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Out in the 1800s

Bisexual actor Blake Jackson plays Hänschen in TUTS’ 'Spring Awakening.'

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Finding Himself: Blake Jackson, who play sexually-confused Hänschen, says he learned to understand his own sexuality through portraying various LGBTQ characters.

Blake Jackson plays Hänschen, a gayest-and-greatest sort of character in Spring Awakening, when Theatre Under The Stars (TUTS) performs the Tony Award-winning rock musical October 8–20 at the Hobby Center.

The show follows a group of sexually confused, frustrated adolescents in late 19th-century Germany as they mount their wobbly climb into puberty.

“Out of all the students, Hänschen is the most sure of himself,” says Jackson, a Montrose resident who identifies as bisexual. Almost from the start, the audience sees that Hänschen is out (in the 1800s!) when he drools that another boy “looks so nasty in those khakis.”

“I wouldn’t say that Hänschen is a leader, but he’s figured out what works for him,” explains Jackson. His shy, sweet classmate Ernst Röbel listens in awe as Hänschen explains how to navigate life like “a pail of whole milk”: don’t fret and spill the milk, just skim off the cream. “Come, cream away the bliss,” he sings to Ernst. 

All teenagers think they invented sex, but perhaps this group especially because their parents still talked to them about storks bringing babies. The boys’ pent-up hormonal energies come to a head in a raucous rocker called “The Bitch of Living.”

“I remember the first time I heard it,” says Jackson, who is 25. “My freshman year [at Tomball High School], I walked into the theater room and the music was blasting. It was unlike any musical I had ever heard. It wasn’t Rodgers and Hammerstein that you can play on the piano; it was almost like Green Day. It blew my mind. I loved it.”

Jackson grew up in Tomball identifying as a heterosexual cisgender male. “I was more like Ernst than Hänschen. I was always pretty quiet and meek,” he says. “I have been fortunate to play a number of gender-nonconforming roles that have made me more comfortable about exploring my internal sense of self.”

At Sam Houston State University, where he graduated with a bachelor of fine arts degree in musical theater in 2017, Jackson was cast as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, the sweet transvestite from transsexual Transylvania. “Playing a part outside my wheelhouse, I got to step away from myself and examine how much weight you should give to different aspects of your identity.”

His senior year of college, Jackson played transgender punk-rocker Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch at Obsidian Theatre in the Heights. The next summer, he reprised the role when the production moved to Rich’s nightclub for several weekends.

“That is the most important show I’ve ever done,” he says. “There were still pieces of my puzzle that I didn’t know were there, and I realized there was more to examine about myself to become fully formed. I know so many people who, because of religion or because their family is very conservative or whatever, know nothing about the hallmarks of healthy physical and mental sexuality. The building blocks are just not there.”

A role that Jackson hasn’t played, but would like to, is Charlie Price in the Broadway musical Kinky Boots; he’s a cisgender male who reluctantly teams with a drag queen to save his late father’s shoe factory, Price & Son, in working-class Northamptonshire, England.

Jackson, who is making his TUTS debut as Hänschen, has played Orin in Little Shop of Horrors, “Hand Some” in Panto Star Force, Don Price in Big Fish, and several roles in Who Am I This Time? And Other Conundrums of Love at Stages Repertory Theatre. He also portrayed Frank Gardner in Mrs. Warren’s Profession at Classical Theatre Company.

What: Spring Awakening presented by Theatre Under The Stars
When: October 8–20
Where: Hobby Center
Tickets: tuts.com/boxoffice

This article appears in the October 2019 edition of OutSmart magazine.

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Don Maines

Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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