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Meet the Bohemians: Scout & Ryan

By Oliver Ross | September 18, 2021

With mainstage genderfluid and nonbinary representation still rare, Ryan Gonzalez (they/he) and Scout Hook’s (they/them) collaboration has allowed them to support each other both through the industry and in finding their own identities.

Ryan Gonzalez’s passion for theatre began after seeing Singing in the Rain, merging their love of dance with singing and acting. With work across both STC and MTC, they’re passionate about both musical adaptations and the opportunity to originate characters in local work and would love to see more Australian musicals.

“I think we’re getting very good at doing a British play or doing an American style musical and being really good at that. But there’s such a rawness and authenticity that I think we miss out on when we don’t create our own work. It gives you this taste of creating something that I can only imagine is exactly what it feels like on Broadway.”

For Gonzalez, the Cabaret’s MC remains a dream role, “who is completely nonbinary and genderfluid anyway”, and they hope for the day that All That Jazz is adapted to the stage. “I would claw at the chance to play old mate Fosse.” While doing drag from 2015, Gonzalez notes the conversations around nonbinary gender identity weren’t then as present. “The opportunity to do drag and to feel like I wasn’t putting anything on was a really awakening moment for me.”

Scout Hook thinks that perhaps their dream role – a singing, dancing, nonbinary storyteller in an amazingly queer, feminist theatre piece – is still waiting to be created. Performing in their first musical – Mary Poppins at age 12, a university reading group helped figuring out their gender identity. Meeting people with different experiences and discussing gender theory, queer theory and intersectional feminism helped them understand, accept and find words for their identity. “After I came out, I guess I was really able to step into myself as a person and an artist; I was able to express myself artistically on a whole new level. I think knowing who I am now allows me to give a more authentic, exciting performance.”

In their third year at VCA in 2020, Hook notes that while it involved a lot of Zoom classes in their garage, they were able to connect with teachers and artists globally. “I think we got a lot out of it that we might not have if it had just been a normal year; things like self-taping.”

After graduating, Hook joined the Australian tour of Chess, getting to work with artists they admired such as Tyran Parke and Freya List. Despite numerous quarantines and lockdowns, they were able to perform every show, travelling across the country.

“It was a real adventure, because it was a week in each city, so you get different audiences everywhere that give you different things.”

With Gonzalez and Hook dancing from age 3, they often found it very gendered, with traditional tropes and little room to move outside binary choreography. But with Hook taking Gonzalez’s dance classes prior to either were cast in Moulin Rouge! The Musical, they were able to inspire and support each other through their work.

“Ryan’s classes really broke out of that and were so empowering for me. I was able to really be myself for probably one of the first times,” says Hook. “It’s been amazing for Ryan and I to have each other, and I’m very grateful for them; I look up to them a lot.”

In turn, going to see Hook’s perform, where they played a traditionally masculine role and introduced themself with their pronouns, was a moment that “whacked” Gonzalez. “To see them come to full fruition with their gender identity – to see them almost dance differently because they had named something within them that made them feel more authentically ‘them’ – was so eye opening to me.”

“So it’s funny that they say that I inspired them to open up, when really, they have inspired me.”

With the past year forcing companies to talk about race, racism, sexism and gender identity in a way they never had before, being able to support each other made conversations easier to have. “It’s been really lovely for the two of us to have each other and to be so mature about it, and to converse properly, so that the outcome is actually getting somewhere,” says Gonzalez. “Scout is so good at conversing about this, but I have the experience, whereas Moulin Rouge! is one of Scout’s first commercial gigs as an adult. So, I think together we bring a nice dynamic.”

While noting that many elements of musical theatre like auditions can be complicated for gender variant artists, Hook found Moulin Rouge! welcoming from Day 1. Costuming allowed them to feel comfortable while continuing to explore more about their gender identity and break ensemble binaries.

“It’s allowed me to step into different aspects of myself. And I think the important thing for people to realise is that nonbinary doesn’t look a certain way. Nonbinary people can look strong, they can look soft, sexy, fierce, delicate…I think it’s really expanded my understanding of gender expression, and that no matter how I’m dressed or presenting on the outside, I’m still me.”

With a love of the Baz Luhrmann’s Red Curtain Trilogy, Gonzalez is excited to see contemporary music melded into the musical, mirroring the original film’s effect.

“I always knew that [production company] Global Creatures was going to do a massive production of Moulin Rouge! and I knew that it would be second to none, because they do nothing by half.”

Working with original director, “exuberant and specific” Baz Luhrmann in both The Great Gatsby and Strictly Ballroom! The Musical, Gonzalez’s work in character-driven commercial dance prepared them for the visceral, passionate role of Santiago. Expanded from his film role in ‘El Tango De Roxanne’, Santiago and partner Nini (Samantha Dodemaide) parallel Christian and Satine’s romance through movement.

“I think Santiago doesn’t say too much throughout the show – he’s very present, and his presence is huge, and when he says something it’s deliberate, poetic, artistic and right to the point – but what he does best is move, and tell his story through his dance.”

Especially for roles so centred on movement and connection, rehearsals over Zoom have been complicated. However, Hook notes the experience has brought the cast closer, as they’ve overcome intense obstacles together. Gonzalez compares rehearsing in masks to interval training, practising performing on shortened breath, but says they’ve been very lucky.

“It’s been so flexible – ‘do what you can, and when we get our masks off we’ll taper and detail it. But give me more over the masks so we can tweak it.’”

Both Gonzalez and Hook note the resonance of Moulin Rouge! where people struggle to be accepted and create the art they want to create.

“It’s a story about love, and I think that’s something audiences will definitely take away,” says Hook. “And it’s also about community, this community of artists who are striving despite all the obstacles thrown their way to create something and express themselves, and I think that’s very relevant to what we’re going through right now with COVID. It couldn’t be more real.”

“I think the mantra, ‘Truth, Beauty, Freedom, Love’, is a resounding, massive thing that we need right now,” says Gonzalez. “We’re in this business of Moulin Rouge! to bring joy, to spread love, to give good energy, and take people away from the world outside for a night.”

About Oliver Ross: Passionate about trans and neurodiverse storytelling, Oliver Ross has worked on over 100 creative projects in theatre, film and advocacy. He currently freelances as a writer, dramaturg and designer (lighting, set, costume), and acts as a community liaison for 80+ groups supported through Transgender Victoria. Studying English & Theatre at the University of Melbourne, he was one of 11 creatives selected for Screen Australia’s 2019 Developing the Developer, and has worked across Queer Screen, Mardi Gras, tilde, Midsumma, MICF, and Melbourne and Adelaide Fringe. He’s currently a writer and lyricist in The Breaths in Between, Eleven O’Clock Theatre’s development aimed at expanding nuanced representation in musicals.

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