Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Theater in Thirty - Actor Dakota Shepard

This week on Theater in Thirty, I had the pleasure of getting to know Dakota Shepard, and she was kind enough to put up with me moving a poinsettia around in the spirit of the holiday season. We talked a lot about why she's so excited about bringing 33 Variations to life, about the play and its relationship to Beethoven's Diabelli variations, and why it's such a unique story.

Stay tuned for new Theater in Thirty videos every other Tuesday!

Monday, December 10, 2012

English To A Foreign Ear?

Brian Dudley, Marketing & Development Associate

Have you ever sat back and wondered what English sounds like to someone who doesn't speak it? David Henry Hwang's Chinglish (now playing through the 23rd!) is all about doing business in China, and being dipped into an unfamiliar culture with a severe, perplexing language barrier. And yet, those

So, we scoured the internet and stumbled upon these two videos, one a music video and the other a short film, written in English-sounding language that means nothing, that will definitely trip you up. Thanks to the filmmakers for their work, because we loved these. Enjoy!

What English Sounds Like To Non English Speakers

Skwerl: A Short Film in Fake English

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Theater in Thirty - Actor Chen Tang

Hi again! Welcome to another installment of Theater in Thirty, this time with actor Chen Tang. Chen is new to the Lyric, and I was delighted to have the chance to take some time and get to know him better. Chen is a lot of fun to talk to, and had some great insights about the show. In this video, Chen explains exactly why he thinks you should come and see Chinglish.

Stay tuned for new Theater in Thirty videos every other Tuesday!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Theater in Thirty - Associate Production Manager Dahlia Al-Habieli

Hello! Above is a link to our very first installment of a regular video series. Join us on Tuesdays for Theater in Thirty, where Marketing & Development Associate Brian Dudley spends a few minutes over coffee learning a little more about the people who work here at the Lyric Stage Company. Then we boil it down into a 30-second interview - give or take a few seconds - and share the very best parts with you. We hope this will help you get to know our actors, designers, staff, and more. It's a chance for us to be a little silly but also hear about the different kind of work people do for us, and get pumped to see every single show.

For our first installment, click the video link above to check out our chat with Associate Production Manager and Chinglish scenic designer Dahlia Al-Habieli about Chinglish, Muppets, and more.

Like what you see? You can expect a new Theater in Thirty video approximately every other Tuesday, so keep checking back.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Behind Theater Doors: Chinglish First Rehearsal Recap

by Amanda Spinella, Artistic Assistant

This past Tuesday was an exciting day for The Lyric Stage Company of Boston. Not only was it Election Day, but it was the first rehearsal for the cast and company of our upcoming production of Chinglish.

 This was my first experience at a Lyric welcome since my recent move from the Front of House to behind the scenes where I now work as the Artistic Assistant, and it was a pleasure to be involved in the beginnings of a production. I’ve been working at The Lyric for just over three years and...it’s no secret that I love it here: the dedication to the job and the art, the feeling of family, and of course, my co-workers’ witty humor. But it was newly energizing to watch my veteran superiors speak so enthusiastically about their positions. From ticketing to outreach, it was so clear how many moving parts go into making this production something really fantastic. For me, after working with scripts and contracts, it was great to meet the cast face to face and watch the work begin.

With the whole team assembled, we began with the Meet and Greet where staff members introduce themselves, their positions, and give a basic rundown of how the company operates, focusing on the fun things like when The Lyric treats us to dinner. This Meet and Greet was particularly special because there are a lot of new faces joining The Lyric family for Chinglish and meeting for the first time. Some of the new actors joining us for this production include Alexander Platt, Tiffany Chen, Michael Tow, Celeste Oliva, Chen Tang, Liz Eng, and the Language coach, Gail Wang. From the way we were talking, joke-cracking, and sharing, you would never have known that moments prior we were strangers; the excitement and positivity for this production were palpable. It was wonderful to see seasoned company members and hungry newcomers alike diving headlong into creating a comfortable atmosphere and even more, a detailed and thoughtful production.

The sense of coming together was only made stronger by the fact that it was Election Day. We relayed stories left and right about how long we waited to vote, what kind of characters we met in line, and not once did it matter who we voted for and why. I was reminded immediately how important it is to share these experiences, how exciting it is to come together for change, and how, despite our differences, we can be involved in something bigger than ourselves. From voting in a presidential election to mastering the Mandarin in a new script, we had plenty to bond over. Larry Coen, the director of Chinglish, ended with some uplifting thoughts about the work we were beginning. He informed us that it was believed on the Tibetan calendar that all the positive energy put into the world that day became multiplied by 10 million. Whatever you believe, it’s hard to argue that that’s not a fitting fortune for a day full of unity and new beginnings. 

Chinglish, by David Henry Hwang, opens Friday, November 30th, and with this beautiful cast, excellent story, and hard-working team, you won’t want to miss it!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Chosen Talkback # 2

by Paul Lazo, Marketing Assistant

The Chosen continues to astonish audiences, bringing them into the climate of the Brooklyn neighborhoods and Jewish communities that resided there during the time of World War 2. After the November 4 matinee showing of The Chosen,  Director Daniel Gidron and the cast, Charles Linshaw, Zachary Eisenstat, Joel Colodner, Will McGarrahan, and Luke Murtha, all joined our Associate Artistic Director Nora Long for another talk back with the audience.

The talk began with a question that really had actors thinking about how far their characters have come now that they are mid way through the shows run. “The more you do a run the more you can try new things and the more you can surprise your scene partner” said Luke Murtha, who plays the role of Danny Saunders in the show. Joel Colodner (Reb Saunders) has actually come to understand the text far more over the past few performances, “I’ve discovered things in the past week that I wasn’t able to understand during rehearsal... I began to understand why [Reb] was speaking through Reuven,” he said.

One audience member in particular was interested in the audience’s doorway into the show, Charles Linshaw’s character Reuven Malter, who functions as a narrator. Charles said, “If I mess up the timing I really really mess up the show... I’m sort of in between the world of the audience and the world of the stage.” Audiences were very interested in his character, who is directly addresses the audience – sometimes defining Jewish terms that some audience’s members may not have been accustomed to.  “I had an intellectual idea of why I was talking beforehand but having a physical idea is different than knowing in my brain why I am doing it.” Charles coherently brought us into his process for such a difficult character that juggles a number of hats throughout the entire piece.

