Showtime series boasts ‘beautiful array of queer folks’ from Chicago

Star and co-creator Abby McEnany says the locally made ‘Work in Progress,’ premiering Dec. 8, sought out Chicagoans of different sexual and gender identities.

SHARE Showtime series boasts ‘beautiful array of queer folks’ from Chicago
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Locally trained actors Theo Germaine (left) and Abby McEnany play a couple on the Showtime series “Work in Progress,” premiering Dec. 8.

Showtime

A new Showtime comedy series birthed from local improv veteran Abby McEnany aims to bring a diverse array of talented Chicago performers to the forefront.

“Work in Progress” tells a “coming-of-age story about a 45-year-old queer dyke” who’s depressed and has given herself 180 days to decide whether she wants to continue living. In the premiere, airing Dec. 8, McEnany’s character Abby starts dating a young trans man, played by guest star Theo Germaine, giving her a new outlook on life.

“The series will explore this new relationship, Abby’s mental illness, family dynamics and more while this countdown is happening,” McEnany said. “So we’re on this journey, but in the background is this ticking time bomb about her decision whether or not it’s worth it to live.”

The eight-episode series, which was picked up by Showtime in January after McEnany and long-time collaborator Tim Mason presented the pilot at the Sundance Film Festival, is based on solo storytelling shows McEnany used to perform across Chicago. Lilly Wachowski, the filmmaker behind “The Matrix” and the Netflix series “Sense8,” is also an executive producer.

The show takes place in Chicago and also was made locally, with everything from writing to casting, filming and post-production all based in the city.

In addition to Germaine, the series cast locally trained actors, including Karin Anglin, Celeste Pechous, Armand Fields and others.

“I hope people take away that Chicago is not just a great city to come drop in and film, but that we have this amazing community from writers all the way to the post house,” Mason said. “I would love for there to be more jobs here that can keep people in this wonderful town.”

Mason added that the production set out to have at least 70% of its cast and crew be women, people of color or LGBTQ-identifying.

McEnany said that Wachowski, who came out as transgender in 2016, helped organize a “queer day of casting” so that LGBTQ people who have never had the opportunity to audition could come in and do so.

“We started with an interview to get to know the actors and their stories, and then we’d have them audition,” McEnany said. “Our cast is this beautiful array of queer folks of different sexual and gender identities that you don’t always see in Hollywood.”

She said she was proud to extend the opportunity to the rest of Chicago’s LGBTQ community.

Germaine, a nonbinary actor and breakout star of Ryan Murphy’s Netflix show “The Politician,” said they appreciated being part of a production so affirming of LGBTQ identities and experiences.

“Chicago has so many amazing trans, nonbinary and queer actors who got to be involved in the show,” Germaine said. “I feel very proud that a Chicago series did this, and I hope it inspires more people to write or cast in this direction.

Germaine said acting in the series helped them grow more confident as an actor.

“My character, Chris, is very comfortable with himself — much more comfortable than I was at 22,” Germaine said. “So from him, I’ve learned to be more confident as an actor and owning who I am.”

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Julia Sweeney, playing herself, is confronted about her androgynous “Saturday Night Live” character Pat on “Work in Progress.”

Showtime

The series also features Julia Sweeney, whose ’90s “Saturday Night Live” character Pat is a source of trauma for McEnany and her character, also named Abby. McEnany used to be bullied and called Pat due to the character’s androgynous appearance and ambiguous gender expression, she said.

Sweeney plays herself in the show, meeting Abby during a silly chance-encounter in the first episode. McEnany said the show uses comedic moments like this to destigmatize the difficult topics like mental illness, fatphobia, gender and sexuality that surface throughout the story.

“That’s the goal. Not to make fun of things, because times are really hard right now,” McEnany said. “We’re not making fun of anyone, but we’re trying to create a conversation about these issues so people can learn.”

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