Name as you’d like it to appear: Jenet Le Lacheur
Gender as you’d like it to appear: Transfeminine
City you live in and/or improvise in most: London
Personal website or another project that you’d like to link to: www.multiverseimprov.com
Impro(v) Bio: Jenet trained at the Oxford School of Drama. Their improv credits include CSI: Crime Scene Improvisation, Strictly Not Dancing: The London 50-Hour Improvathon, Newsical, Fireflies, Multiverse, and the soloprov In Memoriam. Most recently they’ve been working extensively with the Nursery Theatre, directing The Fauna of Penny Forest and appearing in Happy in Their Own Way, Behind the Scenes (at Studio Mandelbrot), Heads Might Roll and Open Roads. They can also be seen in the second series of improvised CBBC series Last Commanders.
How does being trans*/NB influence your impro(v)?
Positively. Well, being out does at least. My fear before transitioning was that I’d become a less capable improviser, but in fact I found the opposite to be true. I became more courageous, sensitive, playful and selfless. Make no mistake, I still have a way to go in all those departments, and my progress may be due in part to increased maturity or experience, but being true to myself certainly helped a bucketload.
Do you play trans*/NB characters often?
No, for the simple reason that you often get endowed by other players who may not be comfortable explicitly assigning you as trans. I play a pretty even mix of cis men and women (and animals, and sentient objects), and occasionally if it comes up naturally in the course of a scene or show I will endow myself as trans. But I don’t go out of my way to do so. Ultimately it has very little bearing on character or plot, and I don’t particularly care if the audience thinks they’re watching a cis character or a trans one.
How do you feel about cisgender actors playing trans*/NB characters in impro(v)?
In all honesty I’ve not really considered it. Outside of improv I’m highly opposed to it in the same way I am to black- or yellow-face, but you can’t always predict how improv will go. This time last year I was pimped into playing Oprah Winfrey in a scene, and all you can really do in that circumstance is be committed and respectful and hope for the best. So given that, I’d say in improv you can do what you want, so long as you do it sensitively and without being malicious or using people of whom you’ve limited knowledge or understanding as the butt of a joke.
Besides announcing it, how might you know/show a character is trans*/NB?
I mean showing a character to be any gender is hard enough. While I don’t much care how an audience genders me it can be jarring to play a whole show as a woman, with the rest of the cast in clear agreement of this fact, then have an audience member hotseat you and use he/him pronouns. Like, what show have you been watching? I guess it’s easier with NB characters because of pronouns, but even then it doesn’t necessarily follow that just because a character is referred to as they/them that that character is trans*/NB. I have in the past fought the urge when playing a transfeminine character to walk to the back wall and use an invisible urinal. Even though in a cis cast I’m DEFINITELY the only person onstage who can pull that kind of shit I still feel it’s a bit of a cheap laugh, so visual stuff like that is out. I suppose the best way, and the way it’s done in a lot of literary fiction, is to do a flashback involving either deadnames or pronouns, or both, and allow the audience to piece it together from there.
How do you feel about playing different genders generally, in terms of naming gender and of expressing it?
I’m seldom explicit because it can feel super clunky, and in terms of expression I quite like doing stereotypically masculine or feminine things and then being endowed by other players as the opposite because it exposes mine and the audience’s preconceived notions of gender roles and makes for more interesting scenes. I’m perfectly happy to have my expectations of who I was playing dashed and replaced by something different (assuming it’s not contradicting or blocking anything previously established). It is improv after all, that’s the nature of the beast.
Does your local impro(v) community know/understand your gender? If so, how has that been in terms of acceptance/understanding?
My improv community is probably the best of all my social circles in terms of honouring and being on top of pronouns and the like. If anything they’re probably more hot on correcting people than I am. I don’t know if that’s true across the board or whether I’ve been particularly fortunate in the groups I’ve had the chance to play with. It’s certainly true that my improv landscape is an unusual one. For example, all ten of the troupes I’ve been involved with are at least 50% female, and I know that’s atypical because I hear lots of talk about improv being a male-dominated arena which is entirely at odds with my experience of it. So I’m aware I probably have a skewed perception of the business in general, but I would hope people by and large would be open and empathetic enough to accept trans improvisers, otherwise what the hell are they doing improvising?
What are some things that teachers/directors/other performers can do to make sure trans*/NB improvisers feel safe and welcome?
Gender-inclusive language is the big one, just to ensure we feel acknowledged and able to be ourselves. Little things like including pronouns when introducing yourself at the start of a new project, not asking intrusive questions about our history or making every scene about our gender identity. I feel like a lot of this is super obvious and to be fair there have been very few occasions where I haven’t felt safe and welcome in an improv context. Only one (quite high profile) troupe has ever made me feel like my contribution wasn’t valued, and while it may well have been due to my transness it certainly never felt that way to me, and we parted amicably before I ever got to performing.
Thinking about examples of trans*/NB characters across all media (Impro(v), TV, Movies, Plays etc), what are the best trans*/NB characters or stories you’ve seen depicted? The worst?
The most accurate to my own experience is the YA novel The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson. I had the pleasure of recording the audiobook version earlier this year, and great swathes of it felt uncannily like autobiography. Doubly impressive given it has a cis author. There’s also a brilliant play by Jo Sherryden called Mermaids which I workshopped last year and has yet to get a full production. It has one of my all-time favourite trans characters in it. In terms of screen representation I’m a big fan of Rebecca Root’s work in Boy Meets Girl, and the film Tomboy. I’m also a great admirer of the way the trans narrative is dealt with in Dog Day Afternoon, considering it was the 70s and knowledge and understanding was pretty thin on the ground…
The worst is just about any comedy made before 2015. Particularly egregious examples are Ace Ventura, The Naked Gun, and anything penned by noted transphobe Graham Linehan.
Who do you look up to/admire as a trans*/NB person in impro(v) or the world generally?
In the improv world I’m a huge admirer of Eddie Izzard, even though I prefer literally everything else he does to his improv! Paris Lees is another trans trailblazer whom I absolutely adore, and the same goes for my friend Rebecca Root, whose work I’ve already touched upon. Outside the UK I love the Wachowski sisters, Chelsea Manning and Jordan Raskopoulos, who are all inspirational in their own ways.
What’s something special that you and/or trans*/NB performers have to offer?
We have no fear. I mean of course we do, but after the journeys we’ve been on, getting up on stage or in front of a camera is a doddle. We’ve had to fight more than most to know and be accepted for who we are, and we bring that honesty to our work. We’re done with hiding, and in this industry, I think that’s a great mindset to have. Nothing but unvarnished authenticity. We’ve also had to engage minutely with societal expectations of gender (often more than one over the course of transition) and are uniquely equipped to address this area in original and off-kilter ways. We’ve seen how the world treats different genders from the inside, which can only enrich us, particularly as actors. We produce challenging work, upset applecarts and question established ways of doing things, and in the creative arts, that’s the very best you can do.
Is there anything else you’d like to say about being trans*/NB or impro(v) in general?
I have the same attitude to being trans as I have to improvisation: It’s great, everyone should do it.