Indya Moore breaks the binary in her theater debut

Indya Moore (she/her) is discovering creative freedom in small spaces. A recent streak of voiceover roles has propelled the actress into high-profile projects, and this week, she heads to New York City for her theater debut in an intimate staging of Bliss: A Collection of Commissioned Scenes and Monologues.

Moore was part of Ryan Murphy’s award-winning Pose, part of a track record of breaking through the entertainment industry’s glass ceiling. In 2019, Moore became the first transgender person to ever appear on the cover of the U.S. edition of Elle, and she voiced the first officially nonbinary character in Steven Universe Future. She has plenty more to offer, including upcoming appearances on the big and small screens and a new book.

Moore’s stage debut and performances by Murray Hill and Sara Ramírez are among the starry talent in the 2023 Breaking the Binary Theatre Festival. Her appearance on October 29 in Bliss represents growing visibility for founder George Strus’s (they/them) Breaking the Binary Theatre, which empowers trans, non-binary, and two-spirit+ (TNB2S+) artists and performers. The free week-long festival showcases dozens of artists at multiple venues throughout New York City.

INTO spoke with Moore about her stage debut, voiceover work, favorite queer artists, and upcoming memoir.

Riding onto the stage with training wheels

Indya Moore
Indya Moore. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Is there anything specific about the theater experience that connects to your trans and nonbinary identity, or certain opportunities that the medium offers that others might not?

I don’t think theater as a medium was something that connected to any particular facet of my identity more than it did create space for my ability to illuminate my experience as a human being. And I really appreciate the space that theater holds for people to do that. But there is something really special about stage work. The veil between the audience and the storyteller is much thinner and creates a more intimate experience. And the audience is more likely to empathize with whatever that story is. For trans and queer people who are storytelling using that medium, it’s a beautiful place for the audience to connect with people like us and be moved by our stories.

How did you get involved with the Breaking the Binary Festival?

Well, it was a cute, coincidental intersection. So, my friend River Gallo was already in talks to do it. And River was like, “Indya, would you ever do theater?” We were already having a conversation about an incident that happened to me, and we were talking about making it into a story and figuring out what the medium would be, and River thought it would be a really good play. And so that brought us to talking about whether I would ever do theater work. And I was like, “Yeah, I would. But, like, it has to be really good.” All theater work is meaningful and impactful. But I think, for me, it had to be something that was intimate. And River was like, “Okay, wow, that’s really good to know.” And then, literally the next day, my team reached out to me that the Breaking the Binary Theatre Festival was interested in exploring my interest in doing theater. And I thought that River had spoken to them, but they didn’t talk.

I was really nervous because information retention, particularly with remembering scripts and dialogue, requires a lot of focus, a lot of my time, and my space, and I wanted to make sure that I had enough of it to really give my full self to the story that I would be telling. So, I was nervous I wouldn’t have enough time and that my schedule wouldn’t allow for the study. And then they told me, “Don’t worry about it. You don’t have to be completely off-book.” But I was like, “Wait, like, I want the storytelling to be legible and clear and for the audience not to be distracted.” So I’m really excited and grateful to have my debut in theater sort of be with training wheels. I love everyone who’s a part of it. George Strus and L Morgan Lee have organized the festival, and they’re really incredible, very sweet, very kind, and brilliant people.

Breaking the Binary Theatre founder George Strus.
Breaking the Binary Theatre founder George Strus. Photo by McKenna Christina Poe.

You’re appearing in the final performance of the 2023 Breaking the Binary Theatre Festival, BLISS: A Collection of Commissioned Scenes and Monologues (October 29). What audiences can audiences expect?

The themes all explore belonging and the excitement of being alive and wanting to live and wanting to survive and thrive, and love and be loved. And it explores some themes of family and the sacredness of the bond between child and parent, especially for trans people, which is often portrayed through a lens of rejection. I think the best part of the various explorations of love, family, and belonging is that they examine topics through experiences that aren’t binary and aren’t as simple as “man” or “woman.” Also, there are some sci-fi elements and some really deep, beautiful, imaginative elements that are abstract and creative. So, it’s nice to see trans people be a part of that.

