Shannon TL Kearns is a transgender man who’s playwriting is obsessed with big questions told through small stories. He is committed to work by and for marginalized communities, using writing to create a new future for all of us. He is the founder and Artistic Director of Uprising Theatre Company in Minneapolis, MN. He is a Lambda Literary Fellow for 2019. He was awarded a spot in the HBMG Foundations’ Winter Playwright Retreat in 2018 and 2019. He has participated in Pillsbury House Theatre’s Chicago Avenue Project writing plays for and with children. He was a finalist for the Equity Library Theatre of Chicago’s Reading Series, the 2019 TransLab, and the American Stages 2019 New Play Festival. He also teaches storytelling and playwriting for youth and adults. Shannon’s plays include in a stand of dying trees, Line of Sight, Twisted Deaths, The Resistance of My Skin, and Who Has Eyes To See.

Artistic Statement

In my senior year of college at a fundamentalist Christian school I lived in a tiny apartment off campus which gave me a modicum of freedom to do illicit things like watch R rated movies. One night I went to Blockbuster and rented “Boys Don’t Cry.” I was nervous as I walked up to the counter, still not used to renting things that could be considered “scandalous”. I took the dvd home and popped it in and then cried through the whole film.

It was the first time I saw someone like me depicted on a screen and now the only representation I had of myself was someone who was an outcast and then killed. What kind of message did that send to a kid like me? It told me that I needed to hide. That I needed to be afraid. And that I was a freak who would probably end up dead. I remember feeling this potent combination of relief and fear. Relief because maybe I wasn’t the only person on the planet who felt the way that I did. But this film taught me that there was only one future for me and I believed that because this representation was literally the only one that I ever saw. I still rarely see stories on stage that are resonant with my own experience as a transgender man. When I do see stories about transgender people it’s often clear that they were written by people who are not transgender and who have little connection with my community. Because of that the characters are offensive or one-sided or written with cisgender people in mind. They are voyeuristic.

As a transgender man who grew up in a fundamentalist Christian church I have been haunted since a young age with questions: Do I belong? Can I find happiness? Is there hope for me? Is religion a force for good or ill? Who’s telling the story and what story are they telling and can I find myself in it? My work centers on telling stories that reflect the community I am a part of. A community that is growing and thriving and enduring. A community that is flawed and beautiful. A community that faces tragedy but also has hope. A community that lives. Stories have the power to change the world. They allow us insight, a chance to create empathy, and transport us to a place where we can allow our hearts to soften and our minds to change. Stories also provide a space for people to see themselves represented, to envision futures that they might not have otherwise been able to dream of. In the times we find ourselves in, this deepening of empathy and cultivation of hope is needed more than ever and so are the amplified voices of marginalized people. And sometimes? Maybe the transgender people get to have a happy ending.

In my plays I put stories and bodies on stage that we don’t normally see. I explore how specificity in focus leads us to empathy and allows us to engage with questions and issues more broadly. I play in the space of “small stories” that shed light on the “big issues”. I aim to reinvent the kitchen sink drama with characters who have never been allowed to be in the kitchen before. My focus is creating characters that are nuanced and accessible and in writing plays where there are no easy answers. I rely on dialogue that is efficient and complex and make arguments that weave and intersect. My characters are multi-faceted and explode stereotypes. My writing will be a part of the canon of transgender art that goes well beyond stories of coming out and transition. In my submitted excerpt, I am exploring the connections between ritual and transition, liminal spaces, and the ways that transgender identity and Christian identity can speak to one another. 

I write to envision new worlds, to be a possibility model, and to envision new futures for myself and my community.

The Work

Body and Blood:

Cast: 2 transgender men, 4 cisgender men, 1 cisgender woman, 1 trans masculine teen.

A fever dream, a man caught in Limbo. In the midst of a crisis what do we remember and how? Joshua is a bartender who feels a calling to be a priest. Oh, and he also happens to be transgender. Caught between worlds, caught between his trans friend Peter and the guys at the bar and the stuffy church warden can he make a difference in anyone’s life or is he just not enough of anything to count? What does it mean to choose visibility in a world where the visible often lack safety?

in a stand of dying trees:

Cast: 2 transgender men, 1 cisgender man, 1 cisgender woman

In this play big city idealism and small town realities intersect. Ben and Amanda love their town. They love their neighbors. Sure, they sometimes disagree, but they are comfortable. When Liam, Ben’s former college friend, comes to town on a campaign to get people to “vote blue” their idyllic life is threatened. Can people remain friends even when they disagree? How is it for transgender folks who live in rural areas? And who has the right to defend themselves?

Line Of Sight:

Cast: 1 trans masculine teenager, 1 tgnc person, 5 people of various gender identities and ethnicities

Alex hates everything. He hates school. He hates being bullied by his classmates and teachers. He hates that his parents don’t accept him and keep trying to fix him. He hates how alone he feels. But what if Alex is more powerful than he thinks? In the midst of a tragic event, Alex discovers something supernatural inside of him that he didn’t know was there. But will it be enough to change what needs to change?

Twisted Deaths:

Time: 2 hours 20 minutes Cast: 4W, 2 transgender men

Pam and Ryan couldn’t be more different. He is a young transgender man and she is an older conservative woman but when they are both diagnosed with cancer their lives intersect in ways that neither of them could have ever imagined.

This work explores questions of identity, relationships, our health care system, and who has control over your body and life.

Who Has Eyes To See:

Time: 140 minutes Cast: 4 cisgender women, 1 transgender man

Jamie, a transgender man, gets called back to his family home by his mother, Catherine, with the cryptic message that his sister, Emily, is in trouble. With the support of his loving wife, Alison, Jamie comes home to confront family struggles, a mother that doesn’t recognize him, and a past that he thought he had left behind but that impacts him in ways he can’t even see. A touching story about family, connections, and what it means to have a home.

The Resistance Of My Skin

Time: 75 minutes Cast: 1 plus size cisgender woman, 1 transgender man

Ayden and Jess have been dating. They both think that tonight might be “the night”, but each one is nervous for their own reasons. Ayden hasn’t been with anyone since his transition. Jess is afraid that her size will make Ayden run away. Can they overcome their insecurities to be intimate with one another? How can they embrace vulnerability in the midst of fear?

Want to know more about Shannon’s plays or read a script? Check him out on the New Play Exchange.