On the invisibility of LGBTQ+ Stories

I’ll have an update on B Street, Barnyard, and Acme soon, but I’m posting this separately. It bothers me.

About two months ago, someone running a website that licenses playscripts to drama teachers emailed me to say she was interested in my work. Importantly, although teachers subscribe to use the scripts at $10/month, the website does not pay the writers. Which is pretty bullshit, of course, but that debate is for another time. When I asked which plays interested her, I could have predicted the list – she wanted the ones that were adaptations of fairy tales and The Untitled Pirate Play. The glaring omission from this list was my work for young people that has overt LGBT themes – specifically, [a different] Romeo & Juliet.

On the one hand, this surprised me. The plays she asked for all share a campy, joyous aesthetic, one that the Romeo and Juliet adaptation fits squarely in the center.

On the other, there’s no surprise. Frustration, yes; but surprise, no. It’s a pretty stark, quantifiable reminder of how LGBTQ stories (especially those for young people) are edited out of the mainstream. It is how we are non-entities.

Let me be clear: young people know LGBTQ+ folks. They generally see their gay peers as normal variations in the human experience, no more deserving of censorship than left-handed people or red-heads or the lactose intolerant. Young LGBTQ+ folks are increasingly understanding, accepting, and identifying themselves. Many seek out these stories. Many want to tell the stories about people like them or their friends.

My students put forth the idea and VOTED for us to make that play.

I emailed her the following: “I will have to discuss this with my agent, but I have a few more question: How often are plays produced where the playwrights are compensated?(…)

“Finally, I must admit that I was surprised that [a different] Romeo & Juliet was not included on this list. It’s by far the most pedagogically interesting play, and one of the benefits of being a playwright who also teaches is that I get to make plays that fill a void; while there are many plays about fairy tales, I don’t think there are many LGBT stories for middle school students.”

It’s been two months and…

No response.

No surprise.

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JMU and B Street

Playing catch up…

Two weeks ago I flew out to James Madison University in Virginia to work on what’s now titled Basement Demons and Trailer Saints. I’d written the play for my high school students as Bones of Saints, and I’d felt that the play was itching for more mature material. I wanted to revise it with adults, and JMU’s inaugural new play development lab accepted it for workshop. It fit.

 

The first few nights brought me very little sleep as I chiseled away at the script with the new actor’s voices and feedback. Pages were printed, reprinted, reprinted. I hit it with an axe, a hacksaw, a machete, a scalpel. I’ve done new play development before, but nothing that remotely approached what felt like this overhaul. Something broke through. The play is where I want it to be.

I had six fabulous actors, a good team, and a director who seemed like she was psychic. I loved this team. The play broke open…

Who could ask for anything more?

Oh, and look – more…

 

Next Up

Small Steps is part of B Street Theatre’s New Comedies Festival!

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Tickets are available here.

And I’ve been lucky enough that The Davis Enterprise has picked up the story. 

Working with B Street has been on my bucket list.

It’s the perfect time. B Street upped their game in NNPN, and this Festival will help the new play ecosystem in Sacramento. What makes a ‘Theatre City’ – Chicago, New York, Austin, SF, Philly, LA, etc – is that each place has new work coming out of it, and a culture of support for new work. There’s something of an identity or aesthetic that emerges. There is, after all, a “Chicago play” (gritty realism / ensemble / Steppenwolf / Mamet) and an “Austin play” (Rude Mechs / devised / weird) and a “New York play” (two to four people in a single set, usually an apartment); this doesn’t necessarily mean that plays outside of the aesthetic can’t launch from those cities, as Lookingglass in Chicago with Mary Zimmerman proves, but it does demonstrate that a critical mass creates a sensibility towards an aesthetic. I wonder if this will help propel a Sacramento aesthetic? Regardless, I’m excited about the growing new play ecosystem. Onward, Sacramento!

A few pictures from And then, she picks up the sword, the new play for middle school students. I’m editing the current draft after the production – tweaking the pieces that I realize I wanted tweaked. It runs about 70-75 minutes. I plan to document the process that built this play, though I don’t know the best place to publish such a thing.

 

Announcements

I mentioned recently that I’ll be working on a new play at James Madison University this summer. Stoked to bring this quirky bit of theatre to Virginia, and thrilled to work with undergraduates on it.

My friends at Acme Theatre Company in Davis are producing The 12 Huntsmen, which they’d commissioned a few years ago.

Small Steps was selected for B Street Theatre’s New Comedy Festival. It will be read sometime between June 26 and July 1 in Sacramento, and will be considered for full production for next season. As a native of the Sacramento area, I’ve very much wanted my work produced professionally at the local companies; if Small Steps has a world premier at B Street Theatre, I’ll do a death drop at the state capitol.

May Updates

I’ll be visiting James Madison University next month to work on TRAILER SAINTS AND BASEMENT DEMONS in a new play development process.

I just closed my middle school show AND THEN, SHE PICKS UP A SWORD. I may not have many productions of my work under my belt, and I can’t figure out how to get my friends to see the work I make with young people, but man, I get to make things I love with amazing, amazing people. Like this one. More pictures coming soon.

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A mention in Comstock’s

Comstock’s, a Sacramentan business mag, interviewed me for a featured article on the Ground and Field Festival, which highlighted The Briars.

Read it: https://www.comstocksmag.com/web-only/ground-field-theatre-festival-showcases-new-works-davis

I made a few mistakes in my interview. I’m quoted as having said, “I think that a thriving theater community helps create a desirable place to live, and I also think that a desirable place to live creates a thriving theater community.” And I generally believe the first part of the sentence, but I disagree with the latter – an affordable place to live creates a thriving theatre community. So, well. Oops.

I do wish the article’s writer had given Tom and Danika Burmester, who co-founded the Festival, more credit. Danika directed my piece, and did a magnificent job, and Tom clearly built an incredible amount of the infrastructure of the Festival.

Still, it’s nice to be included, and the Festival was ridiculous in the best sense of the word.

April Updates

About a week and half ago, I put together a reading of Small Steps to raise money for the Hill Country Ride for AIDS.

In the meantime, I’ve been hard at work on my new play for middle school students – And Then, She Picks Up the Sword – in which a prince and princess do not want to get married, and subsequently run off to the woods.  I adore this Renaissance pastoral painting – as the boy with flowers in his hair teases the young maiden, she looks away (at the word “sword,” because I’m cheeky that way).

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We took tropes from Shakepeare’s comedies and used them, making a play that both parodies and deploys these elements…

Before that, I have my play Knitted, which will be part of ScriptWorks’ Out of Ink: Lost and Found. 

Directed by the Austin Chronicle’s 2017 Director of the Year (and a dear friend) Rudy Ramirez, Knitted is a re-imagination of Pinocchio, in which Geppettois a gay man who makes a puppet after a one-night stand, which subsequently comes alive. I’m hoping to turn this one into a full-length play…

A couple announcements are coming soon… Nothing earth shattering, but things that are delightful.

50PP Part Deux

My interview with the 50 Playwrights Project came out.

 

Boom

 

Fightin words:

“Theatre-for-Teens is often overlooked or ridiculed, but I’d argue that the plays a teenager does or sees stays with them for the rest of their lives. This makes it so much more powerful. ”

“Imagine the impact of replacing every school production of Our Town or Twelve Angry Men in predominantly non-white schools with a play by a living playwright who gives a shit about the students.”