The theater space hasn’t always been the most open to TNB2S+ people. How does it feel to be in this position where you’re able to take part in something that’s so queer-driven, run by the queer community, and focused on those trans identities that have sometimes been in the background of these spaces?

The cast of "Paradise: An Interdisciplinary Review."
The cast of “Paradise: An Interdisciplinary Review.” Photo by McKenna Christina Poe.

I really appreciate it. It’s my first time doing theater. I went to a musical theater high school, and I still hadn’t gotten the opportunity to do theater there. So, this is my first real stage debut in my entire life. To have an introduction where I’m walking into a space and being welcomed by peers of shared experience in such an intimate way means a lot to me, and I feel safe. I feel seen, and I feel really welcomed, and I’m grateful for that. I feel really good about stepping into the space. And I hope people enjoy the stories.

I feel like for trans and queer people, often when telling stories about our identities, it almost feels like we’re telling stories for cis people, where we’re in imparting ourselves for the consumption of cis people because we want to be understood and want to be accepted. I appreciate that these stories are a mix of narratives and experiences for everybody to receive.

Is there a particular audience response that you hope for from your performance?

I hope that I can deliver in the ways that the writers envision my embodiment of the characters, that the audience can really receive the writers’ message, and that they can relate to how the story’s characters highlight my humanity and vice versa. I envision it as sort of a relationship.

Indya Moore on finding her voice

You’ve spoken in the past about some of the struggles in your youth and how those are related to your identity, and it feels like you’ve really come a long way from then. You’ve had a remarkably busy 2023, including voiceovers for the animated projects Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur and Nimona. You’re also appearing in the upcoming Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. Can you share more about your journey and how it feels to have come to this point where you’re in these huge projects?

I’m beyond grateful to be included. And, you know, to give myself to these stories, it means a lot for me to have that opportunity, and there’s so much power in these stories. In my career, I’ve always said that I want to tell stories that explore the intimacy of people’s human experiences across various identities and circumstances. My goal is to use storytelling as a medium for people to be moved into having more compassion for others. I always want the stories I tell to be a part of that.

The projects I have worked on or will be filming soon revolve around empathy and the complexities of liberation. And it may go over people’s heads because some people are so focused on the action or the looks; I hope that people can experience the nuances of people’s core desire, to see freedom, to feel love, or to have the space to experience grief. Also, I think grief is a thing that brings people together and is a portal for learning about relationships. That’s something that the Breaking the Binary Festival explores a lot. It’s something that my future projects explore as well in different ways.

You’ve been doing a lot of voice acting recently with Nimona, etc. I imagine some post-filming studio recording with your Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom character, Karshon, as that’s a shark in the original comic. How does it feel to be in the recording booth for those sorts of things?

Voice acting can be really fun. It’s acting in the same ways, where you’re bringing light to a character. And I think growing up, there was always so much emphasis around voices for trans people, particularly because our society genders voice, and pitch, and things like that. So, it’s affirming to be invited to share my voice. I also am aware that it’s easier for people to invite me to use my voice because the pitch of my voice may be more acceptable for people who have more binary understandings of what a woman should sound like or what a man should sound like.

I hope to see more trans people and voice acting and doing voice acting more without it being connected to harmful tropes. But I also just appreciate it. I love being a part of voice acting and being invited to do it. And I like the behind-the-scenes feel of voice acting. I think I’ve also been resting a lot from film and TV. I’ve been healing a lot and growing a lot. And I think voice acting has been a refreshing way to ease back into performance work.

Indya Moore’s Upcoming Projects

I have a question about a possible future performance that I am 90% sure you can’t answer. But I’m going to ask anyway. You were seen on the set for Sandman season 2. Fans have been having a lot of theories about it. Can you confirm your casting in the show potentially as Wanda?

