A new theater company asks 'what if?' 

Inching Forward

It wouldn't be a rock 'n' roll musical without a rock 'n' roll band

Kaitlyn Iserman

It wouldn't be a rock 'n' roll musical without a rock 'n' roll band

What if you wanted to leave a mark on Charleston? What if a culmination of years of experience and connections combined to make it happen? That's exactly how What If? Productions came to be. Kyle Barnette asked those questions, found some talented folks, and this weekend the dream will come together for the company's production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

For anyone familiar with the musical or film, you know the cult classic rock musical isn't exactly family-friendly. Actor Brian Porter, another key player in the development of What If?, found his inner woman playing the lead role of Hedwig, a German man who falls in love with an American GI and assumes his mother's identity so that he can move to the States. In the process, he receives a botched sex-change operation (which is where the "angry inch" comes into play).

Through quite a few challenges, Hedwig continues to search for her identity, and for love.

"Yes, it is about a transgender sex change," Porter says. "But really, Hedwig realizes, 'This is what I've got to work with,' and does, like everyone else."

For Porter, this transgender role is like playing dress-up. He has the opportunity to "put her skin on" and he's learned that she "simply wants recognition. She's wounded and hurt."

This show may stir up some controversy, but Porter says the music and overall message may surprise anyone with an open mind. "She changed her gender, not who she was," Porter says. "It didn't define her."

Just as Hedwig searches to define herself, Barnette and Porter were looking for a way to make a splash on the Charleston theater scene. "I've worked at theaters all over, but this was my ultimate goal, to develop my own company," says Barnette, who also works as the Charleston Ballet Theatre's administrative director. His passion is to make a mark on Charleston and showcase contemporary theater. Barnette's connections and past experiences mean he already has a list of potential shows after Hedwig.

"I don't want this to be a closed group," Barnette says. "We don't know where we're going next. We want to involve our own works as well as acts and theater events from around the country."

From the beginning, this concept was about taking chances. The company's name was inspired by constant conversations between Barnette and Porter asking, "What if we did this?"

"I want to contribute in my own way by making the arts better and standing out with a big flash," Barnette says, noting that his intention is not to compete with the big dogs in the city. It's about finding their own niche. Hedwig and the Angry Inch, with a mix of rock 'n' roll and stand-up by Hedwig herself, is the "flash" Barnette believes What If? Productions needs.

Hedwig lives every day like it's a major production, and that's exactly what the What If? debut will be. Bizarro Burlesque dancers will provide pre-show entertainment while guests get gussied up at a makeup bar provided by Allure Salon. We're also told a German bouncer will keep everyone in line before the show.

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