The entire piece was well received, many audience members getting lost in the universe of The Chosen citing that the show is one everyone can relate to, one you surely do not want to miss.

The Chosen continues its run at Lyric Stage until November 17th.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Chosen Talkback #1

Katherine Raymond, Marketing Assistant

This past weekend The Chosen went up with much success getting positive review after positive review from its audiences. The Chosen, adapted from the novel by Chaim Potok, portrays a story of two Orthodox Jewish students in the 1940’s who, through their friendship, further explore the relationship with their religion as well as explore the complex relationship with their fathers. Following the Sunday, October 21 matinee performance, Director Daniel Gidron and the cast, Charles Linshaw, Zachary Eisenstat, Joel Colodner, Will McGarrahan, and Luke Murtha, all joined our Associate Artistic Director Nora Long for a talk back on the production process and their experiences with the performances thus far.

The talkback began with a question about the challenges they faced in production and finding their characters.  “[We were] trying to get the richness and life of the novel portrayed through just five characters on a stage,” said Gidron.  With the adaptation relying on heavy content from the novel, working with an adaptation that story and condensing it into two short hours on stage proved difficult, but ultimately rewarding.  The actors themselves found that fitting so much personality into their characters was also difficult, but as Luke Murtha, who plays Danny Saunders, said, “So is any role, every role is different and has its own challenges. He paused and added, “Learning Yiddish was hard though.”

During the rehearsal period, a Yiddish coach came to teach the actors the proper usage of certain words and to give a lesson on Jewish Orthodoxy.  There are many nuanced differences between sects of Orthodox Jews, so the cast had to be careful to differentiate to give a full accurate performance.  Many of the actors approached their characters as any other character they would portray: “someone you have to understand and emulate.”

Audience members were perplexed by how honest and beautiful the acting was from the  cast, some of whom were faced with the challenge of learning Yiddish understanding a culture completely different from theirs. For some of the actors, the novel served as a source for further research on their characters. The entire cast affirmed that Gidron did an amazing job of pulling his actors back, or pushing them forward, getting from them the honest performance he knew they could deliver.  It certainly worked: several members of the audience expressed having been moved to tears.

Another talkback will be available following the Sunday, November 4th performance of The Chosen.  

Monday, October 15, 2012

Behind Theater Doors: The Chosen Load In

By W. Vickroy, Marketing Assistant

As the Lyric Stage Company of Boston finished up their run of The Mikado this weekend, work immediately began on the set for Lyric’s new production of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen. While of course the finished set will remain a surprise for show goers until opening night on October 19, we thought in the meantime we’d offer a little peek at what our hardworking design and technical masters have been up to behind the theatre doors. I managed to sneak in this afternoon to snap a few quick shots and ask a couple questions about what all is happening here.

The tech table (left) sits among the seats during tech week, acting as a home base for the production team and allowing for the stage manager and designers to directly control lighting and sound from within the house.

The diagram below outlines the appearance of the center stage, as well as some detail on the walls of the set for The Chosen. Schematics like these allow for designers to visualize their plans and concepts for set design.  

More photos from the theater below:

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Food Opening

A. Nora Long
Associate Artistic Director

A new season is upon us, and last night we celebrated the opening of The Mikado at DaVinci Ristorante , just round the corner from the theatre. In order to avoid confusion with the first performance (on Fridays), the Press opening (on Sundays), the Wednesday night performance is affectionately known as the "food opening" because of these little post-show gatherings at our restaurant sponsor.
Check out a couple of photos from the Food Opening taken by our own Brian Dudley (on his iPhone):

Cast members Joelle Kross, Kathryn McKellar and Rishi Basu pose with the show's director, Spiro Veloudos.

Avenue Q pals Harry McEnerny V and Davron S. Monroe share a laugh.

Cast members Stephanie Grenade and Erica Spyres pose with their spouses, John and Andrew.

The Intrepid Lyric Staff: Brian Dudley, Matt Whiton, Dahlia Al-Habieli and me!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Avenue Q - The Understudy Life

by Alycia Sacco, u/s Girl Bear, Mrs. T, Others

When I first saw Avenue Q on Broadway some years ago, I was always hoping to have the opportunity to one day be in the show. When I was offered the job of understudy at the Lyric, I knew that it was a dream come true. My experience learning not only about the show, but puppetry was an amazing experience.

The skill set of an actor is never complete. We are constantly learning and developing our craft. Avenue Q was unlike any rehearsal process I have ever been a part of. A schedule of a two and a half rehearsal process is usually what I am accustomed to being a part of in Boston. During this time the show is learned, blocked, and teched. Avenue Q was the same - except rehearsals started a tad early for those who would be using puppets. I have so much respect for those who make puppetiring their livelihood. The amount of skill and focus that it takes to make it look easy is extremely challenging. The puppets get quite heavy, and it takes some practice to learn how to make them come alive. The task of perfecting a live performance is always tricky, but with the added skill to learn, tricky became ten times harder.

The cast of Q was incredible. Each performer was extremely dedicated to the project, and very specific when creating their characters. As a result they each helped my job a little easier. I was most worried about not having the same amount of foundational work as the cast did. Meaning, not as many performances under my belt to prefect my puppet skills, but when the time came for me to perform I was more than ready.

My performance was unreal. I have never done so much preparation on my own,, Leaning several vocal parts, plus the blocking for a number of different characters, was certainly a stretch for me. I was extremely nervous about mixing up blocking and notes, or my hand cramping, or missing a line, but it all worked out fine. I am so grateful to have had the chance to be a member of the cast of Avenue Q at the Lyric. I truly believe in the work that the theatre provides to the City of Boston, and I am so thankful for every opportunity that is given to me there. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Lyric First Stage - Alumni Reflection

Sarah Stearns, Lyric First Stage Alumnus

One of my first memories of Lyric First Stage is Spiro Veloudos chasing me around the theatre with a stick.

It was the opening scene of Hamlet. I was the harried watchman and he was the ghost of the Old King. He was trying to teach us the most basic lesson of acting by provoking honest reactions on stage, in this case, fear. Since I was a thirteen year old aspiring Tony Award winner being chased by the artistic director of the Lyric Stage Company with a stick, I believe he was successful.

