- Associated Press - Thursday, May 19, 2016

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - It’s unlikely an opera has been performed inside North Carolina’s Legislative Building, let alone one where the performance’s lead character is a transgender man.

But when legislators inside the building passed a law in March directing which public restrooms transgender people can use and limiting local LGBT anti-discrimination ordinances, the former North Carolina residents who wrote the “The Body Politic” knew where it should be sung next.

Songwriters Leo Hurley and Charles Osborne brought a stripped-down version of the show to the building’s auditorium Thursday. After its premier two weekends ago in Boston, where a group that helps young composers commissioned the opera, the team decided to return to North Carolina.

“The whole goal of this piece was to break down barriers between people in our own communities and foster better understanding through storytelling,” Osborne said in an interview. “So, we’re like, why don’t we go where it’s needed most right now - the North Carolina General Assembly?”

The story is about an Afghan transgender man who leaves his country to escape the war there and ends up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Other characters include a drag queen, conservative widow of a war veteran and the transgender man’s mother, creating an eclectic array of musical styles for the opera.

Osborne, who grew up in Charlotte, wants repealed the law known as House Bill 2, which cleared the Republican-controlled legislature and was signed by Gov. Pat McCrory on March 23.

“We can’t pass laws about people without listening to their needs first,” said Osborne, the opera’s librettist. He and Hurley are alumni of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem.

Osborne and Hurley invited all members of the General Assembly and McCrory to attend. While more than 60 people attended the performance, only one legislator could be seen in the crowd - the General Assembly wrapped up their formal work week Thursday morning - and some staff members. McCrory was at the North Carolina coast Thursday afternoon at a groundbreaking ceremony.

Democratic Rep. Verla Insko of Chapel Hill, among those in the crowd who gave the performers a standing ovation, said the cast still offered a compelling message through song that moves the discussion along about LGBT issues, she said.

“To me this was part of the conversation, and we are in a long conversation so that we can all understand transgender issues,” said Insko, who voted against House Bill 2.

Hurley and Osborne, who now lives in New York, raised more than $3,000 online to take the show on the road. Except for a few props, like a head scarf and baseball cap, the stage was stark except for music stands and the performers.

“This is not a protest,” Osborne told the crowd as the show began, “this is civil discourse through art.”


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