For director Jeremy Dumont and actor Kyle Igneczi, ‘Hedwig & the Angry Inch’ taught them lessons about learning to let go
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Executive Editor
The premise of Hedwig and the Angry Inch is so provocative — “a rock musical about a transgender German punk singer who has a botched transition surgery” — that it might seem like an Us vs. Them show: You either are intrigued and wanna see it, or the idea puts you off entirely. But the genius of the musical is that there is more depth to it than a brief summary can convey.
For Jeremy Dumont, who is directing Uptown Players’ production now at the Kalita, Hedwig’s failed surgery is a metaphor for her relationships … and asks much deeper questions about identity and the nature of love.
“I have a very personal connection to Hedwig — I feel like I’ve gone full circle,” says Dumont. “I was first introduced to it by my ex-boyfriend, Dan — it was one of his favorite shows and I found out I was gonna direct it while we were still together. Flash forward — we ended up breaking up. [That’s when] the story and the message of the show really rang so true to my life at the moment. It’s a very complicated story and there are so many different layers. What does it mean to be whole? If I’m not with someone — specifically my ex — what does it mean to be who I am?”
It’s been an important step for Dumont’s own career and personal development at many levels. Already a well-regarded actor and choreographer, Hedwig marks his debut as an “adult” director (he’s previously directed several children’s theater shows at Casa Manana).
“I couldn’t have asked for a better show to direct,” he says. “I went through this identity crisis this year, and one of the things that had kept me going and staying positive was working on this show. It’s been a very healing process.”
Even more than dealing with ex-boyfriends, Dumont says he’s explained to his cast — Kyle Igneczi as Hedwig and Grace Neeley as Yitzak — that “the story is ultimately about what we do in order to move on. You can be angry about something and sit there and be bitter, but eventually that is only gonna get you so far. In order to go to the next thing — to get to the next place — you’re gonna have to let go.”
“Letting go” was definitely one of the hurdles for Igneczi. He had never even attended a drag show prior to auditioning for the role of the transgender singer who has a nervous breakdown onstage while performing a small concert across the street from her ex, a world-famous rocker mounting a sell-out arena show.
“This is definitely a far cry from the time I spent with Sesame Street Live!” Igneczi says with mock understatement. “To be completely honest, I never in a million years thought [I would be cast]. But I’m one of those fools who loves to audition.” To get into the spirit of the show, he even took the step of rifling through his girlfriend’s wardrobe, trying on various looks to see how convincing he would be as a trans woman.
“My girlfriend came home to all of her clothes strewn across the room,” Igneczi notes. “She actually still won’t wear a pair of pants I tried on again because she said I looked better in them than she did.”
Once he was cast, transforming into Hedwig was its own slow process. “I went over to Coy Covington’s house — he taught me some secrets, from different kinds of glitter to different kinds of foundation, each way adding that extra level of pizzazz.” They then did several practice sessions with makeup to test various looks. But the real work was emotional.
Dumont says Igneczi impressed him with his protean ability to get into the character so quickly.
“He is a straight male, and a straight man’s idea of drag queen and gay man’s are very different,” Dumont says. “When he walked in to the audition, he was playing a drag queen — bright and bubbly and honest … the hostess role. But I told him I wanted to see a real person. We need to exist in the place of realness. The minute we ran the scenes again, he immediately delivered a real down-to-earth person.”
“There were nights in the process of my emotions getting away from me,” Igneczi adds. “Reconnecting emotionally with a piece like this, finding those emotional footholds that I know have been there but I rarely access [has been difficult]. But we’ve all experienced loss and hardship and had to learn to move on. The universality of the [story] speaks to me.” Still, he says, every moment until opening night leaves him “equal parts ecstatic and terrified.”
Dumont has confidence enough for himself and Igneczi, as well as with the show. It’s a question of acceptance.
“You can grow once you’re at peace with yourself,” Dumont says. “That’s for me the heart of Hedwig.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 28, 2015.