'Wynonna Earp' Con EarpExpo: "Representation" panel discussion

The quirky sci-fi/Western show Wynonna Earp has a fan base whose devotion is nearly unparalleled. Much of that dedication is owed to the fact that the show speaks to people oft-ignored or misrepresented in pop culture—namely, the LGBTQ community.

With an expertly written story comprised of fully realized LGBTQ characters—both a lesbian and a gay couple (both can exist in the same universe, shocker!)—and messages of love, acceptance, and strength, plus an all-in cast, Wynonna Earp is the kind of show the LGBTQ community has been starving for. As such, the show and the community have become part of one another’s DNA.

Thus, it’s no surprise that at every Wynonna Earp-specific fan convention, there’s an LGBTQ-themed panel. It’s typically centered on the couple Sheriff Nicole Haught and Waverly Earp—ship name #WayHaught—and the actresses who portray them, Kat Barrell and Dominique Provost-Chalkley.

                                       Dominique Provost-Chalkley and Kat Barrell

But the first Earp convention of 2019, EarpExpo—held in New Orleans last month—took a broader approach, exploring LGBTQ representation in the media overall. Aptly dubbed the “Representation” panel, it featured Barrell, Provost-Chalkley, show creator Emily Andras, and actor Varun Saranga, who plays Jeremy Chetri, a scientist who’s gay.

After a cute-steamy video showcasing all the best couple moments, moderator Bonnie Ferrar, co-host of the fan podcast Tales of the Black Badge, summarized why representation matters:

“When LGBTQ people are invisible, especially [in media], or when they’re made one-dimensional or easily disposable, the message that we hear… is that we don’t matter, we might not even exist… So that’s why for many of us, Wynonna Earp has been life-changing, a safe place to find our voices, spread our wings, and grow as individuals…seeing ourselves on TV is empowering... And Emily Andras and her cast have never shied away from telling our stories with authenticity, compassion, and bravado… they’ve given us all a reason to hope and believe.”

With that, Ferrar welcomed the cast on stage. Barrell walked out in a Toronto Raptors jersey to celebrate the team’s NBA Championship the night before. It incited a lot of chatter about the game, but eventually they got around to Ferrar’s questions, and the discussion covered an array of topics (and emotions).

At one point, Ferrar repeated a popular question from the “Villains” panel: What would your warning label be?

“’Never boring,’ but with a skull and cross bones,” said Andras.

“Jeremy’s would say ‘awkward in most places,’” said Saranga. “[Mine would be] ‘he’s a good time.’”

“Does not play well with authority,” said Barrell.

“Be kind or I’ll set my unicorn after you!” said Provost-Chalkley.

Ferrar then posed another fun one—what their characters’ theme song would be.

“Whenever I see Nicole, I see her in slow motion,” said Barrell, to which the audience erupted in laughter and Andras suggestively muttered so do they. “So, the song ‘At Last’ [by Etta James].”

Provost-Chalkley joked that Ludacris’s “Move Bitch” plays when Andras walks into the writing room, but Andras said it’s more like the theme song from The Price is Right. Saranga said Jeremy’s would be something to make himself feel manly—the Rock’s wrestling theme song. Provost-Chalkley then told a story about how she once showed up, unannounced, to a music gig a fan [Emy Taliana] had told her she was doing in Paris. When Provost-Chalkley arrived, Taliana was playing “Girls Are Like Guns,” from the Wynonna Earp soundtrack, and she was in awe of how perfectly the song fit the show—and Waverly.

Later, when Ferrar asked what song Nicole would dance to for Waverly, Provost-Chalkley suggested Nelly’s “Hot in Here.” Barrell liked the song but begged Andras not to make her dance. She agreed to a gymnastics routine, though, or slow-motion basketball dribbling.

That prompted a discussion about the upcoming Space Jam movie. Barrell had sat next to the casting director on a plane, and since she plays basketball, she—along with all the Earpers—are now hoping she gets a part in the film.

They also discussed what their characters would do for Purgatory Pride. Provost-Chalkley said Waverly would definitely wear a costume—a rainbow butterfly with a lot of glitter. Saranga and Barrell said Waverly would force their characters to dress up—Jeremy would be a unicorn, and per an audience suggestion, Nicole could be a phoenix.

Here are some of the other highlights from the panel:

Questions and answers have been edited for length and conciseness.

On what’s surprised Provost-Chalkley and Barrell most so far about their characters’ relationship

Provost-Chalkley: To tell you the complete truth, I thought maybe we would have some time apart, then come back, and I was surprised we didn’t.

Barrell: Wrong answer! (laughs)… I think when everything was going to shit around them, I was pleasantly surprised at how solid they stayed in season 3.

Barrell put the question to Andras.

Andras: I just think your chemistry as actors is once in a lifetime. Watching you guys together, just what you’ve built on your own, is extraordinary… seeing you come into your own with the roles… you guys being willing to take risks over and over again, seeing your range get even better and you guys just flourish… that’s been the joy for me—and this, seeing the celebration of them, it’s incredible.

On how Saranga and Justin [Kelly, who plays Robin] approached playing their characters

Saranga: It became really important to me that we make a real relationship with its messiness and cuteness. [Jeremy’s] never really had a relationship before, so what does that look like? And double it because they’re LGTBQ, and they have to navigate that in a small town, so what does that look like? So, we had a lot of really good discussions about how to authentically embody a slow burn in this way.

