One Of America’s Longest-Running Children’s Theatres Casts Drag-Obsessed Man As Wicked Witch

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Kids and parents filled one of America’s oldest continuously operating children’s theatres last weekend for a professional performance of the classic “The Wizard of Oz” — only this showing of L. Frank Baum’s 1900 children’s fantasy contained a spin: a man in drag.

As play-goers waited patiently for the performance to start, young children voiced their excitement, especially about seeing the Wicked Witch of the West on stage.

“I heard she flies on a broom,” one girl excitedly told her mother moments before the play began.

To the audience’s delight, the Wicked Witch soon appeared on stage, dressed in green with a broom in hand, but this Wicked Witch wasn’t the conventional character seen in the beloved children’s story. At the Nashville Children’s Theatre (NCT), the Wicked Witch was played by a drag-obsessed male actor in a dress, and some parents were not entertained.

“I never once ever thought, ‘You know what, maybe I should prescreen this play before I take my children to a children’s theatre,’” Kelley Judd, a Nashville-area homeschool mom, told The Daily Wire after she attended a previous showing of NCT’s “The Wizard of Oz.”

Judd explained that the children around her in the audience, including her daughter, reacted immediately after actor James Rudolph appeared on stage for the first time. “That’s a man! That’s a man!” they shouted.

Executive Artistic Director Ernie Nolan — an award-winning playwright, director, and choreographer — cast James Rudolph as the Wicked Witch for the play geared toward elementary school audiences, telling The Daily Wire that Rudolph was the best fit for the role.

“We cast what we felt was the best actor in a role for our play. We had someone who we thought could do a fantastic job, he’s a fantastic actor, and we cast an actor in a role,” Nolan said.

Rudolph wore a form-fitting green dress, stilettos, and matching lipstick throughout the play, and some parents were appalled at what they saw as a push to normalize drag at a children’s theatre.

Nolan pushed back on any suspicions that NCT had a political agenda in its “Wizard of Oz” performance. He referenced British pantomime, ballet, and opera that “are presented to young people that use gender-blind casting.”

“We made our decision based on theatrical tradition and theatricality for the world that we had. That’s really what we were focused on at the time we were creating our play,” Nolan added.

Rudolph has been a professional performer for 15 years, according to his bio on the NCT website complete with “he/him” pronouns next to his name. The actor is also a teaching artist at NCT, helping young children explore acting at the theatre’s drama school that offers in-person day-long camps throughout the year. 

But what’s not advertised under Rudolph’s bio on NCT’s website is that he also hosts a profanity-laced podcast called “Gettin’ 2 The Drag,” a “drag queen read-view show” that Rudolph and two other hosts dedicate to analyzing “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” The description for the show’s latest episode reads, “60’s girl group challenge got us feeling supreme. Join the gang as they review RuPaul’s Drag Race, Season 14, Episode 8!”

The play’s director informed The Daily Wire that Rudolph hosting a drag queen podcast “didn’t have any influence” over his decision to cast Rudolph as the Wicked Witch. But casting a man in a dress isn’t the only way NCT has pushed boundaries on gender and sexuality.

A quick read through NCT’s drama school web page reveals that the children’s theatre has fully bought into radical gender theory. NCT dedicates over 600 words on its website to “LGBTQ+ Support,” which states that “Students are allowed to use the bathroom that best matches their gender identity.”

NCT also says students may change their preferred pronouns or name during class sessions, and the theatre promises not to inform parents if their child uses a different gender identity if the parents don’t know or approve of their child making that decision.

“[I]f a student confides in us that they are not ‘out’ at home, we will protect a student’s confidentiality and use the names and pronouns that were listed on the student’s registration when communicating to grown-ups, but use the preferred names and pronouns during class/camp,” the website states.

The performance was one of many showings of Dorothy and her fun-loving dog Toto running from November 17 through December 23 at the downtown Nashville theatre that has been in operation since 1931. Judd, who attended the play with a group called the Nashville Homeschool Calendar, praised the theatre for its past showings of classic plays for children that the homeschool group always looked forward to.

Nashville Homeschool Calendar leader Jennifer Chavez organizes the group’s field trips, and she also had high praise for the theatre’s past plays, but after hearing from parents like Judd who attended the performance, Chavez had other thoughts on NCT.

“Nashville Children’s Theatre is a location we have been going to for 10-plus years,” Chavez told The Daily Wire. “Over the last several years, they’ve started to get a little more liberal, but not to the extent of what happened at ‘The Wizard of Oz.’”

Chavez added that she’s heartbroken that NCT appears to be moving in a direction that normalizes radical gender theory, even in plays aimed at young children. The Nashville Homeschool Calendar planned on attending two more shows in the spring of 2023, but the group pulled their tickets after attending “The Wizard of Oz.”

“It’s very sad because for so long we couldn’t go with COVID, and it’s always been just a really well-loved fun location. They’ve done really great shows. Most of the time, they’re literature-based, and they’re just good, clean, and pure shows for our youth, and as time goes on, those things just seem to be harder and harder to find,” Chavez remarked.

The Nashville Homeschool Calendar said it will not be sending groups to the theatre after attending “The Wizard of Oz.” Judd said she called the theatre after seeing the performance and voiced her concerns, but she was disappointed with NCT’s response.

“I felt like my opinion was falling on deaf ears because they didn’t care,” she commented. “It was almost as if [they said] ‘haha got you.’ That’s how I felt.”

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