"A story that needs to be told"

The Starling Company presents the world premiere of "A Sissy in Wyoming"

Many people throughout Wyoming have memories of knowing, interacting with, or at least seeing Larry "Sissy" Goodwin. Whether they worked with him, had him as a professor, or just remember seeing him wearing his colorful blouses and petticoats, people remember Sissy because he left an impression.

Sissy's impression and legacy have only continued, and now both his dresses and his story are being presented on stage through the world premiere of "A Sissy in Wyoming," a one-man play written by Gregory Hinton that is being produced for the first time by The Starling Company.

"'A Sissy in Wyoming' is about Wyoming native, activist, veteran, educator, airplane mechanic, and gender non-conforming pioneer Larry "Sissy" Goodwin," Kenny Starling, the play's director and the Starling Company founder, explained. "It's a peek into his life and the trials and tribulations that he dealt with and, at the same time, the love he dealt with in his life."

The pressure of a world premiere

While "A Sissy in Wyoming" has been shared through readings by the playwright, it has never been a fully realized stage production until now.

Starling took on the challenge of directing, and Cory Schaeperkoetter took up the mantle of portraying Sissy. They have also been working together closely with a team to bring the show to life.

For Kenny, working on a smaller show has been nice, since in many ways it's less difficult than producing a large play or full-scale musical. This is their first time directing a one-person show, but the process has been exciting.

"It's been very interesting figuring out ways to make it more interesting," Kenny said. They added that the process has been "overwhelmingly positive," as well as "gratifying in the sense of watching the person who is taking up the role grow throughout the process, watching the vision come together."

For Cory, the process of taking up the role has been more stressful than he anticipated, but also a good challenge as an actor. One of the biggest challenges involved in the role comes with portraying a character who is not just a character, but based on a real person, and a person that people who might come see the show actually knew. Cory pointed out that he knows people who knew Sissy well.

"It's different to see that interaction with people who knew Sissy, who talked to Sissy, and just the pressure of that can be intense," Cory admitted.

One of the things Cory has had to remind himself of throughout the show is that he is still an actor telling a story from someone's point of view, and while he can't be that person and there will always be differences, he can still share the importance of their perspective.

"I'm representing someone's actual story," Cory said. "So it's definitely a very large and stressful challenge, but one I'm very honored to have. It's a very honorable challenge to take on a story that needs to be told."

One of the other unique elements of this production that adds some extra pressure to the cast and crew is the ability to work directly with both the playwright, Gregory Hinton, and Sissy's wife, Vickie Goodwin.

"You can tell how much care there is in this story, in its writing, and in them trusting us to do this," Kenny explained. "So we tried to take the same care."

Kenny admitted that working so closely with the people so close to the script itself and the subject of the play could be anxiety-inducing at times, but added that they have been great to work with. Assistant Director Caleb Smith noted that the pressure now is to do right by them after working together as collaborators on the production.

"Working on the world premiere and having it be so close to home has been extra special, because we've been able to dive into it in a lot of ways that you don't get to with most plays," Kenny added.

Star photo by Hannah Romero

Sissy (played by Cory Schaeperkoetter) discusses his petticoats.

The impact of personal connections

In addition to working closely with the playwright, the team behind "A Sissy in Wyoming" has also had unique opportunities to connect to the world of the story they're telling. Part of the process of bringing the play to life included taking a trip to Douglas to visit Sissy's home and talk to his wife, Vickie.

"It was really nice to humanize Sissy and humanize Vickie and their story," Kenny said, adding how special it was "to be able to see the actual reality and hear her tell the stories, have her show us the pictures, be able to see her handwriting to him and vice versa on the little love letters that they wrote, or the drawings that children did when he passed to show their condolences to her."

Not only did the visit to Sissy's home provide the team with perspective, but it also provided them with props. Many of the pieces used in the play are things that actually belonged to Sissy, from a number of his petticoats and blouses that Cory wears to set decorations like family photos, wall decorations, and magnets. Other items used in the play are recreations that the cast took care to make accurate, from a pink shovel to the tree that takes up the center of the stage.

For Cory, having access to memories of the real person he's portraying has helped him immerse himself in the role. He explained that he has spent time watching videos of Sissy to try to be able to represent his mannerisms.

Representing the reality of Sissy's life is also important to the team in order to share the power of Sissy's experiences.

"What's really important about the story for me is to see the perspective of someone first-person," Cory said. "These aren't just stories, these aren't just things people will read on the internet, these are real events that happen to real people."

Cory added that an important part of the show is seeing the impact Sissy had, the things he went through, the way he persevered.

Star photo by Hannah Romero

Sissy (played by Cory Schaeperkoetter) explains the story behind a significant tree.

The power of Sissy's story

The story of "A Sissy in Wyoming" presents Sissy's history, including high and low points in his life, from learning about himself to experiencing discrimination and even violence for his choices.

For Cory, showing both the highs and lows in Sissy's life is an important part of the story, especially for people who may relate to his experiences.

"Sissy was very strong, but we see a lot of his weak points, and I think that's one of my main things that I took away from it, is that it's ok to be weak, it's ok to be scared, but it's important to find that strength in you to persevere," Cory said. "It's important for people to know that weakness does not define you. . . At the end of the day, you will find an environment, you will find a group of people that will love and support you and hold you for the rest of time, whether it's one person, whether it's a community of people, whether it's just yourself. I truly believe Sissy learned to love himself and who he was. And it took him many years to. But love yourself, and find that community, or have that community find you." 

Kenny also sees the importance of sharing all the sides of Sissy's story, and exploring both the hatred he dealt with and the joy and peace that he found in his life.

"I think ultimately, we picked up the mantle here without even realizing it," Kenny said. "We're continuing on his legacy."

While The Starling Company has faced public pushback for some of its productions, particularly its drag shows, Kenny pointed out that much of the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, and they have received community support for their work. That support includes grants and sponsorships for this production from Sweetwater BOCES, Wyoming Equality, Enroll Wyoming, and other groups and individuals.

"It seems to be the case that more often than not, people are looking for and hungry for a culture based in love and kindness," Kenny said.

When it comes to sharing the story of Sissy, Kenny said the the goal is ultimately to share it "not with rancor or with violence, but with a party and fun and a tutu."

"A Sissy in Wyoming" opens Friday night and will have performances at 7 p.m. on March 15 and 16 as well as matinees at 2 p.m. on March 16 and 17. The show is about an hour long, with a talkback to follow. The team notes that the show deals in a number of sensitive, potentially triggering subjects, so viewer discretion is advised. Admission is free.

 

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