Many of the lessons I learned through the Lyric First Stage program similarly went over my head at the time. But studying theatre in college six years later, I often stumble across knowledge I now take for granted that I actually learned doing Lyric First Stage. That summer, guest artists threw around strange names like Uta Hagen and Meisner, and I was convinced that [program director] Peter Carey hated me. Now the acting theorist Uta Hagen’s name is so familiar to me that my cat is nicknamed Cuta Hagen after her, and Peter Carey - like all great directors - only knew better than I did just what I was capable of.

Beyond theatre, I did more growing up that summer than I’ve ever done in such a short time. Not only did I meet my first boyfriend in the program, I also learned just why the works of Shakespeare have endured four centuries. I discovered the importance of seeing theatre if you want to be in theatre through the Lyric, and, most importantly, for the first time, I gave more than I thought I was capable of to a project and was truly proud of the results.

My experience at Lyric First Stage cultivated not only my love for the theatre but the standards I still strive for in every facet of life. I remember one guest artist who came in to teach a workshop told us all that the only way to pursue a career in theatre is whole-heartedly, with absolutely everything you have. At Lyric First Stage, fifteen minutes early was on time, three new choices were required at every rehearsal, and everyone, every student and staff member, committed every ounce of energy to each moment of the process, and loved every second of it. I’ve found the standards that we, as very young artists, were held to are often hard even for much more experienced actors to reach, and yet every member of our ensemble eagerly put everything into our work there. Lyric First Stage prepared me for the hardest parts of pursuing theatre simply by giving me a resoundingly positive foundation to draw on.

When I encounter a challenge that feels insurmountable, in life or in theatre, I still think back to my summer at Lyric First Stage, where I first learned to hold myself accountable for more than I think I can accomplish.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Avenue Q - Set Design

Kathryn Kawecki, scenic designer Avenue Q

For this design, I was really trying to create an urban nook that felt real but that could still have some quirky character & make a nod towards learning life lessons through skits & songs. Glancing across the surface, it's a fairly straight forward street scene, but the details have a little more of the show's personality: the graffiti on the side of a dirty box truck colorfully counts the 123s, in the background a brick wall has a city skyline painted on it (also in graffiti) as a reminder of the bigger city this neighborhood belongs to in the distance, and (my favorite) the bodega sign is "ABCs Anytime Variety Mart", where under layers of grime, everything is happily waiting to burst into song.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Last Chance

A. Nora Long, producing associate

Tonight is our final post-show forum and then only a few more performances till we close The Temperamentals on Saturday. Rehearsals for Avenue Q are underway, and we will dive into that a little more next week here.

The run of this show has been full of a range of experiences: standing ovations, walk-outs, tears, laughter, anger, confusion, thank you notes and hate mail (well, maybe not hate mail, but angry-mail). We have had quiet discussions in the lobby, and bold poses in our photo booth. The range and intensity of these responses is, in a word, striking.

I think The Temperamentals is a beautiful and moving play, about a rag-tag group of gents who made an impact on American History that deserves to be recognized. But, I also think, if everyone felt the same way about this play (and every other) we wouldn't really need to make anything ever again. We would just keep doing the same production for infinity, because we all thought it was brilliant, and how can you improve genius? And, that, friends, would get a mite old.

Our audience is not a monolith, nor would I want them to be. I think by evoking an emotional response from so many different people, no matter the joy or venom, means we are on to something. Theatre, like all art - but especially theatre - works best when it matters to us. When it gets us riled up, it means the transitory 2 hours traffic lives on in us.

Join us tonight for the show at 730PM or for the Forum at 9:30PM or the reception afterwards at Club Cafe.

Missed The Temperamentals? You can check out our production blog here!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Harry Hay's America

Julie-Anne Whitney, Assistant Box Office Manager

In 1950, Harry Hay co-founded The Mattachine Society, the first national gay rights organization in America. Their goal was to "eliminate discrimination, derision, prejudice and bigotry,"[1] against homosexuals and to assimilate them into mainstream society. At the time Harry and his friends formed the group there were hardly even whispers of the controversial topics that are so often openly discussed today. I bet Harry would be happy to know there are now more than 75 national LGBT rights organizations[2]--a reality The Mattachine Society could have only dreamed about.

Here is a snapshot of Harry Hay’s America: In 1952 the American Psychiatric Association called homosexuality a “sociopathic personality disturbance”[3]. One year later President Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10450, banning homosexuals from working for the federal government as they were deemed “security risks.” In 1955 the Unified School District produced Boys Beware which described homosexuality as a “sickness that was not visible like smallpox but no less dangerous and contagious.” These horribly distorted views spread like wildfire through America’s schools, on television, in the news, and did much to strengthen the country’s gay phobia for decades to come.

In many ways the America Harry Hay knew is strikingly similar to the America we know today. Gays and Lesbians still cannot get married (Ok so, we can get married in a whopping 6 states[4]. Whoopty-do). In 30 of our 50 states it is legal for businesses to refuse to hire, and even fire LGBT people based on their sexual orientation[5]. I am sure Harry--were he still alive--could tell us all about the racial segregation and discrimination of the 50‘s and 60’s, but I wonder if he would be surprised to hear that now LGBT people can be refused service in restaurants and businesses[6]. Many members of our community are also subject to extreme harassment and/or physical assault. In fact, less than two weeks ago two Kentucky men were arrested for assaulting and kidnapping a gay man[7]--a headline we have repeatedly seen for the past four decades, with 25 LGBT-related hate crimes in the past 2 years alone[8].

It is not just these blatantly discriminatory acts that keep us gridlocked in the fight for equality, but also the seemingly deliberate exclusion from main-stream entertainment which has the potential to greatly alter public perception of the LGBT community. The lack of more frequent, fully-developed, and well-rounded representations of LGBT people in television and film (two of our most effective means of idea transference), makes us seem less important, less an integral part of the America we all live in. According to the 16th Annual “Where We Are on TV” report[9] released by GLAAD in September 2011, LGBT characters “account for only 2.9 percent of scripted series regulars” on major broadcast networks, with only “29 LGBT characters on mainstream cable” networks in the past year. The movie industry isn’t any better. In the past three years, there have been a mere 13 US films[10] that featured LGBT characters and/or their romantic relationships.

