AMERICAN THEATER | This (Pride) Month in Theater History


Caffe Cino in 1962. (Photo from the collection of Brian Merlis)

June 1961 (60 years ago)

The program of ‘And he made a she.’

Babel, Babel, little tower opens at Caffe Cino this month, the second of four plays by Doris Wilson produced at the seminal Off-Off-Broadway venue in this banner year, all featuring openly gay characters. (The others were And he made a her, Now she’s dancingand Pretty people.) Directed by Joe Cino, Cafe Cino was a West Village cafe that hosted play readings and performances, and is now considered the birthplace of Off-Off-Broadway. Doric Wilson, a queer activist and writer, later co-founded a gay theater company called The Other Side of Silence, or TOSOS, in 1974. In June 2001, Wilson worked with directors Mark Finley and Barry Childs to resurrect TOSOS as an organization “dedicated to an honest and open exploration of the life experience and cultural sensibilities of the LGBTA+ community and to the preservation and promotion of our literary past in a determined effort to keep our theatrical heritage alive “.

June 1981 (40 years ago)

This month, San Francisco Rhinoceros Theater produced the play by playwright Arch Brown news boywhich received a mixed review from Bay Area Journalist critic John F. Karr, however He concludednews boy reflects our lives continuously and insightfully enough to be gratifying… Every man on stage is me at one time or another; I am each of them. The insights it offers into the lives of others, and our own, are very enriching, deeply comforting and, yes, entertaining. Theater Rhino, which claims the title of “the world’s oldest continuously producing professional queer theater”, was founded in August 1977 by Allan B. Estes Jr., and for 44 years has produced, developed and presented dozens of playwrights queer and theater artists, including Marga Gomez, Terrence McNally, Harvey Fierstein, Jane Chambers, Kate Bornstein, Peggy Shaw, Erika Lopez and Sara Moore.

June 1986 (35 years ago)

Terry Galloway.

Performance artist Terry Galloway, author of the memoirs Nasty little deaf fagotgets a West Coast production of his solo play heart of a dog, with Debbie Devine starring and Ivan Spiegel directing (Galloway herself had played the autobiographical role in the New York premiere of the series). Galloway is one of the founders of the Tallahassee, Florida-based Mickee Faust Club, an entertainment society and venue that serves those who are not just underserved but neglected. Mickee Faust prefers to brag about his Faust’s Manifestobut its mandatory nonprofit mission statement does express that artistic creators are “people from the LGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities, and people from low-income strata.”

June 1991 (30 years ago)

This month, Postmodern African American Gays, aka Pomo Afro Homos, opened Fierce Love: Stories of Black Gay Life at Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica, California. Eric Gupton, Brian Freeman and Djola Branner, the original trio of performers, had formed the band a year earlier. In this first performance piece, which they toured nationally and internationally, the band explored their black queer identities through a series of 12 vignettes. That same summer, their performance fierce love was banned from the National Black Theater Festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina for its explicit queer content. But they were welcomed with open arms by many other communities and festivals, where the final vignette, “Towards a Queer Black Rhythmic Nation,” was an audience favorite.

June 1996 (25 years ago)

This month, playwright Mart Crowley sat in the audience for the opening night of WPA Theater’s revival of The boys in the band. The groundbreaking play originally opened Off-Broadway at Theater Four in 1968, a time Crowley recalls it was “almost impossible to find” actors willing to play gay characters. Crowley said he wrote the piece in part in response to the challenge from New York Times drama critic Stanley Kauffmann in his 1966 essay, “The homosexual drama and its disguises.” The essay argued for “gay playwrights to abandon all allusions, coding and veiled metaphor in order to portray gay lives honestly and openly”. That’s exactly what Crowley did when he penned a play about eight men who come together to celebrate a birthday in New York. Some critics have cited the play as influencing attitudes that led to the Stonewall Rebellion. Since this first revival, band boys had a London premiere (2016) and a Broadway revival (2018). The play has also been adapted for film twice: first in 1970, directed by William Freidkin, and more recently in 2020, directed by Joe Mantello and available now on Netflix.

Kenneth Nelson, Frederick Combs, Laurence Luckinbill and Peter White in the original production of “The Boys in the Band”.

Also this month, New York City performance venue Dixon Place held a fundraiser for the New York Theater Workshop which took the form of a plethora of queer playwrights and performance artists reading scenario staging. Stage Door, adapted from the play by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber. The cast for this unique performance included Tony Kushner, Peggy Shaw, Everett Quinton, Lola Pashalinski, the Five Lesbian Brothers and Holly Hughes.

June 2001 (20 years ago)

This month, Boston The theatrical offensive opened Kate Bornstein’s play Two tall blondes in loveat the Black Box Theater at the Boston Center for the Arts. Bornstein is the pioneering author of Gender Outlaws: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us. Among the performance pieces they have created are Kate Bornstein is queer and agreeable danger, the opposite sex is neither, and Hidden: a sex. The Theater Offensive (TTO) grew out of the “gay men’s guerrilla theater troupe, United Fruit Company,” formed by Abe Rybeck and a group of artists/activists in Boston in 1989. It still thrives today with the mission to “present liberating art by, for, and about queer and trans people of color that transcend artistic boundaries, celebrate cultural abundance, and dismantle oppression.

June 2016 (5 years ago)

This month, Lincoln Center’s LCT3 Off-Broadway series opened War by playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins at the Claire Tow Theatre. That same year, Jacobs-Jenkins became a Creative Capital recipient with collaborator Carmelita Tropicana for their Jacobs-Jenkins/Tropicana project. The current project is a performance art piece exploring the similarities and differences in their experiences as queer artists of color whose work revolves around “identity, belonging and the nature of history and of storytelling”.

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