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

THE MORE THINGS CHANGE...


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!