So, why am I telling you all this? Because, quite simply, it is important. Harry Hay knew that these issues had to be talked about in order for them to be changed and 62 years later the conversation has not ended. I’m telling you this because sometimes we need to be reminded of where we started in order to see how far we have come, and to understand how very far we have still to go.

Here is a snapshot of Harry Hay’s America: Equal rights and opportunities (both at home and in public life) for all regardless of orientation. A society that is less tolerant of “discrimination, derision, prejudice and bigotry.” A country whose citizens are judged not by who they love but by “the content of their character.”[11] We’re getting there, Harry. We are getting there.

[1] “Milestones in the American Gay Rights Movement.” (www.pbs.org)
[2] “List of LGBT Rights Organizations.” (www.wikipedia.org)
[3] “Milestones in the American Gay Rights Movement.” www.pbs.org
[4] Same-Sex marriage is not recognized by the United States federal government, but such marriages are recognized by the following six states: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York, Iowa, Vermont as well as our nation’s capitol, Washington D.C. The states of Washington and Maryland have recently passed laws to begin granting same-sex marriage licenses, but each may be delayed or derailed by November 2012 voter referenda. Source: www.wikipedia.org
[5] See “Employment Non-Discrimination Act.” (www.aclu.org) 
[6] In January, 2012 there was a bill being considered in the NH House of Representatives that would allow people to refuse to serve gays in privately owned establishments. (www.wmur.com)
[7] David Jason Jenkins and Anthony Ray Jenkins became the first people to be charged with a LGBT-related indictment brought by the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which was signed into law on October 28, 2009 by President Barack Obama. This is the first federal legislation to provide inclusive protections for the LGBT community. (www.advocate.com and www.barackobama.com)
[8] “History of Violence against LGBT people in the United States.” (www.wikipedia.org)
[9] “Where We Are on TV Report: 2011-2012 Season” (www.glaad.org)
[10] A Single Man (2009), Bloomington (2011), Chloe (2009), Elena Undone (2010), I Love You Philip Morris (2009), Make the Yuletide Gay (2009), Pariah (2011), Prayers for Bobby (2009), Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), The Kids are All RIght (2010), The War Boys (2009), Valentine’s Day (2010). (www.wikipedia.org)
[11] Passage from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech” delivered on August 28, 1963 from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Friday, April 20, 2012

To Blog or Not To Blog

A. Nora Long, producing associate

Dear readers, As we near the end of our Temperamentals blog, we here at the theatre can't help but notice the HUGE viewing stats this little guy has gotten. It has lead some of us to think that maybe we will keep this little experiment going beyond this show and into a year round e-conversation about all the happenings at the Lyric.

So, I ask you - are you interested? What kind of things do you want to read about? Because you, dear readers, have the opportunity to also be writers yourself. Please feel free to take advantage of the comment section to tell us your thoughts, ask us your questions, or just give us some ideas for future posts.

The internet is not a one-way series of tubes, after all, and you all have our number.

On Tuesday look for our last Temperamentals guest blogger as the show closes next Saturday night. Come out and see us sometime (and by sometime we mean during our remaining performances).

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Lyric Stage Company Blog

Greetings, internet!

You have stumbled upon the official blog for the Lyric Stage Company of Boston, Boston's oldest professional theater company. Our hope is to use this platform as a way to connect with our audiences and provide interesting and thoughtful content that (we hope!) will provide insight to and foster dialogue about the work that we do both onstage and off.

This blog soft launched early 2012, but will officially launch in September 2012 with the opening of The Mikado on 9/7/2012.

Primary contributors will be Marketing & Development Associate Brian Dudley and Producing Associate A. Nora Long, but contributors will include (but are of course not limited to) other Lyric Stage staff members and interns, cast and crew members of our productions, and members of the community at large associated with the Lyric.

For more information about the Lyric Stage Company, we encourage you to visit us on Facebook or check out our official website at http://www.lyricstage.com, where you'll find detailed information about our current season, outreach and education programs, and much more.

If you have any questions, concerns, comments, or more, don't hesitate to comment on any post or e-mail brian_dudley@lyricstage.com. Thanks so much for visiting, and we hope you enjoy what you find!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Harry, Judy, and Me

By Stephen Nonack, The History Project
Having just concluded Stuart Timmons’ biography of Harry Hay, The Trouble with Harry: Founder of the Modern Gay Movement (a source for The Temperamentals), I am struck by my distance from the place and time when the Mattachine Society was founded, and my failure to connect on a personal level with Harry Hay.  Hay, who grew up in privileged circumstances in Los Angeles, sought from an early age to discover why he felt attracted to other boys.  At the public library he managed to speed read through a restricted copy of Edward Carpenter’s The Intermediate Sex, published in 1906, which offers a uniquely positive view of same-sex relationships and, most importantly, gave the boy a word not found in dictionaries of the period – homosexual.  It was a revelation and launched Hay in a life-long quest to understand the nature of gay identity.  His first “adult” gay sexual encounter occurred at age 14, when he seduced a 30 year old sailor (Hay was tall for his age, but the sailor freaked out when the age difference was revealed). He made no apologies for who he was and as a student at Stanford, publicly came out of the closet (before there was anything to come out of the closet for), creating a scandal.  That was daring – especially since there were no role models in history (except for Carpenter and Walt Whitman, perhaps) and few in his life, for inspiration.

During the 1930s he fell under the sway of Marxist-Leninist thought and the dream of an egalitarian society and organized for the Communist Party USA, though the Party forbade homosexuality and he was compelled to keep his identity a secret.  He was living a contradictory, conflicted life, having affairs with men (like handsome actor and CP agitator Will Geer [later “Grandpa Walton”]) yet, in 1938, he met and married Anita Platky, a Communist Party member, with whom he led an ostensibly hetero-normative life for the ensuing decade. Hay’s involvement with the leftist mass movement, called People’s Songs, was based on a revival of folk songs, and inspired the idea of the Mattachine Society, an all-male secret society that performed stylized dances in costumes and masks and spread a social justice message to the oppressed in medieval Europe.  Harry Hay met dancer Rudi Gernreich at Lester Horton’s Dance Theatre in L.A. in 1950; Hay was there to watch his eldest daughter practice.  They were attracted to each other immediately, and gay friends of Hay’s lent them their homes so that they could conduct their affair. 

