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Trace Lysette’s “Monica” premieres across her home state of Ohio

"Monica" promotional poster
"Monica" promotional poster

The film MONICA premieres Friday, June 2 at the Little Art Theatre in Yellow Springs. The family drama — parts of which were shot in Ohio — follows a transgender woman returning home to the midwest to care for her ailing mother whom she hasn’t seen in years.

It’s getting rave reviews and the film’s lead actor Trace Lysette grew up in Southwest Ohio.

WYSO Reporter Chris Welter spoke with Lysette about the film and her Midwestern roots.

Transcript (edited lightly for length and clarity)

Chris Welter: Trace, you've lived away from the Miami Valley for a while now. But before you moved, I know you were involved in the drag show scene here in Dayton. What was it like before you left?

Trace Lysette: Yes, absolutely. Oh, my goodness. That brings back so many good memories of 1470 West on Jefferson Street in downtown Dayton. I had a fake I.D and I was going there as a teenager, seeing the drag queens. They were the pillars of the nightlife community and they kept those clubs up and running and packed with crowds every weekend.

There was also a little club: like an old, rundown house that was on South Main. It was called Reflections. You would walk in and there were just chairs everywhere. I think you could order, like drinks, maybe wings and catch a drag show. It felt like a living room [laughter]. Then Celebrities was on North Main.

Between those three places, I think that was my introduction to not only entertainment, but womanhood.

Chris: So given that Trace, when you hear about laws all over the country that are being talked about and being passed in some places that are looking to outlaw or ban drag performing, what's your reaction to that?

Trace: It's disheartening. I don't think any of the hate is new. I think after a certain point in time, I've gone through the phases of anger. There were times in my life when I was extremely active and I was protesting all the time and tweeting about whatever legislation–that is so necessary and we have to do it.

I feel like at this point in time, I've needed to check out a little bit from each individual bill that's being introduced and focus on art that I can get out to the world that can create change in its own way because it makes me so upset to think about turning drag into a crime or trying to eradicate trans people. It's exhausting. It's the same mentality that I experienced from the bullies on the playground when I was five years old. It's the same mentality that we hear being spewed from the mouths of ignorant comedians. It's the same mentality we hear being shouted out from disgusting politicians.

Chris: Parts of MONICA were filmed in Ohio, which is where you're from. Your character in the film is also returning home to where she is from. What was that like as an actor?

Trace: It was crazy. It was really beautiful and I had a deeper appreciation for Southwest Ohio shooting in Cincinnati and even one scene in Dayton–the hotel scene.

It was a beautiful full-circle moment for me, especially because we had a local crew and they were also wonderful. We had a good time.

I definitely thought about that a lot when I was trying to figure out the emotion in a lot of those scenes. It was a parallel that was really obvious.

Chris: So I've heard you talk in other interviews about what you want to see next in your career and in Hollywood in general when it comes to transgender actors and the kind of roles they get. So, what do you hope is next for you and what do you hope to see in Hollywood?

Trace: Well, I think that's not really a question for me. That's a question for Hollywood and these big executives that call the shots. I would love it if they didn't limit us to just trans roles. I've been saying my entire career. I've been saying don't box us in. I think that every minority's plea is just please don't box us in, have open casting off of a person's essence.

I'm a leading lady and I can play many, many, many things. I've only gotten the shot to play a few things. So you don't know the full breadth of what I'm capable of and I'm sure that's a tale as old as time when it comes to marginalized folks in Hollywood. So it's really about asking the people in power, what are they going to do? How are they going to fix this in a systematic way?

Chris Welter is the Managing Editor at The Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.

Chris got his start in radio in 2017 when he completed a six-month training at the Center for Community Voices. Most recently, he worked as a substitute host and the Environment Reporter at WYSO.