Big break

Tootsie is the start for queer actor’s theatrical path

RICH LOPEZ | Staff writer

At just 20 years old, Arianna Schrage is embarking on the biggest break of her young theater career. The queer actor took a break from her college studies in Ohio to join the cast of Tootsie, which is currently running at the Winspear through Sunday, April 30, as part of Broadway Dallas’ season. She will continue her ensemble and understudy roles in Fort Worth when the show moves to Bass Hall May 9-14.

But even though she is on her first national tour, her plan is to get right back into the groove with school.

“It’s been such a thrilling gap year, to be immersed into this professional opportunity, but yeah, the plan is to go back to school after the tour,” Schrage said by phone.

What Tootsie is doing for her now is making everything clear. Schrage says she definitely wants her degree, and she has so much more to learn.

Arianna Schrage

But this tour has cemented her career notions.

“There is a lot I’m still interested in, and I’m a nerd, so I want to finish school. If anything, this job has made me more hungry to do this,” she said.

Her experience with Tootsie has been a learning experience as well as an adventure. She was born in College Station, but Schrage said she is glad to see Texas for real on this tour, since she and her family moved out of Texas soon after she was born. In addition to DFW, she will travel to San Antonio, Lubbock, Tyler and Orange — giving her a chance to get a healthy dose of the Lone Star State.

Tootsie tells the story of Michael who, in his desperation at being an out-of-work actor, turns to drag — which turns out to be the biggest break of his career. The story departs from the original 1982 film that starred Dustin Hoffman, Jessica Lange and Terri Garr to set the story in the modern day. Ironically, a man in drag as the main character is perhaps the most hetero thing about the show.

“It’s so interesting because there is no queer parallel — at all,” Schrage said. “There is a brief mention of drag, but it’s always ‘Michael dressing up as Dorothy,’ We never forget he’s portraying a character.”

Still, exploring queer stories is part of Schrage’s ultimate goal as she moves along her theatrical career path. It is, perhaps, even part of her reason for going back to college.

As she came into her own queerness, she said, she began exploring LGBTQ works. “I do want to continue my exploration through shows, even more than now. I think I can do that through my college experience and then in the professional arena,” she said.

With shows like The Prom and Jagged Little Pill as part of today’s theater vocabulary, Schrage said she yearns for that representation both onstage and as a member of the audience. But as queer-identifying person, she said she looks forward to the up-and-coming playwrights who extend characters beyond the usual gay and lesbian labels of already-existing works.

“The queer spectrum is so large and open, so I think those playwrights just finding their way are who’s going to change and, hopefully, include an openness to all queer identities,” she said.

On the flip side, Schrage loves that Tootsie is less about deeper messages or statements and more of an LOL experience.

“My favorite thing about Tootsie is that it makes me belly laugh every time, still to this day,” she said. “The comedy is fresh and sophisticated, and when people are immersed in this story, they’ll be immersed in hilarity — escaping from any cares or worries of the day.”

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