Park's own Dr. Stephen Tropiano, director of the LA Center, is quoted extensively in a recent newspaper story about a new transgendered character on the soap opera "All My Children." Check it out:
Through Zarf’s eyes (Gay)
Actor Jeffrey Carlson tackles trans role on ‘All My Children’
By KATHERINE VOLIN
Friday, December 22, 2006
Jeffrey Carlson has been connected to ABC’s soap opera “All My Children” since birth, when his mother named him after Dr. Jeff Martin, a character on the show whom she found handsome. So when the soap asked him to appear on the show for one day this past summer, he jumped at the chance.
“I had a blast, and I thought it was over,” Carlson says in an interview with the Blade. But the producers weren’t finished with Carlson yet.
“Later they called and said, we’d like to write your character onto the show,” Carlson said. But the writers had a surprise for him. They asked Carlson to come in to discuss his character, who was being written now as a transgender person transitioning from male to female.
“I was so moved by [producer] Julie’s [Hannan Caruther’s] storytelling and sensitivity and research,” Carlson says. “I said, ‘Oh, absolutely.’
“I’ve played many different characters, but I’ve never played a woman. And I felt very privileged and honored that they would trust me with a storyline that was representing a community that may perhaps be underrepresented.”
Carlson’s character, Zarf, is a Bowie-esque rock star who is under suspicion for the killing of another character. Zarf, who is transitioning to Zoe, is also falling in love with Bianca, “All My Children’s” longtime lesbian character, who is confused by the attention.
So is Stephen Tropiano, the director of the communications department at Ithaca College in Los Angeles. Tropiano studies gay themes in television and wrote “The Prime Time Closet: A History of Gays and Lesbians on TV.”
“What is unusual is him falling in love with Bianca, the lesbian character, which I don’t quite understand,” says Tropiano, who is gay.
Zoe identifies as both a lesbian and transgender person, according to Carlson, which is part of the benefit of having her as a character — she can be used to encourage discussion.
“We’re [talking] on the show about labels and how labels can restrict outlook and even within the gay and lesbian community, there needs to be a conversation about the transgender community because gender identification has nothing to do with sexual orientation,” Carlson says.
His own sexual orientation, however, is a subject Carlson chooses not to discuss publicly.
“My personal life is personal,” Carlson says. “I feel that all the energy should be focused on the transgender community and telling the story properly.”
CARLSON, 31, ORIGINALLY studied animal science at the University of California at Davis, but ended up switching to drama, a field that he never left. After graduating from UC-Davis, Carlson studied drama further at Julliard. He’s worked extensively in theater, including a stint in Washington, D.C., in “Lorenzaccio” at the Shakespeare Theatre in January of 2005. Carlson will return to D.C., which he says is one of his favorite cities, in June to play Hamlet at the Shakespeare Theatre.
Carlson says he was no more nervous to play Zarf than any other character he’s portrayed.
“I was nervous just to be on the soap,” Carlson says “I’d never done daytime television before, except for one day. I think with any character, I feel pressure. All I can do is hope that the character and work that ‘All My Children’ is doing is embraced by the transgender community.”
Ratings for daytime television have been down in recent years. “All My Children’s” viewership fell from 8.2 million in the 1991-92 season to 3.1 million last year. The show has introduced a rash of new characters and plotlines in an effort to stop the downward spiral.
“They’re trying really hard and they’re throwing a whole lot of desperate stuff against the wall to see what sticks,” says Carolyn Hinsey, editor of Soap Opera Weekly, about the addition of Zarf to the cast, according to the Associated Press.
Carlson disagrees with the notion that the decision to introduce a transgender character was motivated by ratings.
“We want to tell it with dignity,” Carlson says. “We had a whole conversation about making sure that the character would be 3-D. I think it’s so important that people try to wrap their brain around the fact that ‘All My Children’ is not doing this to be sensational and not doing this for shock factor. I know that this story’s been in the mix for quite some time, so now was just the opportunity to do it.”
Tropiano points out that exploring new options is essential for a soap opera’s survival.
“The number of people watching soaps is going down,” Tropiano says. “Soap operas are always battling with the idea of doing something fresh and trying to break new ground. I think they’re trying to capture a new audience, especially a younger audience, which I think is a little more used to having gay and lesbian characters.”
TO PREPARE THE CAST to talk about a transgender character, “All My Children’s” creators brought in a representative from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
“They just offered their time to answer any questions, as well as how to speak about it with the media — how the transgender community should be properly represented, even coming down to pronoun use and proper terminology,” Carlson says.
Although the preparation helped the cast discuss the story with the media, the pre-show blitz eliminated some of the dramatic reveal.
“They leaked all the information out beforehand, so you kind of knew before you met this person that this was all going to happen,” Tropiano says. “It would be nice if things were more like anybody who comes out on a TV show.”
Although “All My Children” seems to have approached the situation carefully, Zarf struck Tropiano as a bizarre character — writing him as a murder suspect isn’t helpful, although it’s not the first time a transgender character has been portrayed as a criminal and/or mentally ill (witness “Silence of the Lambs” and the cross-dressing Anthony Perkins in “Psycho”).
“I think that they probably had very good intentions and I’m all for inclusion,” Tropiano says. “I’m a little surprised with some of the direction they went with it — one is to make this character so odd. They kind of made him a fish out of water already — even if he wasn’t going to be revealed that he was transgender. It was my hope that they had created another character that kind of seemed more like everyone else in Pine Valley.”
The other characters seemed annoyed by Zarf, Tropiano says.
“They kind of set him up when they introduced him that he wasn’t particularly likable, “ Tropiano says. “He was annoying. He was so from another planet. I think, though, it’s been toned down somewhat, which is a good thing.”
Few transgender characters exist on television, and most of them, as Tropiano points out, have been relegated to medical shows, which puts a significant amount of pressure on “All My Children” to represent Zarf fairly.
“The only difference with this [character] is I’m representing a community,” Carlson says. “Seeing the world through her eyes certainly is opening mine. It’s just interesting how you can go through life and you don’t know the barriers that you go through to protect yourself. Getting the chance to knock those down through a beautiful woman’s eyes is quite beautiful and fascinating to me. Zoe is becoming my friend, too.”