INTERVIEW: Atlanta's Terry Guest: "I hope people learn how necessary the LGBT community is"

Actor's Express, a theater based in Atlanta, GA, is currently in production of Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet. Written by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Marcus is the coming-of-age tale of a young African-American man discovering his sexual identity in the Louisiana bayou. As an epic storm gathers in the distance, the currents of young Marcus' life swirl toward a passage of self-discovery. As he comes to grips with his own burgeoning sexual identity, Marcus must look to the secrets of his family's past to understand his future.

GLAAD Southern Stories is an initiative that tells the stories of LGBT people and their allies in the South to create a cultural shift towards LGBT acceptance and understanding in the South. LGBT people in the U.S. South, perhaps more than anywhere else in the country, live with the everyday realities of the gap between policy advances and cultural realities for the LGBT community. By highlighting the work done by Actor's Express and the production as a whole, the theater community in Georgia shows how telling the story of Marcus is imperative in letting LGBT people of the South know that we've #GotYourBack.

As part of the Southern Stories program, GLAAD's Director of Programs Ross Murray interviewed actor Terry Guest to learn more about the production, his personal ties to the role of Marcus, and why Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet is an important piece to be showcased in Atlanta:

 

Marcus; or The Secret of Sweet is one of those gay coming of age stories. What makes this one unique?

Many gay coming of age stories are about a sad person having to come out to their friends and family and working hard to fight against a community who doesn't understand or accept them; this story is very different. Marcus is surrounded by loving and supportive friends and family. In this story, the only real obstacle is himself. Also, the show is fun, colorful, and most importantly, joyous.

What is the role of allies in Marcus? Do they have his back?

Every person in the show is an ally to Marcus, which is part of what makes this play so special. In this play, Marcus is an important part of the ecosystem of his community. Without his influence – specifically his queer influence – the community would fall apart.

How does Marcus compare to your own life? Is he at all like you? What's different?

Marcus is far more brave then I was at sixteen. The verve with which he goes in search of his identify is something that I didn't find until my early twenties. I admire him, and every night I try really hard to be as brave as he is. Also, we're both obsessed with The Wiz.  

You've actually done this show before. What's different about it this time around? What feels like a continuation?

The first time I did this show I had just turned twenty-one and was heavily closeted. I had never even had sex with a man.  Because of that, I kept the character at arm's length for fear of discovering things about myself that I was not ready to explore. This time, I have a much deeper emotional connection to the material having lived through my own coming out experience. With that said, opening the script and saying the lines again felt a little like slipping into my favorite slippers. This show made a major impact on my life the first time – I came out shortly after it closed – and I suspect that it will have a similarly significant impact this time around.

 

Atlanta has a significant African-American and LGBT population. What makes mounting this production in Atlanta so significant?

Atlanta needs a show like this! The African-American LGBT population is informed, cultured, and colorful, and deserves to have a story in which we are the hero! Plus it is hysterical. There are some sexy men and a fierce drag show in the second act! What's not to love?

GLAAD's #SouthernStories program has been highlighting LGBT people in the south. Do you think that Marcus is a good southern story? How so?

Marcus is a stellar southern story because everything about it is so darn southern. So many of the characters remind me of my uncles, grandmothers, and cousins. Everything from the dialogue to the head wraps and hoop earrings scream home for me. And just wait until you hear Bernadine Mitchell sing. Her voice is thick and bright as Georgia red clay.

What do you hope that audiences will learn from Marcus?

I hope people learn how necessary the LGBT community is and has always been to the fabric of our world. More than anything, I hope that audiences are able to see themselves in the characters. It is so rare that young queer men and women see themselves on stage or in TV and film as anything other the funny best friend, hairdresser, personal assistant, or sad bullied victim. In Marcus we get to be sad, funny, mean, smart, fabulous, sexy, confused, and everything in between. In other words, we get to be human.

Anything else?

Be sure to check out the talkback schedule! I can't wait to hear all of your stories!

 

In the cast are Terry Guest, Enoch King, Bernardine Mitchell, Tiffany Mitchenor, Falashay Pearson, Ashley Tate, Avery Sharp, Shon Middlebrook and Olubajo Sonubi.

On the creative team are director Karen Robinson, scenic designer Kat Conley, costume designers Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay, lighting designer Rebecca Makus, sound designer/composer Joel Abbot, choreographer Becca Potter, dramaturg Jane S. Barnette, and stage manager Tracy Thomas.

Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet runs until April 27th and performances are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM. For more information on the show, the cast, and tickets to the performances, visit www.actors-express.com

 

To learn more about GLAAD's Southern Stories program, visit http://www.glaad.org/southernstories, and follow us on Twitter to stay up to date on our latest projects.

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