PUTNEY—No one will be exactly calling an upcoming series of performances in the region a theater festival, exactly. It has no overarching name, nor poster, nor banner.
However, this weekend and the next, the Men’s Program, Crossroads, and the AIDS Project of Southern Vermont are sponsoring a series of three theater projects in Southern Vermont celebrating aspects of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community.
On Friday and Saturday, Oct. 19 and 20, Sandglass Theater in Putney will host staged readings of Six Billion Utopias, a collaborative performance about gender and mental health.
Next weekend, on Saturday, Oct. 27 at the School for International Training Graduate Institute (SIT) Main Hall, a new play, 8, will chronicle the federal trial for marriage equality.
Finally, on Oct. 28, Luminz Studio at the Cotton Mill in Brattleboro will present The Naked I: Wide Open, a series of monologues by transgender individuals and their allies delivered by gender-variant performers. All performances are at 7 p.m.
This series of plays came together by chance, said Alex Potter, director of The Men’s Program, a community-building program for gay and bisexual men.
He said he had planned to have the theater pieces scheduled further apart, but with performers’ availability and the difficulties of finding the proper venues for these works, they ended up happening very near one another.
Yet in a way, Potter thinks this might be a fortuitous occurrence. The momentum of one performance could carry to the next, since in many ways the pieces address complementary themes.
Six Billion Utopias, at Sandglass this weekend, was evolved from interviews about the ways the mental health system affects how we experience gender. It explores the experiences of a diverse cast of characters as they discuss these complicated issues.
Originally created in Oregon, this staged reading will be the first Vermont performance and will feature local actors from the Brattleboro area LGBTQ community.
For this and The Naked I: Wide Open, tickets will be sold on a sliding scale from $1 to $5.
8, at SIT the following Saturday was written by Academy Award-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance, and presents a powerful account of the case filed by the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER) in 2010 to overturn Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment that eliminated the rights of same-sex couples to marry in the state of California.
8 provides an intimate look at what unfolded when the issue of same-sex marriage was on trial. Sponsored by SIT, 8 is directed by Ian Hefele, and stars members of the Brattleboro and SIT student and staff communities. The performance is free.
The Naked I: Wide Open on the next Sunday at Luminz Studio is a documentary play by Minneapolis-based 20% Theater Company, which in turn is based on a play by Northampton transgender activist and playwright Tobias K. Davis.
“The short scenes are filled with fresh, gut-punching, and unbelievably honest and true stories by transgender/gender non-conforming individuals and allies,” said Taiga Christie, who along with Potter runs Crossroads, a new community-building project for the LGBTQ community of Southeastern Vermont, particularly focusing on those under 35.
Theater energizing youth
The idea of bringing LGBTQ theater to southern Vermont came to be with the formation of Crossroads within The Men’s Program.
“Crossroads was created when we started a real initiative push to bring more attention and participation to the LGBTQ community under 35,” Potter said. “We needed to really open up The Men’s Program. The fact is these younger people do not identify just as gay, as older gay men often do, but rather they have a much more fluid conception of identity which includes the whole spectrum of gender possibilities, such as women and the transgendered.”
He continued, “There has been a sea change in the gay identity movement, of which as an AIDS service organization we need to keep abreast. We must think of ways to open our events to a wider audience and bring our message on health issues to this new community. We want to be welcoming to lesbians, queers, and transgendered people. And theater seems to be a forum which attracts everyone.”
This idea turned out to be truer than Potter and Christie hoped when last fall Crossroads brought to New England Youth Theatre in Brattleboro theatrical performance activist and scholar Peterson Toscano, who explores issues of gender and sexual orientation.
In his one-person theatrical performance, Transfigurations: Transgressing Gender in the Bible, Tuscano unearthed transgender characters at the center of some of the Bible’s most important stories.
“Even though the performance was on Tuesday night, hardly the most popular night of the week for a theatrical performance” said Potter, “it was a big success.” Potter said the audience was diverse: there were young and old people, and members of the LGBTQ community. There was even one dad, he said, whose son was part of NEYT’s other projects.
Potter said that size and makeup of the audience was heartening, given that the Men’s Program and Crossroads will end in January, when several other new programs are forming to take up the slack.
“We saw this as a very effective way to bring people in. Since because of lack of federal funding The Men’s Program and Crossroads is ending at the end of this year, we want in the remaining time to be as effective on as large a scale as possible,” he said.
“We may be closing but we will do what we can,” Potter continued. “At all social and public events, we always have our printed material and pass out free condoms, so we are able to make them a learning experience about health issues.”
One agency that will pick up where the Men’s Program and Crossroads left off is Tri-State Gay Men, an all-volunteer group, unaffiliated with the AIDS Project of Southern Vermont, which will bring the men’s community together on a regular schedule for social fun.
Potter himself is starting the organization Green Mountain Crossroads, which will focus on the full LGBTQ spectrum.
“Green Mountain Crossroads will have education workshops, performances, discussion groups, and social events,” said Potter. “We will have a website and calendar to tell people how to plug into the GLB community and events.”
“Also, since we are no longer simply an AIDS organization, we will be able to address a larger spectrum of health issues than just HIV,” he continued. “In fact, a lot of younger men were resistant to joining an AIDS organization because they did not want to identify themselves by this one concern ‘just because I am gay.’”
And there’s more LGBTQ theater pieces coming up.
Crossroads will be sponsoring Ramble-Ations on Dec. 7 and 8 at Sandglass Theater. The piece is by D’Lo, a gay Tamil Sri Lankan-American political theatre artist, writer, director, comedian, and music producer. The performance will use poetry, music, comedy, and video to present what the Crossroads website describes as “a parade of diverse, flawed characters, exploring the contradictions of existing in America where one’s immigrant traditions and culture are constantly challenged; battling against ignorance; and finally, reflecting stories of love showing that ‘you can’t call yourself a revolutionary if you have a problem being nice.’”