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“Whenever I try to focus on traditionally masculine or male parts, it’s limiting," says Atlanta actor Trevor Perry, seen here as Pythio in the recent "Head Over Heels" at Actor's Express. (Photo by Haley Varacallo)

20 by 2020: For Atlanta-based actor Trevor Perry, it’s a nonbinary world

In Head Over Heels, which closed Sunday at Actor’s Express, an oracle named Pythio threatens to take the beat out of the kingdom of Arcadia. Pythio then gives Arcadians four prophecies: If each comes true, the beat goes for good.

Trevor Perry — who uses they/them pronouns — had no problem putting on Pythio’s heels. In the 2018–19 New York run of the musical, Peppermint made history as the first transgender actor to lead a Broadway show. Pythio is written as nonbinary, which fits with who Perry is, but the story doesn’t begin there.

Atlanta actor-singer Trevor Perry

Perry was born in Roxboro (population: 8,290), a city outside Durham, North Carolina. Perry’s sisters and friends were natural performers during their growing-up years, and Perry followed along. Perry’s first big theater moment came as a journalism major at Western Carolina University. Every student had to take an appreciation class — art, music or theater. Perry chose theater and began volunteering with the theater department.

While at a department picnic, Perry was begrudgingly convinced to audition for a show, and landed a nonspeaking role. The next audition produced a leading role. More leading roles followed, as did voice lessons. “If the goal was to be a better singer, then I was a better singer,” Perry says. “If it was to be a better actor, then I became a better actor.”

Perry hit graduation burned out and mostly did regional theater in North Carolina and hung out for a few years. The first Atlanta gig came in 2008 with The Pirates of Penzance at Atlanta Lyric Theatre. Perry moved here in 2012.

Perry joined the Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus to retrain their voice and was cast in the group’s production of I Am Harvey Milk. There they met Freddie Ashley, Actor’s Express’ artistic director, and Ashley’s partner, actor Craig Waldrip.

Trevor Perry as Pythio the Oracle in “Head Over Heels” (Photo by Casey Gardner)

Perry had a song and monologue in the chorus’ next concert and was then cast as an ensemble member in Rent (2015) at Actor’s Express. “I’d sent off my headshots and resumés to every company,” Perry says, “but in this community, you have to show your face and show up for stuff.”

Doing drag came next. “Whenever I try to focus on traditionally masculine or male parts, it’s limiting,” Perry says, “because when you’re gay or queer, passing is very important. If you’re gay and you don’t look gay, then you’re good. That’s how our society works.”

Trevor Perry (far left) as an Urchin in “Little Shop of Horrors” at Actor’s Express (2017), with Brittani Minnieweather, Kylie Brown and Kiona D. Reese (Courtesy of Actor’s Express)

Perry, who inherited their grandmother’s feminine features, never had the chance to “try to pass” and felt stymied by the narrowness of potential roles. A singing competition, in which Perry could go all out, changed that.

Perry did a full drag look, with makeup and costuming, and came to terms with having a nonbinary gender identity. “I started auditioning for these female roles because that’s my truth,” Perry says, “and thank God Actor’s Express took to that. Not in an exploitive way but in a way that says, ‘We understand who you are.'”

Perry has also been seen in Theatrical Outfit’s Five Guys Named Moe (in June), Little Shop of  Horrors (Actor’s Express, 2017) and the annual Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival.

Next comes Christmas With the Crawfords (December 5–21) at Out Front Theatre Company.