It’s easy to lose your way in Hollywood
That’s especially true for someone who already faces challenges finding a way – anywhere – to be their authentic self.
“Wink,” a new play by Neil Koenigsberg currently onstage in a West Coast Premiere at the Zephyr Theatre, explores that experience.
It’s a story of the unlikely friendship that develops between the title character (Andrik Ochoa) – a homeless, gender-questioning teenager – and a former A-list actor (David Mingrino) who is now doing B movies. Both down on their luck in Los Angeles, these two souls are connected by a synchronistic meeting. They quickly bond over music, art, and life’s unexpected misfortunes; together, they learn that sometimes the best way forward is to stop fighting the past.
Playwright Koenigsberg says, “Volunteering at a New York LGBTQ center for homeless youth was a transformative experience for me. It became the inspiration for ‘Wink.’ I wanted to tell a story about a non-binary kid, about the unexpected connections that happen in life and how it can forever change us.”
For Andrik Ochoa, the non-binary actor who plays the title character, “Wink” is a role that feels very close to home.
“There are so many aspects we share,” they say. “We are both alone in a big world and thrown into chaos that we don’t fully understand. We get impressed by values and character, not titles or money. Both of us have been outcast, away from family and home, embracing and fighting for our true masculine and feminine selves even when the world may never understand.”
“I wish I had Wink’s innocence, such an open heart,” they add. “At some point I was like that too, but now the only people I open my heart to fully are the characters that I play. If I’m hurt or feeling joy, no one really knows. Maybe by the end of the run I’ll learn from Wink to open up a little more.”
Ochoa says it wasn’t always easy to navigate gender identity in their work. They recall participating in an acting workshop with some of the cast of “Transparent” while still living as a transgender man.
“This was before I was non-binary and I was still finding myself. It was a dark time in my life and I was surviving. It was difficult facing the fact that I wasn’t really as happy as I thought, as a trans man, and my most important relationships were falling apart.”
The experience was transformative on both a personal and professional level. A few days after the workshop, Ochoa was contacted by the “Transparent” producers, who invited them to play a small role on the show.
“Turns out, I couldn’t take the part,” they say, “because I had not gotten my working permit yet. I was very sad, but it didn’t matter because I knew I had what it takes, beyond my years of drama school and training. Now I was able to understand my emotions like never before and that was a big change to my advantage. I just needed to keep moving forward.”
As a non-binary performer, Ochoa says they have found people in the industry open to evolving around matters of gender identity.
“So far, most people seem excited about it,” they say. “My agents, even though they didn’t know much about non-binary or the gender umbrella, were extremely interested and eager to learn. They were not sure how to promote me. Finally, they said, with a smile on their faces, ‘we should present you as yourself.’
Even so, there are challenges.
“My biggest challenge, since returning to acting after finding myself, is signing up for auditions on casting websites. They require the submitter to choose if they are male or female. That has been an issue for me, and for them, because I can and want to play both.”
They add, with a chuckle, “On some websites I signed up as male and others as female.”
They continue, “People ask me if I mind playing female characters or if I find it traumatizing. Not at all traumatizing, ever since femininity is not a prison for me anymore, I feel like I can portray feminine characters with more love, freedom and acceptance than I ever could have before. It’s crazy and it’s beautiful.”
As for the inclusion of characters with non-traditional gender identities in Hollywood’s narrative content, Ochoa says they see progress.
“Maybe not as much right now, but I definitely see it coming in the near future. People around the world are craving honest and diverse characters. Audiences want to experience real life, they want to see themselves, and Hollywood is maybe ready to deliver now that there is so much positive feedback for other non-binary artists such as Asia Kate Dillon, Liv Hewson, Bex Taylor-Klaus, Jill Soloway, Kaitlyn Alexander, and others.”
They add, “I am expecting the major streaming networks to come up with something like “Wink,” and I’m optimistic that they’ll start talking more and more about Trans, Non-Binary and all the different gender identities.”
The future may be bright, but for the moment, Ochoa is happy enough to be involved with “Wink.”
“It’s because of the message it gives to people,” they say. “If we all get to know what every day of our enemy’s lives have been like, we could not hate them anymore, only understand why they are who they are. People are tempted to think non-binary individuals are confused, I’ve been a female and a male and now I know exactly who I am. I am true. This need to classify people so we can treat them better or worse is just a social construct suffocating human nature. WINK strives to get to the very core of this.”
“And I love that.”
“WINK” continues at the Zephyr Theatre (7456 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90046), 8pm Saturdays & Mondays, 3pm Sundays through January 13, 2019. Added performances on Fridays Dec 21, 28, and Jan 11, 2019, no performance on Mondays December 24 & December 31, 2018.
For reservations online www.Plays411.com/Wink or call (323) 960-1055