Hay and Gernreich were co-founders of the Mattachine Society, which grew as new members were drawn to an organization that had a mission to provide brotherhood and support, education and study around homosexual identity, resistance to repression (and police harassment and entrapment), the ultimate goal being full civil rights.  Hay was armed with the Kinsey Report, published in 1948, which quantified homosexuality in America, and the organizing tactics (and devotion to secrecy) derived from his affiliation with the Communist Party USA.  Rules for structuring the discussion groups that were the magnets for attracting new members were quite specific, and topics were suggested (“Is there a homosexual culture?” “What causes swishing?”).  Ultimately, internal tension over real or imagined Communist sympathizers in the Society as well as Harry Hay’s domineering role in it led to his split in 1953 from the organization that he had inspired and led (referred to as the First Mattachine Society).  His leadership was a failure, essentially.  Rudi moved to New York to pursue a career in fashion, and the movement continued with others at the helm.  So, what was Hay’s lasting impact?  That’s hard for me to say.  [Some believe that Hay’s more lasting influence was in his organizing the Radical Faerie network, and his theorizing on the subject of “gay spirit.”]  This reads like so much ancient history.  At the time of my own coming to awareness of my sexuality I never heard or read anything about Mattachine or Harry Hay.  Though the subjects of Martin Duberman’s account of the Stonewall rebellion were born before the end of World War II and so are not, technically, Baby Boomers like me, their stories are much closer to my own.  That moment in 1969, beginning the night after Judy Garland’s funeral, came on the heels of the Civil Rights, Women’s Lib, and anti-war movements, and was spearheaded by people I can recognize.  The event still resonates for me and perhaps for most gay people of my generation. 

Of course, I worry that the message and memory of Stonewall will be lost to succeeding generations of LGBTQ Americans.  The NewYork Times last week carried a review of the new play about Judy Garland’s last days, End of the Rainbow.  The reviewer, Robert Leleux, a gay man in his 30s, took a friend to the performance; a Judy Garland devotee, he afterwards asked his friend whether he considered her a gay idol.  “Not to me, she isn’t.  I mean, I know she used to be important to gay guys, but I don’t see what she has to do with being gay anymore, except she did sort of remind me of Whitney and Lindsay and Britney.  You know, train wrecks.”  Leleux laments that “because of the holocaust that was the AIDS epidemic and its annihilation of the previous generation of gay men, the faith of our fathers risks extinction.  Today, Judyism, like Yiddish, is little more than a vague cultural memory.”  Oh dear.  But did you enjoy the performance?  Judyism, like Communism, like the First Mattachine, appears to be dead.

Thank goodness for The History Project, which documents and preserves a documentary record of LGBTQ lives and history, including people like Boston gay activist Prescott Townsend, a near contemporary of Harry Hay’s.  But perhaps the best and most immediate way to connect with our gay icons is through art.  A few years ago, gay singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright, recreated Judy Garland’s legendary 1963 Carnegie Hall concert, bringing the legend to a modern audience.  So thank the Lyric Stage for bringing the story of Harry Hay and Rudi Gernreich to Boston audiences in TheTemperamentals, a work of art that performs history and hopefully transcends generations. 

Friday, April 13, 2012


By Victor L. Shopov, actor

Our Temperamentals: l to r, Steve Kidd, Will McGarrahan, Nael Nacer, Shelley Bolman, Victor L. Shopov. Photo Mark S. Howard
Working on the Lyric's production of The Temperamentals has been quite the educational experience, not just in terms of the history lesson it has provided, but as a reinforcement of a famous French proverb of which I have always been fond: plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Like other, similar battles throughout history, the gay rights movement in the United States, the roots of which are explored in this production, is one defined by the collision of two starkly different groups of people: those who would deny people their rights, and those who would fight to protect those rights.

Six decades later, not much has changed.

Politics play a central role throughout the production, with references to the rising Red Scare, Henry Wallace and the Progressive Party, and the country's inaction during the onset of the Holocaust.  The common thread, as with most things, is the human element - what people are and are not willing to do based upon what is politically convenient or what is socially acceptable.

The 1950's is often seen as a golden age in the United States - a post-war emergence of American supremacy coinciding with political and cultural consensus and conformity.  Unfortunately, such conformity meant that challenging the status quo was simply not "acceptable."  Racism, bigotry, ignorance, and the scapegoating of minorities were commonplace, and went unchallenged for far too long.  While I would like to think we have reached a point of enlightenment where such traits are less prevalent, one need only cast a quick glance at the current presidential race to see that, in fact, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The quest for elected office has always been marked by the unfortunate implementation of the politics of division - setting one group against another in a twisted cost/benefit analysis resulting in the most efficient net gain of votes.  A cursory search of public comments by certain presidential candidates yields a plethora of remarks that can only be described as ignorant, inflammatory, and divisive.

In other words, they have achieved their desired result.

For all of the progress that has been made in recent years, we still live in a country where a civil institution is permitted to be discriminatory, where sheltering bullies under the guise of "religious freedom" is deemed more important than protecting their victims, and where an entire segment of the population is openly derided by unabashed politicians, lacking any semblance of remorse, for no reason other than to earn votes from those holding a very narrow, prejudicial view of the world.

And yet, while the battle itself remains the same, the battlefield has largely changed.  Harry Hay and the Mattachine Society were forced to work largely in secret for fear of reprisal.  Today, the campaign for equal rights is fought in the open.  That transition alone is progress.

It is said that the tides of history ebb and flow, and while forward progress is occasionally marked by backward steps, ultimately, change does come.  Perceptions shift, hearts and minds are changed, and the slow march of progress goes on.

