Editor's Note: This guest post from long-time GLAAD volunteer Jim Talbot is part of GLAAD's effort to draw more attention to theater projects with LGBT content.
By Jim Talbot
This week, the Skylight Theatre Company in Los Angeles will honor the renowned playwright Terrence McNally with a four day, star-studded celebration - the first of an annual series honoring America's great playwrights. McNally has won four Tony Awards for his plays Love! Valour! Compassion!, Master Class, and for his musical books for Kiss of the Spider Woman, and Ragtime, and has received numerous other awards for his extensive body of work in the theater.
With over 20 years as the volunteer chair of GLAAD's nominating jury for the Outstanding Los Angeles Theater category, I'd like to take this celebration as an opportunity to revisit McNally's commentary in an op-ed entitled "Gay Theatre? No, Just Life" in the Los Angeles Times over 17 years ago. As part of the final voting process for GLAAD's Outstanding Los Angeles Theater Award, I would often pass out copies of this article as a way to help our jurors judge how successful a playwright had been in replacing long-held stereotypes with more fully-realized LGBT representations.
In the denial days of the 1950s and early 1960s, the convention was simply to pull your punches. In Tea and Sympathy (1953) the young male lead is written as sensitive and gentle, rather than tormented and closeted. By the time Mart Crowley's Boys in the Band opened in 1968, the theater was ready for a long overdue declaration that we are gay: not closeted-gay, not confused-heterosexual gay. Just nothing more and nothing less than 100% red-blooded, USA Certified, all-gay gay. It was a political imperative back then to stand out on the street and finally yell that particular word - out and loud - because popular culture had, for too long, shamed and outlawed the love that dare not speak its name.
By the mid-90s the world had changed. As McNally wrote in his LA Times piece, "Gay is good, of course. It is also terrible, perplexing, banal, hilarious, tragic and as concerned with mortgage rates and who's moving in next door as straight is." He continued, "Here's the scoop: Gay theater doesn't exist anymore. There is good theater and there is bad theater. Gay playwrights either write a play as worthy of your interest (or mine) as Mr. Arthur Miller or they don't. …But fair's fair. Nowadays, Mr. Arthur Miller must write a play at least half as interesting as Mr. Tony Kushner."
Ultimately, if they're good, gay playwrights think of themselves as playwrights first and then gay playwrights, understanding that their characters have to be people first and then gay people. As changing attitudes continue to challenge those behind the footlights, hopefully those of us in front of the footlights will be a little less sure in knowing exactly what gay is, well before we open our theater programs - something Mr. McNally was trying to get us to think about, all those 17 years ago... a long 27 years after Stonewall, but just a short two years before Matthew Shepard's murder which gave rise to two theatrical productions, the second of which played to over 100 theaters worldwide.
The Skylight Salute begins on Sept. 26 with a VIP dinner with McNally at a private residence. On Sept 27 McNally will be featured on an industry panel spotlighting his work and career moderated by out actor Dan Bucatinsky (Scandal). On Sept 28 there will be a reading of McNally's comedy classic, It's Only A Play, at the Skylight Theatre. On Sept 29, McNally will teach a master class on writing, and later that night he will be honored at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills with an event featuring celebrities from stage, television, and screen reading excerpts from his classic plays.
Be sure not to miss this event to honor Mr. McNally. For the video trailer and individual postings for each event with ticket purchase discounts, go to GLAAD's theater listings website at theater.glaad.org.