WARNING! This entry contains sarcasm and political incorrectness.
Is a theatre company LGBTQ just because they claim to be? Is this what happens when the focus is to win awards in the theatre community and play politics not serve the voice of the LGBTQ community?
Shorts Gone Mild
Last year I wrote and directed for an LGBTQ short play series. Not surprisingly, my play was the only one representing the L and the only one written by a woman of the 8 plays. At the time, I encouraged producers to incorporate more lesbian voices. After it closed last summer, I was asked by producers to write again for the series.
This is the text message from one of the producers I received shortly after the first read thru in late June '14 of all of the new plays, regarding my new short play, Clit Tease : “…wanted to drop you a quick note: Your play is very good. It’s sexy, very funny and has an important point to make. It’s the best play we have because it fits the mission to entertain and speak to an issue. I was really happy with it.” I was overwhelmed by such kind and unsolicited words.
Less than two weeks later I was informed via email by that same producer that my play will need to be pulled, because two of the individuals involved won’t do the piece, citing personal issues with the play and assumptions that they think they may know a source of inspiration for the play. Apparently, there were two meetings with these actors who objected to my play. I was not a part of either and was made aware of these meetings after they both had taken place. I received an email, no phone call, to tell me it was pulled. An email.
And so, I was asked to write a play for this series and submitted it many months ago. I spent time developing it. Ultimately, I was told it would be “unjustly cruel” to expect two actors to portray this material, that they were "angry" and "their feelings were hurt". I’m shaking my head as I write. These actors are not lesbians. These actors have no idea what it is to experience these situations. Writers borrow inspiration from their own lives all the time. Writers write fiction. This play is fiction. You can’t put fact on stage and expect it to entertain people. That is the luxury of sitting in a room alone and typing on the page.
The gift of being a writer is messing with the truth, perception, reality, fictionalizing circumstances, making up situations, and melding some together, to impact the observer. Clearly, this piece does exactly that, challenges people to look at this behavior and question it.
This is a play inspired by a meld of women from over 26 years of being a lesbian. Their behavior is the inspiration for this piece. It is not a matter of “ridicule” or “lambasting” (which was one of the accusations the other producer made), it is a matter of telling the lesbian perspective of the habit of “straight” women that like to toy with lesbians for sport. It is a common occurrence. If that makes them look bad, that is only a result of their own behavior. The play also explores Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I take it as a huge compliment that there are such strong reactions to the play and that it is assumed to be based on truth rather than fiction. This play is meant to stir emotions. That speaks to an ability to write from a place of connecting to something far below the surface of things.
I am thrilled to be in NYC to put my original play, Baby GirL, further out into the world at FringeNYC. That has tremendous meaning for me. For that reason, I wasn’t giving this issue a lot of time. I have a few reasons for taking the time to address this topic. One is I found out, of late, that one of the actors that objected or should I say “boy”cotted my material, actually submitted a play to the series and it was not chosen. Hmm, example of sour grapes? One of the more important reasons is that theatre is bigger than two actors and their personal opinions or problems with a play that speaks to an issue that has affected practically every lesbian I know, at some point or another. Isn’t this what theatre is about? Writing about topics that cause people to question behavior, human experiences, and life in general? Or are we supposed to “play” it safe?
Theatre isn’t a popularity contest. Theatre is about reaching in and affecting the viewer. Theatre is about something far bigger than our own egos. Theatre isn’t about the next award your theatre company earns from the small pool of people that make those decisions. It’s about the patrons that pay to experience the magic of theatre, of being transported…and if it’s really good, they leave affected by the journey they have taken. One of the producers accuses me of “making fun” of the supposed source of inspiration. He went on to say that “there’s a sizeable chance that others in this small theatre community will, however wrongly, make the same assumption about who the character is based upon.”…and I say, Who cares? So you pull my play because of your assumptions about who or what inspired the “excellent” work? Are you serving the LGBTQ community or your position in the "small theatre community"? Is this yet another example of a mission for the LGBTQ community gone awry?
I've contemplated since early July, whether or not to lay out my perspective on the issue of my play being pulled. However, I hold a Master of Social Work and for good reason. I have often been the voice for people who are unheard or underserved. This is one of the ethics we agree to in the social work field. It is my duty to speak up. The lesbian voice is underserved. This action is another clear example of that.
This series claims to serve the LGBT community. Yet, a play hailed by both producers as a play they “love”, that is "very funny and sexy", even“excellent”, that is “the best play” they have, is being removed, due to the personal perspectives and feelings of two self identified straight actors that have a problem with a lesbian playwright addressing a real issue in our community. Removed because “at this late stage it will be easier to find a new play then it will be to find two good actors.” (Yes, he put “then” instead of “than”). Hmm, name 3 lesbian playwrights, and go. Right. Neither can I. Yet, I know plenty of actors that would appreciate the work and even, want to serve a play with a strong message and perspective. Interestingly, they replaced an actor since pulling my play, but it wasn't one of the "objecting" actors. Now that wasn't so hard, was it?
Since this happened, I’ve had several people of many backgrounds read the play. All of whom, regardless of sexual orientation, stated that they know women like this in their lives, that this play speaks to an important issue, that the lead character could be messing with men just as easily as women, that the theme is universal.
Bottom line, if you want fluff, don’t hire Kim Ehly. I’m far too interested in creating theatre that is meaningful and leaves the viewer questioning the human experience or understanding it better, even leaving them wanting more. Speaking of, if you would like to read a copy of my “controversial” play, please let me know and I’d be happy to send you a copy.
“I genuinely hope we can work together in the future as you have a valid and strong artistic viewpoint which is lacking in our [theatre] community.” Said one of the producers, continuing “This is not an outcome I am in any way pleased by and hope it will be but a blip in our future artistic relationship.” And to think, I could have devoted my time to writing for the Dana Plays, a project I had to decline in order to honor my prior commitment to Shorts Gone Mild.
To quote the other producer “And I hate losing the one really good lesbian related piece we have. We need that voice to serve our community.” Thankfully, I have my own theatre company, Kutumba Theatre Project, that really does serve its mission and will produce this play along with many others that give a voice to a community that needs and deserves to be heard.