First Day’s Firsts


Creator Julie Kalceff and producer Kirsty Stark showcased how the Australian live-action series First Day is breaking barriers in its representation of transgender kids at the TV Kids Festival.

Kalceff and Stark were interviewed by TV Kids’ Jamie Stalcup. The session, which you can watch here, began with a conversation about how First Day became a full-fledged series after being conceived as a 20-minute special.

“The ABC in Australia put out a call for the International Day of the Girl [Child], and they were looking for stand-alone 20-minute episodes focused on a female protagonist and geared toward a female audience,” Kalceff said. “I saw that call and didn’t pay much attention because I hadn’t worked on children’s TV before. But at the same time, a close family member of mine was transitioning, a 6-year-old, and I could see how happy and excited she was to be able to live as her true self. I could also see how difficult it was for her mother to support her—she wanted to support her but didn’t know what that looked like. They didn’t know anyone else who was transgender or the parents of transgender children. So it kind of made sense to put the two of those together. A TV episode about a transgender girl would be great for them to see that they’re not alone and that there might be difficulties, but those difficulties can be overcome.”

Libbie Doherty, head of children’s content at the Australian pubcaster, “saw the potential in the story right from the beginning,” Stark said. “She was on the same page in areas like casting—wanting to cast a trans girl in the lead role—and just some of the thoughts we had about bringing the series to life. We brought a lot of other people on board who aligned with the story and understood what we were trying to do.”

Kalceff noted that it was vital to place the narrative from the perspective of Hannah. “There have been adult series with trans characters, and sometimes it feels as though those characters are sidelined and that we see them through other people’s eyes. It was really important for us that Hannah was the center of the narrative, that it’s her story and not just her as a trans person, but as a three-dimensional character. We went to great lengths to make sure that she had interests and hobbies and that the audience could get a sense of her as a person and not just view her through the fact that she’s transgender.”

The series is set between “the transition point between a primary school and a high school,” Stark added, “so every kid in the series is going through a transition themselves. Hannah just fits in. She’s got additional difficulties, but everyone has difficulties of some kind making those big life changes.”

Trans actor Evie Macdonald portrays Hannah. “We were worried about casting Hannah’s character specifically,” Stark noted. “Not that we didn’t think that there would be a trans girl out there who was capable of it. But just because we needed an actor to carry an entire series—they’re in every scene and being so young, to put themselves out there publicly would be a lot of pressure. We wanted to make sure that they had support around them as well. So we put out a casting call, had an amazing group of girls apply, and Julie spoke to each of them and their families individually about what being part of the series might involve. And we narrowed it down to four girls who auditioned, and finding Evie was amazing.”

For the rest of the cast, “We wanted the schoolyard to reflect what a schoolyard looks like,” Kalceff added. “Australia has a very diverse culture, and we wanted to show that diversity.”

That diversity and authenticity extend off-screen. “For Julia and me, it’s really important to create opportunities for people,” Stark said. “We had an amazing female crew for the majority of both of our series, including female cinematographers, and we also created opportunities for trans writers to come through the process with us initially in the writers’ room. We had other opportunities for trans and non-binary crew to be involved in the production process through internships and attachments or set visits.”

Kalceff added: “We wanted to create an environment on set where Evie wasn’t the only transgender person. If that’s the case, it feels as though she carries the weight of the series. It’s a big enough job for her as an actor to be in every scene and to carry the narrative. We didn’t want her to feel as though she was the only transgender person on set, and any questions about being trans or non-binary would be focused on her. We tried to create an environment where she was one of many and to make it as inclusive as possible.”

Hulu came on board as a partner on the show’s second season after acquiring season one. “We found the second series a lot more difficult to finance,” Stark explained. “There was a sense of, we’ve told this story, one transgender series is enough, now we can move on because Hannah’s out and proud, and everything’s going to be fine. For Julie and I, that was just where the story started. We knew that it wasn’t enough just to tell the coming-out story. We want to show what it’s like to live as a trans girl once you are out. And that story continues. The finance was a lot more difficult within Australia to put together. We approached Hulu, knowing their enthusiasm for the first series, and they were amazingly supportive in putting up part of the financing. We were able to complete production and put the series out to the world.”

On how trans representation in kids’ media has evolved since the show debuted, Kalceff noted, “I think the conversation has changed. We made that first stand-alone episode five years ago. There’s a much greater awareness around casting authentically. There’s much greater representation. There’s still such a long way to go, but I feel as though there is much more opportunity to have those conversations. Children’s television has such an impact on kids. It’s how they view the world. And if they don’t see themselves on screen, it impacts how they feel about themselves. I felt that growing up, and I think it’s important now that children see themselves on screen. They see that they’re not othered and they’re not ignored. It goes a long way toward creating their self-esteem. We also try to show what a good ally should be and how you should respond and act toward other people. I think children’s television has a great, important role in not only diverse representation, but also representation in a way that creates an environment where people can start conversations and see what best behavior is and how they should be acting.”

Kalceff added: “I’m not a transgender writer, so telling that story meant leaning on the community, working with different people and doing a lot of research. We need to make sure that we’re telling a story that is authentic and that matters.”