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N.C. general assembly gets musical

Leo Hurley, one of the writers for “The Body Politic,” will present his show to the N.C. General Assembly on May 19 (courtesy of Scott Bump).

Leo Hurley, one of the writers for “The Body Politic,” will present his show to the N.C. General Assembly on May 19 (courtesy of Scott Bump).

Osborne said the intentions of performing "The Body Politic," an opera about a transgender man migrating to North Carolina from Afghanistan, is to further discussion about House Bill 2.

“The goal is to show how, despite perceived differences, we’re all one human race at the end of the day,” he said.

Although it recently debuted this month, “The Body Politic” has been a long time in the making for Hurley, who started writing it eight years ago.

“I loved the idea of a transgender character from the Ancient Greek poem ‘Metamorphoses,’ but I wanted to update it to modern times,” he said.

After learning about bacha posh — a practice used by some Afghan families in which they raise their daughters as boys to further their girls’ chances of getting an education — Hurley changed the story to surround an Afghan transgender male coming to Chapel Hill in the midst of the Afghan war.

“It just humanized the whole conflict for me,” Osborne said. “I think we’ve sort of conditioned ourselves since 9/11 to see that part of the world, particularly Afghanistan, as just being messed up and that they are not like us.”

Although its main setting is in North Carolina, “The Body Politic” was not originally intended to be performed there. After debuting in Boston with the city’s Juventas New Music Ensemble, Hurley and Osborne planned to take the show straight to New York — but the passing of HB2 changed their plans.

“Here we have a bill that has transgender discrimination under the argument of protecting the rights of private businesses,” Osborne said. “We have a show about transgender discrimination in North Carolina where the argument is ‘This is our private house.’”

Hurley said the decision to go back to their native state was a quick and relatively easy one.

“Within a couple of days, we were like it’s just the obvious thing to do,” he said. “We filled out an application, and were approved very quickly to use the auditorium on the third floor of the General Assembly building.”

They didn’t make the trip without help — the two set up a GoFundMe page to get them and their performers to Raleigh that has raised more than $3,000. They also received support from N.C. legislators, despite having opposing views on the bill.

“It’s wonderful to live in a community where, even though we may not be passing laws that benefit everyone, we are able to have a space for civil discourse,” Hurley said.

Graduate music professor Andrea Bohlman said she thinks “The Body Politic” performance at the State Capitol is a great way to spark discussion.

“I think any show, or live performance, that happens in real time as a public performance creates a space where developing conversations and opinions around that product is shared in a communal way — it facilitates complex conversation,” she said.

Although they are presenting the opera in a political space, neither Hurley nor Osborne see it as an act of government protest.

“We have people wondering, ‘Are you activists now?’” Osborne said. “No, we’re just citizens who haven’t given up on our government — citizens who want to use our art to make the world a better place.”

Hurley said he doesn’t think their purpose at the Capitol differs much from that of state legislators.

“We are doing what hopefully legislators are doing by having conversations about the issue,” he said. “Ours are just with tunes you can hum.”

Osborne said he hopes the conversations surrounding the show’s issues won’t end when its performance does.

“The experience of the show doesn’t end when the curtain falls — that’s the beginning,” Osborne said. “The second half is when you go home and take in what you’ve just seen.”

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Osborne said he hopes his opera will leave a lasting impact that goes beyond House Bill 2’s repeal.

“Lasting change starts from within, which sounds so dopey, but it’s not,” he said.

“If we’re gonna stop discriminatory laws from being passed, we have to stop the discrimination from where it starts — which we can do by humanizing those who have been treated otherwise.”