A year and a half ago they were words on paper. Last night, they were spoken out loud.
The short play event OutLoud! Stories from the Gayborhood premiered Thursday night at the Phoenix Center for the Arts. All four plays were adapted from written pieces penned in a writing collective at One Voice Community Center, an organization that provides educational, social and wellness programs to the LGBT community in the Valley.
While advertised as LGBT one-act plays, director Richard Schultz said the stories held much more.
“One of our goals of the group was to reflect the diversity of our community,” Schultz said. “And so we wound up with plays that were both LGBT and straight in nature. We didn’t plan it that way but it was a really nice surprise that we would have that broad spectrum.”
None of the writers had previous playwriting experience. The writer’s collective made a group decision to take their writing further and create plays. Schultz helped direct the group to transition them to theater.
The thematic elements in the plays moved beyond sexuality and gender to touch on topics of mental illness, classism and midlife crises as well. The stories boiled down to what the playwrights wanted to explore within the One Voice writer’s collective.
The musical “One Good Man,” for example, was based on the real life online dating experiences of the writers, Vaughn Treude and Arlys Holloway. In the play, Sigrid is a 40-something, recently divorced straight woman who decides with her also single, gay friend Geoffrey to try online dating. Sigrid is decidedly turned off by an egocentric author, but Geoff learns to accept his date for who he is — a “furry.”
Treude said his co-writer’s date was the inspiration for the play.
“I thought it was such a funny story. (Holloway) met a guy and he showed her his phone and there he was in an animal costume,” Treude said.
In the play the furry, whose name is Bruno, expresses to Geoff that he identifies more as an animal than a human, so when he’s at home he dresses in a bear costume. The confession at first freaks Geoff out. Bruno is offended and says, “The last person I expected judgment from is a fellow gay man.”
In this scenario, Geoff’s gay lifestyle is fully accepted; none of the other characters question it. The tables are turned when Geoff is faced with the decision whether to accept Bruno’s lifestyle. In the end he does, and even chooses his own animal.
No matter the situation, acceptance of identity recurs in the characters’ choices and challenges in all four plays. In a more serious setting than “One Good Man,” high-schooler Alex struggles with whether to admit he is gay in a scenario with his openly bisexual crush, Sage.
Jesus Alvarez, who plays Alex, said this role taught him a little more about his personal experiences of coming out, which were not similar to his character’s.
“It’s rewarding in a way, but at the same time it’s a challenge to play that type of character and try and accept yourself,” Alvarez said.
Throughout the plays, gender and sexuality roles were bent and boundaries were done away with. The seven actors and actresses switched genders as they changed costumes, appearing and reappearing on stage in all types of personality combinations that some had never performed before.
Actress Sandra Williams said you have to consider what would be important to your character and what would go through their head in certain situations. In “Misfire,” Williams plays a mentally-ill woman who is also a lesbian and involved in a menage a trois. There was a lot to consider with this role, she said.
“I didn’t even give very much attention to the fact that I was going to play a woman who has a woman for a partner,” Williams said. “I was thinking more about how do I depict having a meltdown and have it not be funny.”
At the end of the play, the cast hosted a talkback, a chance for audience members to learn more and give feedback. Schultz said this is part of the whole writing process and helps the playwrights develop their work further.
“Misfire” author Lori Hicks plans to take audience feedback to re-work the ending of her play, showing that the writing process doesn’t need to stop at the stage.
“That’s exactly what I tell the writers, that the audience is the last piece of the process,” Schultz said. “So that’s what we were hoping for, was to get people reacting.”
The four plays will show again Friday and Saturday night at Phoenix Center for the Arts. Doors open at 7 p.m. and tickets cost $10.
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