists takes the stage at the Mark Taper Forum, a theater space devoted to premiering and showcasing provocative and socially relevant work since 1967. After its LA debut, Joey’s eyes are on Broadway and beyond.

I hope and believe that audiences everywhere will relate to the subject matter and love the songs. We need to tell trans stories wherever there are trans people – and that’s everywhere!

A Transparent Musical remains a family affair with Joey’s sister Faith, who wrote for the TV version and returns to the franchise as the musical’s composer and lyricist.

Faith and I have worked together our entire lives. We used to put on plays in our neighborhood when we were kids. We are and always have been each other’s best audience. This is the culmination – or just the very beginning – of Faith’s journey as an artist and I cannot believe I get to witness it!

As a prolific screenwriter, Joey’s medium has now adapted to include playwriting. In addition to creating a whole new medium, they co-wrote this piece with playwright and television writer MJ Kaufman, an award-winning artist whose work has literally played the globe, progressing the representation of trans characters on the stage.

It’s been interesting working with a playwright after my experience in television. I’ve learned so much from MJ! It’s a completely other kind of art form and moves at a totally different pace than film or TV. Faith and I have been creating theater and musicals together for decades but it was always very DIY, doing our own tech, I think often back in the day I was in the sound booth. This amazing machine that is the theater process involves so many distinguished technicians, artists, musicians, and collaborators that most of the time as I witness it, I am in utter awe.

Joey hopes that this musical is the first of many. Personally, they relate most to Ari, the musical’s main character and the family’s youngest sibling who is on their journey to true nonbinary identity. Soloway identifies as non-binary and gender non-conforming, changing their name to Joey in 2020. 

The musical continues the TV’s version exploration of the intersection of Jewish and queer history, and how the two co-exist in modern times, in an age where hate crimes continue to plague both groups.

Isn’t it always Jewish people and Queer people who are the first victims of fascism? These are some terrifying times and that’s why it’s so important for us to tell our stories. It’s easier to dehumanize us when you don’t know us. Let’s come together and love each other, protect each other, learn from each other. It really applies to all people.

Joey is a trailblazer in challenging the norms of minority characters in entertainment. With a hand in shows like Dirty Sexy Money, Grey’s Anatomy, and United States of Tara, it was another show that made TV history that would curate Joey’s voice: Six Feet Under.

The hardest jobs were the ones where I wasn’t heard, but as I gained experience, I found my voice and learned how to use it. I learned so much from Alan Ball when he hired me to write on Six Feet Under. So much of how he ran that show and his respect for the writers and actors has influenced me in my work. When Alan trusted me, it taught me to trust myself and my story-telling instincts.

Six Feet Under changed. When Alan Ball hired me, he said he knew I could write Claire. He was very insightful in that way, looking at the writers themselves as a way to channel the characters on the show.  I felt so much about Brenda and Ruth and all of the women on that show. I remember that Kate Robin – who is also a playwright – and I both felt that we were some of the first people getting to write these really raw, human women.

With Joey being a part of the advancement of our community’s narrative in entertainment, and seeing our current boom in representation, where do they see the future of LGBTQ+ and gender non-conforming entertainers?

I hope that all of us continue to have more opportunities to tell our stories, and that we keep opening up what’s possible when you challenge the rigidity of the binary.

And their message to the trans community this Pride?

I love you! You’re beautiful and amazing and seen.

Last modified: July 8, 2023