Some things will forever stay the same.  But, with determination and perseverance, what is right will ultimately prevail and endure, and those who fought to make it so - Harry Hay, Rudi Gernreich, Dale Jennings, Bob Hull, Chuck Rowland, and countless others, will not soon be forgotten.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Matters that Matter

A. Nora Long, producing associate

During the time period of The Temperamentals, to be anything outside of an "Ozzie and Harriet" definition of normal could devastatingly impact your ability to get a job, buy a home, run for office. It mattered, and not because it is important to recognize and value our differences. Race, gender, sexual orientation, country of origin, political affiliation could mean the difference between a prosperous livelihood or invisibility. Just down the street, The Huntington Theatre Company is running a beautiful play that deals with the collision of race and class against the American Dream during the 1950s and today in our fair city, when an upwardly mobile African-American family pays a struggling Irish-American family to "ghost buy" a house in an all white neighborhood.

With a looming presidential election, I find myself often embroiled in endlessly fascinating conversations about the personal traits different people demand in a leader. Every day the media tells us about some charming quirk or embarrassing past deed that assaults our individual checklists when we discover our ideal is human after all. One of my Facebook friends was outraged the way President Obama stood in front of the flag. Another giggled at Newt Gingrich's check bouncing, while another can't stand Mitt Romney for leaving his dog on the roof of a car. However they (or you) feel about these incidents - none of them are about their proposed policies if (re)elected. But, they matter - deeply - passionately - to a good many of us. How many times have you heard "oh, I like him/her" when discussing a candidate? How many times have you said it? I know I say it all the time - when, in truth, I have never met any of these people, let alone had a meaningful conversation or game of bocce with them. I don't really know them, and yet I've decided I like them (or loathe them) because of how I think that meaningful game of bocce would be.

So, I beg the question of you, dear readers, what matters to you when shopping for President? Does the personal outweigh the political or are you just interested in the facts? Are you somewhere in the middle?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Reflections on the Burning Library

Neal Kane, chair, The History Project
Preparing for The History Project’s presentation in conjunction with the Lyric Stage’s April 12 performance of The Temperamentals has enabled the members of our group to revisit some of the original research we compiled for our 1998 book Improper Bostonians. While helping to assemble the information for the mini-exhibit created by THP for the Lyric’s lobby, I thought of Edmund White’s essay collection The Burning Library, whose title refers to the idea that when someone dies, a library burns. 

What was life like for lesbians and gay men in Boston during the years chronicled in The Temperamentals? This is a question we will seek to address in our presentation – one that is difficult to answer for a number of reasons. Key among them is the fact that while American society had never been hospitable toward men and women who identified as homosexual prior to 1950, the atmosphere of paranoia and suspicion that characterized the Cold War era compelled gay people to adopt an even greater degree of secrecy. As a result, thousands of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals had to live with the reality that the substance of their experiences as loving and sexual beings would never find validation in the historical record. They were compelled to burn – metaphorically, and sometimes literally – the libraries of their lives.

Lost to history
The History Project’s work to restore gay New Englanders to their rightful place in the historical narrative of the 1950s and 1960s has often been a somber exercise. In attempting to document gay life during the Cold War, archivists and researchers are confronted, for the most part, with a melancholic silence. During that time, gay people had every incentive not to preserve the substance of their lives in letters, photographs, and public records – the building blocks that constitute the very foundation of historical research. A snapshot or love letter could serve as grounds for termination, disinheritance, or blackmail. We will never know the number and volume of records destroyed by gay New Englanders and their families in the name of “privacy” and “discretion” during that period. When those individuals died, the library of their lives perished with them – and no one was there to preserve it.

As a result, the efforts of The History Project to reconstitute that period of New England’s LGBT history have been limited to preserving the sparse remnants of historical information that survived the period before Stonewall: a few oral histories, a handful of publications, and a meager store of photographs.

Drag king and queen, late 1950's, Boston

The members of THP are motivated, in large part, by a commitment to honor those brave LGBT individuals whose stories were lost to history. Having amassed one of the largest LGBT archival collections in the country, which spans both the pre-Stonewall and post-Stonewall eras, we lovingly preserve those documents for posterity and share them with researchers and the public. Our archives chronicle the rich tapestry of gay lives in Boston and beyond – how we have lived, loved, struggled, protested, and triumphed. As an independent archives, we are able to save records that would otherwise be destroyed, and create opportunities for the public to experience how the history they contain can be brought to life. Programs such as our series From the Archives give individuals the opportunity to learn more about the social and historical significance of our collections. Collaborations with other organizations such as the Lyric help us educate community members – both gay and straight – about the contributions of LGBT individuals to the historical narrative.

Scott Erickson discussed the button collection he donated to The History Project as part of our From the Archives series

Our dream is to acquire a space that will serve as a permanent home for our archives and a center for scholarly research and public exhibitions related to New England’s LGBT history. As we pursue that dream, we continue to process thousands of documents annually, thanks to the tireless efforts of volunteers who spend their nights and weekends transforming chaotic boxes of paper into carefully preserved and fully indexed collections. Their work is informed by pride, patience, and a shared goal: ensuring that the achievements of LGBT individuals assume and maintain their rightful place in history for generations to come. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Thoughts from the Audience

Brian Dudley, Box Office Manager
So have you seen the show yet?

Our production of The Temperamentals has now played four full performances, and things are off to a really great start across the board. Oh, sure, I could tell you what the critics are saying - The Boston Globe called it a "solid production," noting Will McGarrahan's "finely etched character portrait" of Harry Hay in their review today - but really I feel as though it is more important to you what I think.

You may recall that I wrote a few weeks ago about how I was excited to see this play up and running because of how much the script lends itself to being staged. Well, as it turns out, I was right, because everything about this play is nuanced and tempered (excuse the pun - is that a pun?) and it's all pretty great. My confusion was washed away and I found myself sitting and really enjoying the show I was seeing. Of course, I don't want to sit here and just review the play for you, because I am sure you are planning on seeing it. But let me say that I am really excited about how our first four audiences have been responding to this show.

I heard a story recently about a theater professional from out of town who was lamenting and chastising theater audiences these days for only looking for mindless entertainment, for not being interested in  connecting with art, and being afraid to take their engagement with a piece to a deeper level. And I am pretty thrilled to say that The Temperamentals audiences thus far are proving this guy completely wrong. Our audiences have been stopping to talk to us on their way out the door, and I gotta tell you, biased I may be, but all of the conversations I've had with people have been thought-provoking and indicative of a real connection to the play.