On the first time they personally felt represented on TV

Barrell: This might sound silly, but… Sailor Moon. There was something really cool about seeing these girls that were superheroes…they were strong, but they were still silly and had fun with each other. That show made a huge impact.

Saranga, noting he found most Indian representation growing up to be embarrassing and unrelatable: I looked toward Caucasian characters as my role models far more, and that sort of spilled into my regular life because I grew up in Toronto, which is intensely diverse, and by some account, I rejected that diversity… it took a long time for me to identify with anyone on television, probably in my mid-20s, but it’s getting better now.

Andras: I was always surprised with the characters I did identify... they maybe didn’t look like me but felt like me, but I think that’s why I strive to write so many female characters, because I feel like for a long time, female characters had to be one thing [and women are not one thing]. But I guess [for me] Buffy.

People say ‘how are people going to identify with queer or feminist or diverse stories’? …That’s such a ridiculous argument. I think you do need to see yourself represented, but a good story is a good story, so I’d rather put more people on screen who aren’t normally on screen, and then if the story’s good enough, I want everyone to love it.

Provost-Chalkley: I think quite honestly… [I’ve never] been impacted by a character the way people have with Waverly… You [Emily] almost gave me my first character I truly understood, which is amazing. But… [also] Hermione, maybe, she was pretty cool.

On—in reference to GLAAD findings that LGBTQ representation hit a record high this year, with 8.8 percent of series regulars openly identifying as gay—how creating queer characters on TV and fighting for them has changed for Andras over time

Andras: I’m quite shocked to hear it’s only 8 percent—that’s still incredibly low.

I feel like I’ve always been drawn to writing LGBTQ characters, for a million personal reasons, but also, I just really like underdogs and people who don’t get their stories told. I have a real sense of social justice. I just want the world to be more fair.

I feel a huge responsibility to all of you now because I’m publicly a voice of LGBTQ and I just constantly want to stay open minded and learn—particularly, for example, with the trans community… I just want to get better and better and better, as we all are and should want to be. But at the same time, I just want the characters to be fun and real and not just a poster boy or girl... I want them to have real lives, real problems, real mistakes, so I’m always trying to balance those things: the responsibility but also Wynonna should be fun, WayHaught should be great, it should still be entertaining.

… Events like this and celebrating it [allows] me to go to the decision makers and say, “look at this audience that wants more of these stories, I’m right!” That is the most empowering thing, that’s how we’re gonna win, that’s how we’re gonna keep telling these stories.

On how playing LGBTQ characters has changed their approach to acting

Barrell: Maybe not changed, but perhaps strengthened my desire and my passion to continue to seek out projects that have this sense of a greater good.

Saranga: Until I did Wynonna, I never realized what I do actually affects others, because I didn’t even know I was affected myself.

He talked about meeting a fan in India—where the LGBTQ rights movement is in its infancy comparative to the U.S.—who told him how much it meant to her that he was Indian and playing an LGBTQ character.

At that moment I’m like, “OMG… I have never been doing this for myself… we represent something far greater than ourselves.” And that’s probably the biggest blessing you can get on this planet, really, when it’s not about you, it’s about others. So, it’s changed my life profoundly.

Provost-Chalkley: This character has completely changed my life… I’m still on a massive journey with it all, but… I constantly feel incredibly grateful that this came about when it did. And meeting all of you amazing human beings has taught me what it really looks like to fight for what you love and what you believe in. So, I’m [very] grateful to this amazing community.

On the #FightForWynonna

Andras, fighting tears: I knew something was up for a lot longer than when I went “completely rogue” (laughs). Turns out Twitter is forever, who knew? If you know you’re gonna get quoted in mass media, you shouldn’t say things like “don’t fuck with my family.”

This refers to the tweet Andras wrote first hinting to fans that something was wrong with the show. Andras wasn’t authorized at the time to disclose that the show’s production company IDW Entertainment had financial woes, which ultimately shut down production. Just a couple weeks ago, it was announced the issue had been resolved and work would resume.

I kept saying, “the Earpers are not just gonna let this happen, if what you are insinuating is gonna happen [happens].” I’m not sure everybody believed me, so by the time I finally [told you guys] “we’re in trouble and we need your help” …for a moment [I was] just like am I full of shit? So just seeing the rallying from the fans, and the billboards…thank you so much for showing up. I’m constantly impressed with you guys as a fandom. I find you all quite witty and smart and brilliant. Buying the billboards was so unique and fun, and such a smart way to get attention… walk proud, it’s pretty amazing.

Saranga: We have a bigger audience because of [this campaign].

Barrell: I struggle with feeling unworthy… never in my wildest dreams did I allow myself to hope I could be a part of something so special and I just feel so incredibly lucky… it has given me this sense of a purpose. I really struggled with feeling like I didn’t have that for the longest time, and so I’m just always completely humbled and so grateful in [your guys’] presence.

On what show Andras would go back in time and improve the representation on

Andras: It’d be fun to make an all gay Golden Girls. I mean it was already pretty gay but let’s just gay it up… I’d love to do a take on Xena… I like things that are already a little bit gay, I just want to make them even more gay.

***

Ferrar ended the panel with a quote from Tammy Baldwin, the first openly gay U.S. senator: “There will not be a magic day where we wake up and it’s now ok to express ourselves publicly. We make that day by just doing things publicly until they are.”

Then, as Andras and the actors departed the stage, the audience gave a standing ovation for what was a great heady-yet-fun and unforgettable discussion.

To watch the full panel, click here.

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