I love the way that anticipation and excitement encourage some of my best work.

Can you give us any teasers on projects you might have on the horizon beyond 2023?

I’m writing a memoir. I have been for a little over a year now. I’m excited to share it. There are a lot of people telling their stories right now. And I feel insecure about crowding that sometimes. But I also don’t think that just because I wrote my memoir, people need to buy it right then and there. But I am excited for people to have a window into my life and more context to my experiences and what my survival has looked like.

My hope in telling my story is that it moves people with particular prejudices about trans youth. I was a trans youth, and a difference between my experience and being a trans youth now (and a lot of other people’s experiences being trans youth who have medically transitioned) is that I didn’t have any affirmation or support from my parents to begin medically transitioning. And I had to run away, and I ended up in harm’s way and began my transition using black market hormones. And I was solicited into sex work as a teenager. And these are all things I did in an environment where gender-affirming care was restricted from my access. It goes to show that trans youth are going to be trans, regardless of whether you restrict their access to gender-affirming care that is lifesaving and essential to those who need it. People would have these kids put themselves in harm’s way and risk so much to be themselves when they could allow them access to this essential and affirming care.

Who has championed your work and helped you find a place in the industry?

Steven Canals and Janet Mock have been encouraging, protective, and kind to me. They inspired so much of my perseverance and my journey and helped me understand the importance of reserving my energy, my restraint, and my thoughtfulness before I make decisions. I’m grateful for their patience and the care that they took to teach me those qualities because I’ve never really had that. I’ve always just sort of dealt with people who are frustrated because I didn’t fit their expectations right away. Ryan Murphy also played a role in my ability to learn as well. And I’m grateful for that, and I always will be.

Through the experience people have had with working with trans people and Black trans people, I hope that they were able to learn as well. The world of art is very emotional. It’s very intimate. Things can become intense quickly because there’s so much on the line. There is so much regarding livelihood, reputation, identity, access, and visibility. All of these things are, I think, so tender for trans people right now, especially in this climate. And so I’m hoping that there is grace, learning, understanding, and compassion for some ways that trans people are looking to persevere.

Conversely, is there an  LGBTQ+ figure you think deserves more attention than they currently get?

All trans and queer people deserve more attention than we’re getting and more positive and loving attention. I also think that trans and queer people who aren’t necessarily actors, models, and stuff like that deserve so much more attention. I really would like to see people have more of a focus on intersex artists and the representation of intersex people. Like Pidgeon Pagonis and River Gallo, for example.

Also, Kara Roselles is a queer Afro-Indigenous artist who is a brilliant writer and just a beautiful person. She’s doing really incredible work for the Chappaquiddick Wampanoag tribe that she belongs to. I would love to see more dialogue around the recognition of her tribe.

Adrienne Marie Brown is doing really incredible work. I think Dominique Jackson and Angelica Ross are beautiful, powerful women. I wish I saw more in fashion. And I hope to see Hallie Sahar in more films and TV. And Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, I’m excited to see more of the work that she’s doing.

I’m excited to see Hunter Schafer in more things and think Hunter Schafer is a brilliant artist who I think is one of the most impactful actors of our generation. And I want to see more from Eva Reign. I want to see Eva Reign in all the things. She is a brilliant film and television actress and writer who created a documentary called Anything’s Possible. Toni-Michelle Williams is also a brilliant artist and organizer. She’s done so much work and brought joy to my life and the world. Gia Love is an incredible model. And I want to uplift our trans brothers, you know, I want to see more of them represented.♦

Breaking the Binary Theatre Festival runs through October 29 at various venues throughout New York City.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Featured photo by John Phillips/amfAR/Getty Images for amfAR.

Don't forget to share:

Tags: Indya Moore
Read More in The INTO Interview
The Latest on INTO