Guest Post: 2014 FringeNYC preview of LGBT-inclusive Shows

Editor's Note: This guest post from long-time GLAAD volunteer Dan Bacalzo is part of GLAAD's effort to draw more attention to theater projects with LGBT content. To find more LGBT-inclusive plays in Los Angeles and New York, please visit theater.glaad.org.

By Dan Bacalzo

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender characters and subject matter form part of the diverse mix of programming in the 18th Annual New York International Fringe Festival, running August 8-24 in multiple locations in downtown Manhattan. There seems to be something for everyone this year, with six of those plays presented together as part of Brown & Out, conceived and produced by Miguel Garcia, who is also one of the participating playwrights.

Brown & Out draws from three years worth of entries in a short play festival celebrating the Latino/a LGBTQ experience that Garcia created at the LA-based Casa O101 Theater. "What I especially like about the collection of six plays are the themes of family, forgiveness, and acceptance," he says. "Growing up, I did not see a lot of performance in theater, film, and television that included both identities – queer and Latino/a. As an out, gay, Latino writer, I made a commitment to create for my generation a show where both identities could exist in harmony with one another, inspiring audiences that they could be both - and live brown, out, and proud."

Also rare in the performance world are theater for young audiences plays specifically aimed at LGBT families and their allies. "There's this mentality that introducing kids to any kind of queerness is a kind of corruption, something to be guarded against," says Lindsay Amer, director of And Then Came Tango. "I think we really need to fight against that."

Written by Emily Freeman, Tango is inspired by the real-life tale of a male penguin couple at the Central Park Zoo who were given an egg to hatch, resulting in the birth of a baby chick that the pair subsequently raised. A public school tour of Freeman's play was scuttled in Austin after its age-appropriateness was questioned. But Amer believes the show will appeal to both children and adult observers. "Everyone can use a little bit more of a childlike mentality in their lives," she states. "I really hope to get queer families to come out, exposing kids to stories that have narratives like this and that kids need to see."

Family bonds are also explored in Baby GirL by Kim Ehly, inspired by the writer-director's own experience as an adoptee who came out as a lesbian. Ehly has fictionalized her protagonist, named Ashley, who goes in search of her birth mother after a less than accepting response to her announcement by her adoptive parents.

"I like to play with fantasy and a heightened sense of reality," says Ehly. "Ashley has a fantasy that Jessica Lange or Anne Murray may be her mother. She carries that idea around with her." The play debuted in Florida in 2012, to what Ehly describes as an "overwhelming" response. "People felt so connected to it," she relates, "Whether it was the fact that they were lesbian, or they were gay, or they were adopted, or they had misplaced a family member along the way, or that they don't fit in for some reason. I think that sometimes it's just good to know that you're not alone, that you're not the only person who experienced some tough times of not being accepted and figuring out where you can be."

A search to find one's own identity is also at the heart of I Am Not I, by Laura Abbott. The play centers on Jane, who has a mixed Jewish and Mexican heritage and is getting ready to celebrate a quinceañera. This fifteenth birthday celebration is supposed to mark a transition from girl to woman, but Jane does not identify as female at all.

"Someone very close to me came out as transgender in 2008, and I wish I could say I embraced him in rainbow-colored-solidarity, no questions asked," says Abbott. "But it was an adjustment, getting used to the pronouns, the change in appearance. My queer liberal self had some learning to do. I think the 'T' in 'LGBT' is the least understood in our community, and I hope that—by synthesizing our story into this play—I can help audiences begin to learn as well."

Barry Levey went on a different kind of fact-finding mission to create his solo work, Hoaxocaust!, which delves into the mindset of Holocaust deniers. "I think it helps to have a good skeptical sense of humor about what I'm hearing from these people, and certainly trying to draw out the implausibility from what they're saying can be funny," says Levey. "But there's a fine line because I also want to show how convincing they can sound."

The piece incorporates elements from Levey's life, including a fictionalized version of his 14-year relationship with his non-Jewish boyfriend. During a previous presentation of the show, Dr. Ruth - the famous sex therapist who also happens to be a Holocaust survivor -showed up unexpectedly one night and participated in an audience talkback. "I was a little bit terrified," admits Levey. "She said, 'I do have one very important question to ask you: do you and your boyfriend get back together in the end? Because if you don't I think you both should come see me for some counseling.' So the relationship has proved to be one of the central things in the show that people seem to enjoy and take away, including Dr. Ruth!"

A sex therapist might be in order for the polyamorous trio of Dean, Michael, and Jane in David Kimple's MMF, who are in the process of ending their union. "The characters represent three different points of view," says the playwright. "The version of yourself that wants to know how you got to where you are, the version of yourself that is actually present in the relationship, and the version of yourself that wants to know what's going to happen down the line."

Kimple, who has had relationships with both women and men, has drawn from his own experiences although the show is not directly autobiographical. "This play is not necessarily about bisexuals," he says. "It's about a relationship that simply exhibits what it means to be living in that world. It's about emotions and feelings, and dealing with people you love saying they don't love you."

These six shows are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to LGBT-related material in the New York International Fringe Festival. Among the other entries are Behind Closed Doors: The Musical, born as a reaction to California's passage of Prop 8 and depicting a group of outcasts living and loving in a stark world ruled by an authoritarian regime; openly gay Australian comedian Joel Creasey in Rock God; No Homo, in which two longtime male friends decide to find out if maybe they really are gay; Slam Up, a musical remix of comedy, poetry, and improv exploring the many shades of love; and The Hurricane, a musical reinvention of Shakespeare's The Tempest set on Fire Island. Even more LGBT-related offerings can be viewed on GLAAD's New York City theater listings page at http://nytheater.glaad.org/2014/

Additional information on the New York International Fringe Festival can be found at www.fringenyc.org

Related Stories

 

GLAAD Southern Stories will elevate the experiences of LGBT people in six of the nation's southern states. The initiative amplifies stories of LGBT people thriving in the South, ongoing discrimination, as well as the everyday indignities endured by LGBT people who simply wish to live the lives they love, including stories of family, stories of faith, stories of sports, and stories of patriotism