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NUNN ON ONE: THEATER Dani Shay soldiers on in 'Albert Cashier'
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times

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The CiviliTy of Albert Cashier is a bold and timely new show opening Sept. 6 at Stage 773.

It is a musical set during the Civil War by GLAAD-nominated writer and Chicagoan Jay Paul Deratany. Albert Cashier was a soldier who was born Jennifer Hodgers. When this is discovered, an uproar from the small, Illinois community really hits home.

Deratany and director Keaton Wooden worked with trans composer Joe Stevens to bring the music to life.

Dani Shay plays the young Albert throughout the show. Many may know Shay from appearances on America's Got Talent and The Glee Project 2. After a recent public workshop of the piece, Shay sat down to talk about the production.

Windy City Times: Where are you from originally?

Dani Shay: Originally from Orlando, Florida. I went up to New York a bit, then came to L.A.; that is where I am currently stationed.

WCT: Were you always singing growing up?

DS: Always, from the time I was really small. I have a distinct memory of being nine and it clicked for me that it was what I wanted to do. I later discovered acting, and writing my own music. It all came together.

WCT: How do you identify and what pronouns do you prefer?

DS: I identify as non-binary, but I am trans. The pronoun thing is a new journey for me. I actually am okay with all of them. I really like he and they. I enjoy when people say 'they" because it is them acknowledging my ambiguity. It is nice to hear "he" as well.

For some FTM, "she" can feel very bad, it doesn't feel wrong, however I do prefer male titles. I don't like miss, ma'am, lady, or girl. I do prefer sir, mister, dude, and boy. If someone says, "Good job, bro," that is all nice.

WCT: Is your name Dani?

DS: Dani is the name a nephew gave me. I have never publicly shared the story, but I will be happy to share it with you.

I was given the name Shannon. I don't mind that name. I actually like that name. I think it is interesting that my parents gave me an androgynous name. It can be used for boys or girls.

When I was deciding to be a public performer, I really wanted to have an alias. My nephew was about two years old when I was coming up with this name. He couldn't pronounce the S-H sound. My family always called me Shani as a nickname. He would say "Dani" so that is how I got my name. It just clicked. Dani is me. People called me Dani before I could explain my gender identity.

WCT: Was your family always accepting?

DS: I was raised in the Mormon Church. Thankfully I have more accepting parents than a lot of Mormons do who are in the LGBT community. Many are disowned or kicked out. That was not my case. My mom and stepdad, who are the Mormons, love and accept me. I have brought women home to them. They might not understand, even my other parents, my dad and stepmom, or agree, but they want me to be happy.

What they do very often is let me know they are proud of me. They are happy that I am doing what I am doing.

WCT: Was navigating reality TV tricky?

DS: It was. I never pictured myself doing reality television. When my Justin Bieber parody went viral, I was contacted by America's Got Talent. I thought about the platform it would have.

There was a moment on the show where Howie Mandel says, "Oh, that's a lady." There is a twinge inside and a very weird moment. I pushed on and continued to perform.

On The Glee Project, they were making a music video where both males and females were wearing cheerleading uniforms. I told the costumers that I wouldn't feel comfortable in a skirt. I did not put it on. I cried in the costume room, and left.

Being vulnerable with cameras in your face in front of strangers can be very tricky.

WCT: Did Glee casting agent Robert Ulrich contact you about the Cashier show?

DS: Yes. They had done two workshops already. Robert said I was right under his nose, so I am glad he called!

WCT: Tell readers about the story.

DS: Albert Cashier was born female-bodied. We are not sure when he decided to call himself Albert and transition into a man. We do know he immigrated from Ireland and enlisted in the union to fight in the Civil War. He lived his life entirely as a man thereafter.

What really blows my mind is he fought in so many battles without having to see a nurse. He never got hurt so he was never discovered during the war, and not until years later.

He did not have the language that we have today to describe the desire to live as something else. There was no example. That is what blows my mind. He did it on his own. It is very touching.

WCT: I cried during the show.

DS: When we did the first read-through, I was in tears by the end. I held it together tonight because I had to sing at the end.

WCT: There are some bluegrass-style songs in the show. Is that a new genre for you?

DS: It is not terribly different for me. I used to write and sing folk music. "Bullet in a Gun" is a beast of a song, and I really enjoy singing that.

WCT: What would you like people to take away from this show?

DS: I would love for them to take away that they can live authentically, and be themselves regardless of what anyone around them says, and thinks. They can go create their own life, just as Albert did. Thankfully times are changing, even with the government in the state that it is in. Not to get too political, but I feel it was a wake-up call, the whole presidency. It is pushing all of us to pay more attention.

WCT: I wasn't a political person before recent occurrences.

DS: Neither was I, but it has shaken me. I hope this show shakes people as well, and not just in the LGBT community.

I think everyone can relate to the want of being yourself, being authentic, and living your life on your own terms.

For tickets, visit .

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