Some examples. At our post-performance talkback last Sunday, there was a lot of discourse about how truthful and honest the play was when it came to portraying these real-life characters in a fictional setting, and about how timeless and important this story is, and how moved they were by the show. People who've been using our Virtual Photo Booth (patent pending) have been chatting animatedly about how the characters are the lifeblood of the piece and how talented and invested our actors are. I've observed people fervently reading Nora's excellent dramaturgy - articles in the program and posted in our lobby - and have overheard conversations that range from dissecting the play from all angles, to stories being told about living through the times depicted in the play, to one person musing on the themes of the play and deciding to sum it up with the classic "to thine own self be true."

So to whoever says people only want entertainment, I say, pbbttttttthhhhh to you, sir.

... which is not to say that this show isn't entertaining. I mean, look, this picture contains not only a ukulele, which is statistically proven to be the most entertaining instrument*, but also a turnip with a face on it:

Victor Shopov, Will McGarrahan, and Shelley Bolman. Photo by Mark S. Howard.
So there's that, too.

*Okay, there is no such statistic, but come on! It's a teeny tiny little string instrument!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Who are you?

A. Nora Long, producing associate

Tonight is the final dress rehearsal and there will be LOTS more to say on that soon. BUT, I wanted to take a moment to tell you all about a little experiment we are engaged in.

As you may of heard (or I may have already mentioned) we received a grant from Mass Humanities to produce some supplementary programming for The Temperamentals and audience engagement activities using social media (the blog is part of the idea, for example). One of the other activities centers around a virtual photo booth.

As some of the central themes in the play are identity and self-expression, we thought it might be fun to give the audience a chance to express themselves in our virtual photo booth. You are invited to dress up with some of our props and costumes, write a thought on a white board, or just come as you are into our "booth" (regulars might recognize it as the alcove with a curtain). The photos will then by uploaded to our Facebook page, for you to tag, share, and comment on.

Our hope (besides cleverly luring you to our Facebook page) is that these photos will be a way to continue the conversation from the theatre with us and other audience members. Our front of house staff gave the booth a test-run tonight, and those photos will be up tomorrow, but here's a little teaser for you:
The Lyric Stage Company's fabulous front of house staff!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Coming Out

A. Nora Long, producing associate

Our lighting designer, John Malinowski, forwarded this article along to members of the production staff and company with the subject heading, "Coming Out in the 21st Century". It is a beautiful little story about one American family, and offers a different (and more inclusive) perspective on the "traditional" family values rhetoric. I am reminded of what Ellen DeGeneres said regarding calls to boycott JC Penney for having a woman representing "a non-traditional lifestyle" as their spokeswoman. "Here are the values I stand for: I stand for honesty, equality, kindness, compassion, treating people the way you'd want to be treated and helping those in need. To me, those are traditional values."

Thanks for sending the article along, John!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Original Mattachine

A. Nora Long, producing associate

Mattachine Society Christmas Party, 1951 or 1952. From left to right: Konrad Stevens, Dale Jennings, Harry Hay, Rudi Gernreich, Stan Witt, Bob Hull, Chuck Rowland, Paul Bernard. Photo by Jim Gruber.

This picture is of the original Mattachine Society, at a Christmas party in the early 1950s. It is a rare shot - in fact, one story goes that the only reason Harry agreed to sit for the picture in the first place is because the photographer, Jim Gruber, assured him there was no film in the camera (a classic trick).

The hesitancy to be photographed was not unfounded paranoia -the Mattachine Society became the subject of an internal FBI investigation starting in 1953. Due to his affiliation with the Communist Party, Harry was already under FBI surveillance, and in 1955 was summoned to appear before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. The fear of being arrested, harassed, or physically abused by members of law enforcement was rooted in the reality of experience.

Which makes this photo all the more remarkable and valuable to us today.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Radically Gay

Jeremy Johnson, director.

When I was 15, this old guy Andy (I think he was probably 30 at the time) worked with me at the local community theatre in Randolph, New Jersey. One day Andy handed me Reflections of a Rock Lobster and One Teenager in Ten. I don't recall if we had a conversation about being gay or not but those books changed me. I read them dozens of times and carefully hid them under my bed.

When I was 16, I got my driver's permit and Melissa Etheridge released a CD called Yes I Am. She sang a song called "Silent Legacy" and I pulled over on the highway because I couldn't see the road anymore. I sobbed for about twenty minutes pressing repeat each time the song ended. She had written a song for me and she felt like I did.

When I was 17, I walked into the Drama Bookshop in NYC and with butterflies in my stomach and sweating hands bought The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me by David Drake and read about what it was like to be a sissy and a badass all at the same time. I met David in Provincetown two years ago and it continues to be a very special day for me. Sometimes I think he saved my life.

When I was 32, I read The Temperamentals and all the memories above came rushing back to me immediately.

There is nothing more powerful than the moments when you realize you are not alone.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Lights Out

A. Nora Long, producing associate

On Tuesday night , The Temperamentals  began its first rehearsal with the traditional Lyric "Meet and Greet." Members of the company staff, design team, cast and crew gathered to introduce themselves, and learn a little more about the show and the theatre. And, of course, eat food.
Cast and crew listen to director Jeremy Johnson discuss the play, pre-blackout. 

The designer and director presentations were wonderful and informative, and we will put together some of the audio, video and photos from the day to share with you all. Of course, there was another much less fun event happening just up the street. As you have probably heard (and possibly experienced), a transformer fire in an NSTAR substation blacked out most of the city, including the Lyric right in the middle of the first read-through! A dramatic event to be sure. More news to come from rehearsals now that the lights are on shortly.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Intersection of Public and Private Space

Sara Brown, scenic designer

In order to recount the founding of the Mattachine Society, Jon Marans' script flows quickly through a number of scenes that take place in a variety of different locations. These scenes are written to flow into one another seamlessly. The design challenge is to create an architecture for the space that supports these varied locations while remaining flexible. To me, the stage design had to reflect the seamless nature of the script and allow for the performers to move through it to get to different locales as opposed to having the scenery move to the performers to make different scenes.

