voice and gender identity

My voice is like the elephant in the room right now
It’s just how deep it is
When I listen to myself it’s nothing what I would imagine in my head
It’s just not feminine

Hush….?/Adam’s Apple is a musical drama exploring voice and gender, combining the contemporary experience of gender transition. Writer Alex Bulmer has been fascinated by the role of voice in identifying gender. At the same time that she went blind in her early 20s, a close friend transitioned from female to male — these two experiences inspired her to create this project.

Phase 1: Research and Development
The initial research in 2014 was funded by a Wellcome Trust Development Awards (Broadcast, Games and Film). We interviewed transgender people, their families, voice and medical practitioners with a specific interest in the field of voice and/or transgender. Scientific expertise was provided by Dr Jen Read, Senior Lecturer in Speech Pathology and Therapy at Manchester Metropolitan University.

I used to sing but when I sang into a recorder, and played it back, in my own head I sounded like a flamboyant gay man rather than a female. I didn’t want to sing again.

Once the research was completed, Alex Bulmer created lyrics and text from the material, with support from actor/singer/writer Tristan Whiston. Composer Errollyn Wallen wrote some music. This material was workshopped with singers and actors at Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, February 2015, led by Polly Thomas, director.

Phase 2: Song cycle
In 2016, with help from the funders listed below, we created a half hour song cycle with lyrics by Alex Bulmer and music by Errollyn Wallen. Scientific advice was given by Dr Jen Read, Senior Lecturer in Speech Pathology and Therapy at Manchester Metropolitan University and Dr Carolyn McGettigan, Department of Psychology, Royal Holloway, University of London.

The song cycle was workshopped, rehearsed and then performed by the following groups:

3 + 4 June — Tristan Whiston, Kate O’Donnell, Harrison Knights and Amelia Cavallo, with Suzy Davis and the Angels of Kaos … LIFT, Hoxton Hall, London
5 June — Revoluetion Choir … Blackpool Pride
12 June — Revoluetion Choir … Blackpool Pride …..

and …
16 June — Wax and Wane workshop song … ArtSpace, The Bureau, Blackburn
17 June — Manchester Lesbian and Gay Chorus with Tristan Whiston, Kate O’Donnell Harrison Knights, Kimberly Knight Simpson and Suzy Davis …..

In addition, we ran workshops on the project themes, on 11 June at The Bureau, Blackburn, and 12 June at Blackpool Pride.

The Hyndburn Carers Chorus in Accrington worked on one of the songs with Tristan Whiston, but decided against a public performance.

The Sing and Sparkle choir came into being, thanks to Hush….? Hosted by Manchester LGBT Foundation, the choir was set up to work on Hush songs and other show tunes. The choir is ongoing.

  • cast at Hoxton Hall, LIFT

  • Revoluetion Choir rehearsal

  • Hyndburn Carers Chorus

  • Revoluetion Choir, Blackpool Pride

  • Sing and Sparkle Choir

  • Blackburn rehearsals

  • Royal Exchange Choir

  • Angels of Kaos

Phase 3: Show time
Watch this space — next step is to create the full drama and song book, set them to music and perform …

All quotes in this outline are lifted from the 2014 interviews with transgender people, their families and relevant clinicians. We are deeply grateful to them for sharing their experience with us.

The core team:
Polly Thomas — audio and theatre director …
Alex Bulmer — writer …
Tristan Whiston — writer/singer/actor …
Errollyn Wallen — composer …


Adam’s Apple is presented by Thomas Carter Projects, with support from Wellcome Trust Arts Awards, Left Coast Blackpool, SuperSlowWay, Arts Council England, PRS for Music Foundation and London International Festival of Theatre (LIFT).

Funding partners