River (they/he/she) is a genderfluid person living in the San Francisco Bay Area! We met in college – they were a freshman when I was a senior in college. Our sort of mom friend/new kid friendship has transformed over the years into two queer artists working toward intersectional acceptance of LGBTQ+ people in our communities. Put us together and magic happens… ✨
We found out that they lived about 20 minutes from me MY WHOLE LIFE here in California, and our friendship was born. I taught them a lot about photography, we saw shows together, and we stayed connected after I (and then they) graduated and moved back to CA.
When you think of AMAB (assigned male at birth) people going to school for musical theatre, you probably think of a slim, fit, white, sassy gay guy. He’s also probably a tenor and can belt the shit out of Dear Evan Hansen. That’s what you “need” to be in order to have a shot in that industry. River did everything he could to fit that mold, but by the time he graduated he had fully embraced his nonbinary half-Latine-half-white baritone self, and they constantly play with presenting more masculine vs more feminine – or a mix of the two!
When you’ve spent so much of your life trying to fit into the mold of who everyone else wants you to be, it’s both scary and liberating to be able to chip away at that mold and finally meet your true self. That was the inspiration for their first Queer Soul self-love shoot concept: welcoming her feminine side and giving her a voice after she’d been pushed down for so many years.
We went to one of my favorite spots up in the Santa Cruz redwoods. We were truly the only ones there, and we joked that it was a “nonbinary daycation” where we could escape society together and spend precious intentional time just being ourselves without having to justify or explain ourselves. We spent about an hour wandering around the lake, frolicking among the wildflowers, and dancing to the rustling of the leaves and the birds singing.
After we wrapped up our redwoods photos, we went in a TOTALLY different direction. We drove to my favorite parking garage to shoot at, and played around with wacky props, varying between blunt and graceful poses, and styling vaguely reminiscent of preppy college boys mixed with queer staples like combat boots and a beanie. It’s frog + toad meets campy vogue shoot meets gayby (gay baby) breaking through the mold! Did I mention it was sprinkling rain the whole time?? Check it out!
It’s so hard to translate something invisible like an energy or a feeling to a photoshoot which is ALL visual. River was trying to capture how they exist in pedestrian spaces in a way that directly contrasts with and defies the spaces’ everyday-ness, and I think we totally nailed it!
That’s also how they are at their job, working for an amazing local theatre company. They work tirelessly to create a theatrical space where people of all genders, sexualities, races, abilities, etc. can feel respected and be considered for all kinds of roles!
At River’s senior showcase, they took on two iconic roles (historically played by white cisgender women) – one being Dot, who sings the title song in the musical Sunday in the Park with George (which just so happened to also be one of my songs senior year). Here’s to working toward a world where people are judged by their talent and skills, not by how people perceive them. Breaking the mold isn’t easy, but it’s the first step to making a better theatre industry, country, and world!
If you want to learn more about River, listen to their episode of The Queer Soul Spotlight podcast! We chat about their ideas for queering traditionally straight/cis roles and shows, how being visibly queer in the musical theatre industry isn’t always a positive thing for your career, owning your power, and all the different beautiful ways nonbinary people can look/sound/be.
Interested in getting involved with The Queer Soul Experience? Nominate yourself or someone else (starting June 1st 2022) and get more info HERE:
If you want to make an impact and get involved in a different way, you can donate to The Queer Soul Fund to help me give this life changing experience to three LGBTQ+ people for FREE. Be directly responsible for the widespread education about the incredibly diverse LGBTQ+ community and empower queer people to create the representation they never had – any amount helps!
Donate HERE: https://gofund.me/5fd7e9ff
Read about more Queer Soul stars HERE: jennichapmanphotography.com/blog