While the play is documenting the pre-Stonewall gay rights movement in America - it is also very much about the imperfect individuals and personal relationships that formed this movement. They each had to struggle with the intersection of the public and private in a very real way. Most of the men in the play are attempting to live out a 'normalized' family life while maintaining relationships outside of the bounds of this social structure. I was interested in the idea of the home as the extension of the family. I was drawn to the look of California Modern homes and in particular Eichler Homes. Not only are these homes of the time and place of the play, they reflect an idealized notion of the family as America's best hope for the future.  Placing the house structure at the center of the stage allows the performers to physically occupy a family space, to stand outside of it, or to use it as a place to hide in plain site. 

As a designer, I start by mapping out the action of the text. The initial conversations tend to focus on use and action. I bring images that I think reflect the world that we are creating and then find ways to deconstruct elements in a way that supports the performance. In this case, we talked a great deal about creating opportunities for lighting. The scenery is designed to create shadows and texture in light. Each element can be lit from the front or from the back to stand in silhouette.

Friday, March 9, 2012

What You Can Do

A. Nora Long, producing associate

Sorry, blog, this is a day late. But, hopefully, I will make up for my tardiness, with thoughtfulness (fingers crossed).

On Sunday, I led our second talkback for our current production Time Stands Still; (Hang on, isn't this blog about The Temperamentals? Wait for it!) the story of two journalists recovering from trauma they have faced abroad, and the impact their work has on their relationship. It is a play about relationships, primarily, but one of the questions it raises (and was again raised by several audience members) surrounds the idea of the value of journalism. Is it worth the risk these journalists take to cover these stories? With so many images fighting for our attention, does any single image have power anymore? Why is it important for average citizens to be informed about the world? What can we really do about it?

I think we can all sympathize with this feeling of helplessness. What can any of us small individuals do about all the many terrible things happening in the great big world? Well, in this country, you have two powerful tools at your disposal - voting and shopping.

I think the benefits of voting are fairly self-explanatory - you can have a direct impact on who makes decisions in the one of the most powerful nations in the world. You can lobby your elected officials, you can let them know how you feel about anything. And, with the advent of the internet, it couldn't be easier. In case you weren't otherwise aware (cause you read this blog but no other source of news?) this is an election year. In Massachusetts, you must register to vote by August 17th to be eligible to vote in the State Primary, or by October 17 for the General Election on November 6th. You can read more about it here. So, vote, and email your representatives.

Shopping may sound silly, but as a consumer in a capitalist country, where you put your money matters. The fact is the advances of technology and the global market mean that we are all much closer to events in the world than ever before. In the 90's, we all started to look at our sneakers differently, and changed the industry - and now the true cost of the Ipad is drawing similar comparisons. In the last month, a group threatened to boycott JC Penney for hiring Ellen DeGeneres as a spokeswoman, only to rally several thousand more supporters to DeGeneres and the retailer, in a sense boycotting the boycott.

I could go on as there are many examples of how each of us can contribute in our small ways to shaping the world we want to live in - which brings me nicely to the story of The Temperamentals. As Stuart Timmons writes about in his biography of the leader of our group (and incidentally revealing the inspiration for the title, "The trouble with Harry Hay was his refusal to adapt to a reality he found unacceptable." We can all do the same. As the philosopher George Santayana wrote, “Those who fail to heed the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them."

In looking back on our past, we have the advantage of hindsight, and can determine for ourselves how much has really changed, and how much has stayed the same. And then we can figure out what we want to do about it.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Tasty Space Between

Brian Dudley, Box Office Manager

Okay, can we be honest with each other?

I don’t love reading plays.

Before you start chasing me out of the box office with torches and pitchforks, please note that this does not mean I don’t like plays. No, no, no! I think plays are great. The play is such a unique narrative form in that the script, the actual words are just the skeleton, and the muscles and veins and lungs and eyes and ears all belong to someone else: an actor, a director, a designer, a member of the audience.

Therein, however, is my problem with just sitting and reading plays. All I know is that more often than not, when I curl up by the fire with a cup of tea to read a play1, I get a few pages in and then I go all cross eyed because my brain isn’t filling in the blank spaces between the dialogue and I’m unable to process the story being presented to me. When I look at a script, often I’m boggled by the white space between the lines. What the actors will look like. Will they have accents? Is he wearing a suit in this part, or is he dressed more casually? How will they transition from being in a crowded diner to a cramped bedroom? The white space is endless.

There’s so much not being said in The Temperamentals, so I’ll admit it to you here and now that when I first read the play, I closed the script and I didn’t quite know how to react. This was my first verbalized2 response, via a text message to a good friend of mine:

The answer to her question was, “yes, I think so.”

Because, see, when I read the script of The Temperamentals, it’s like I’m scanning the list of ingredients for a cookie recipe. I see things like social justice and political awareness and men in suits and chocolate chips3, and it’s like when I read an actual cookie recipe and my mouth fills with drool imagining the plate of baked goods I will eventually be consuming. There are so many interesting, thought-provoking, and exciting things about the play, a lot of which lives in the white space, so as good as the words are, I look forward to hearing them once the whole production has been baking in the oven for a little while, and the smell of intelligent discourse and interpersonal relations waft through the theater.

You know, I think I got lost in the metaphor there. Excuse me while I go find some cookies.

And we’re back. At its core, The Temperamentals is a story about Harry Hay and his relationships, both romantic and platonic, with other men, and how they were created, influenced, and effected by the conception of one of the first successful gay rights organizations in this country. Anytime a playwright dips into history and recreates a real person, the opportunities for distinctive and exciting storytelling are everywhere, and nowhere more than in this script. This is a story I’m glad the Lyric will be telling, because I am so interested to see the way the characters interact with one another in “real life,” instead of on the page. I look forward to gauging their posture and gait and tone of voice; to the story really living and breathing along with these men.

So the short version of this is that I’m really excited to see this play. I’m excited that you’re going to see it too.4 And afterwards, you can come to the box office and tell me how well you think we filled in the spaces.

[1] I do not actually do this.
[2] In a manner of speaking – I was alone in public so I did not actually verbalize anything.
[3] I cannot promise there will actually be chocolate chips at the theater, but I encourage you to bring your own. I know I will.
[4] What do you mean, you don’t have tickets yet? Call 617.585.5678 and talk to one of our charming box office representatives today. Is this a shameless promotion? Yes. Yes it is.