Actors’ Equity to Investigate ‘Jagged Little Pill’ For Workplace Safety Issues

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Photo Source: Evgenia Eliseeva

“Jagged Little Pill” may have won two Tony Awards but it has also become the site of multiple controversies around workplace safety and allegations of harm against its trans and nonbinary artists. As a result, four actors have left the production, and the show is currently under investigation by Actors’ Equity Association.

“Jagged Little Pill,” written by Diablo Cody and featuring the music of Alanis Morissette, features characters struggling with opioid addiction, sexual assault, and sexual identity.

Last week, an actor on “Jagged Little Pill,” Nora Schell, posted on Twitter about why they left the show: “During previews for the Broadway run of ‘Jagged Little Pill’ I was intimidated, coerced and forced by multiple higher ups to put off CRITICAL AND NECESSARY [sic] surgery to remove growths from my vagina that were making me anemic. Surgery my doctor told me was urgent.”

Schell wrote that they told the stage manager, company manager, and the creative team they needed surgery for their polycystic ovary syndrome: “I was struggling with on again off again anemia due to the amount of blood loss my PCOS was causing.” They also wrote that they were coerced by the team at “Jagged Little Pill” to continue performing, even when they were “going in and out of consciousness,” and collapsed backstage. 

“I pleaded with the higher up who insisted I stay, and I begged for permission to go home and contact my doctor for an emergency appointment,” they wrote. “I was told to push through.”

Schell also alleged that one of the people who coerced them into performing was stage manager, Ira Mont, who is also an Equity member and vice president of Equity’s national council. “This SM allowed me to be intimidated into performing when I was clearly not well,” wrote Schell. 

In response, Equity has said they have hired New York labor attorney Micah Wissinger to “conduct an independent review of the workplace at ‘Jagged Little Pill’ on Broadway,” said the union in a statement. “A partner at Levy Ratner, Wissinger has extensive experience in labor and employment law, including conducting workplace investigations and representing transgender and gender non-conforming individuals.” Schell is non-binary.

The producers of “Jagged Little Pill” also announced that they are launching an investigation. They have hired lawyer Jay Hewlin, of the Hewlin Group. Said producers Vivek J. Tiwary, Arvind Ethan David, and Eva Price in a joint statement: “We are deeply troubled by the recent claims that have been made by a former cast member. We met with our cast and members of our core creative team today to let them know we take this matter very seriously, and to share with them the actions we are taking in response.”

Two actors in “Jagged Little Pill” also issued their own responses to Schell’s statements. Celia Rose Gooding, who was Tony-nominated for the show but is now leaving it for “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds,” posted on Twitter: “This is unacceptable. Nobody should have to put off necessary medical treatment for a show, ever.”

Another cast member, Anthony Cipriano, also announced that they were not returning to the show, citing “the harm that many trans + non-binary and all marginalized folks on-stage cast members and off have endured throughout the years.” He also wrote, “Representation, mental and physical health are extremely important. I’m hopeful for a more equitable future where the right changes and protection are put into action.” 

This is not the only controversy “Jagged Little Pill” has dealt with recently. The musical was also criticized for erasing non-binary narratives. In the pre-Broadway run of “Jagged Little Pill” in Boston, the character of Jo (played by Tony winner Lauren Patten) was perceived by many to be non-binary, using they/them pronouns. Yet when the show came to Broadway, Jo presented as a cis woman and the creative team denied that Jo was ever non-binary.

The producers released a statement clarifying they had sought to portray Jo as a character “on a gender expansive journey without a known outcome.” They admitted they “made mistakes” in how they handled the character’s evolution from Boston to Broadway. “In a process designed to clarify and streamline, many of the lines that signaled Jo as gender non-conforming, and with them, something vital and integral, got removed from Jo’s character journey. Compounding our mistake, we then stated publicly and categorically that Jo was never written or conceived as non-binary. That discounted and dismissed what people saw and felt in this character's journey. We should not have done that.”

Patten acknowledged the controversy around her character during her Tony Award acceptance speech for best featured actress. “I want to thank my trans and nonbinary friends and colleagues who have engaged with me in difficult conversations [and] that have joined me in dialogue about my character Jo.”

In a Twitter post, Gooding referenced multiple issues the show’s faced: “I cannot ignore the harm ‘Jagged’ has done to the trans and nonbinary community, including cast members on stage, off stage, and behind the scenes in the production-making process. They are owed a space to exist and perform free of transphobia, and the opportunity to tell their own stories.”

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