Sunday morning, most of us woke up to the dreadful news about the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Sunday is a day off, of course, for a lot of people. For others, it’s a work day, and people went in to staff restaurants and the Metro and to provide the numerous other services that the Monday-through-Friday folks expect to be available to them on their day of rest.
Among those services is theatre, and among those suiting up and hitting the field were the actors and crew and staff at theaters all across the country.
“And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love…
And cannot be killed or swept aside.”
– Lin-Manuel Miranda at the 2016 Tony Awards
On Saturday night, our editor Lorraine Treanor had seen and been quite affected by the play currently running at Anacostia Playhouse. She called it “a quiet play about everything that matters.” Going to a Place where you Already Are is produced by Theater Alliance and was written by Bekah Brunstetter.
On Monday, DCTS didn’t want to revert too quickly back to business as usual, and so decided to talk to some of the actors and others at Theater Alliance about how the horrific news impacted that day’s matinee performance. We thank these courageous men and women for sharing their experience so intimately with us.
Tricia Homer plays Ellie in the show, and we learned that the event hit close to home for her: “My brother lives in Orlando and frequents the Pulse nightclub. His partner was celebrating his birthday this weekend. My (half) brother is Puerto Rican and Saturday was Latinx night at the club. The only reason he didn’t go out on Saturday night is because he was scheduled to work on Sunday morning. Thankfully. He knows three of the people who have been announced as dead and he knows someone else who is in the hospital. It is all just too close and so tragic.
“Yesterday was a tough day for me. Personally, I was a complete wreck but I didn’t really share with the cast. We shared a lot of hugs. Alan Naylor was particularly sensitive to my energy and offered backrubs and calming energy. Annie Houston was in tears at the end of the show. It was charged. As a queer woman of color, it breaks my heart (and terrifies me) that this hate crime was directed at queer people of color.
“During yesterday’s performance, I was emotionally raw — everything was close to the surface. The audience responded well. There were many sniffles throughout the show. Paige Hernandez was in the lobby when the show released and she said people were hugging each other and crying as they exited the theater.
“I am hurt and devastated. I am at a loss for words. I don’t understand how one person can hurt over 100 people. I don’t understand how one can be so offended and filled with hate by who someone chooses to love. I am confused and afraid. I feel paralyzed.”
Annie Houston plays Roberta, the play’s central character, and she also shared some thoughts. (As with everyone quoted in this article, these comments were either received via email or are taken with permission from a Facebook post.) “Orlando was indeed shocking news and I think all of us at Theater Alliance were just silently reeling and processing that news yesterday afternoon before our show. There was no discussion about the events. Perhaps bringing that news into our performing space would have been too difficult, like bringing our own personal problems into a performing space, which you know as actors we try to avoid doing. And, as it was our stage manager’s birthday, there was a lot of focus given to her with a card, pies, and cake.
“I think the audience may also have been reeling and processing, though of course I don’t know. We have started to have talk-backs after each show, and have had three of considerable depth, where people (audience members, actors, and directors) shared their feelings about what they had seen and their responses to the content and performing of the play. I was looking forward to another talk-back, though sadly it didn’t materialize. I’m not sure why. But I think that if it had materialized, there would have been a strong audience reaction to events in Orlando.
“We have a gay angel character, performed so beautifully and tenderly by Alan Naylor, who appears throughout the play. His earthly mother, my character Roberta, says ‘I wouldn’t have minded. That you …’ Those words resonated particularly for me yesterday on stage. Why do people mind, and mind so much that they are compelled to exercise that hatred and kill? What is that fear? I was particularly tearful saying those words. Was I also apologizing to all those who died because of how our collective society continues to treat the LGBT community? I can’t say it was conscious, but the tears were present.
“The only other thing I can say is that I have the habit just before going on-stage of silently dedicating each show to someone. For this show it has been to specific family members or friends who have died of cancer or age. I dedicated the show yesterday to those 49 people who suddenly and violently lost their lives in Orlando. Just a quiet silent thought before my entrance.”
Alan Naylor plays the Angel and seconded Houston’s feeling that emotions on-stage were heightened. “I don’t know about the audience but I was certainly more affected as the show went on. I would come back to the dressing room and read updates on what information was being released. Certainly the moment where I reveal my identity and being a ‘gayngel’ was heightened and a bit teary.”
While others wrote about only a silent acknowledgement of the news among the cast, the production’s Stage Manager Kathryn Dooley said, “I didn’t hear about the shooting until after the show, and to be honest I’m really glad for that. Because it absolutely would have affected me. It’s where my mind would have been every time I have downtime between cues, so I probably would have been off my game. And/or probably would have cried at the content of the show when a) I haven’t needed to do that since rehearsals, I’m kind of immune to it now, and b) it isn’t at all connected to the violence that occurred.
“This isn’t really relevant to the specific point of the Orlando shooting, but I think [DCTS will] find a common thread, maybe especially from shows that had evening performances since there was more time for it to sink in. Part of why we do what we do is for community. We exist in the same time and space with strangers and for a couple hours we’re all experiencing the same thing. It’s an art, yes, but there is something so personal about it. Not in the sense of sharing your deep dark secrets with strangers, I mean in the sense of reaching out and touching each individual who is there. Every person in the room brings their entire day with them. So I think it’s important to acknowledge that, especially in difficult times such as this. What we do gives people an opportunity to come together and share something special.
“In the past few years, I had performances on the evenings of the Boston Marathon bombing and the Sandy Hook shooting. Both were hard shows but we felt it was important to provide a bit of light to a community in grief. The night of Sandy Hook, I was doing A Commedia Christmas Carol [produced by Faction of Fools]. As a company we had a little pre-show powwow to talk about it and to acknowledge that it was okay to be affected, but we were choosing to go on with the show because it’s how we heal. We had lots of no-shows that night. But for that small group who came, we tried our hardest to give them something to feel good about. It was something WE needed, and it was something our audience needed. We did what we could to bring our little community together.”
Gregory Ford plays Joe and he had a different perspective. “I did not notice a difference in audience response. There were too few people to stay for a talk-back. And we were occupied with the Stage Manager’s birthday recognition. No one connected our interaction with the event at the Pulse nightclub.”
Eric Swartz is the play’s Assistant Director (it was directed by Colin Hovde) and is Associate Artistic Director of Theater Alliance (Hovde is Artistic Director). “Though I wasn’t in the show — or watching — I was at the theater yesterday and the events of the morning were not far from my mind.
“I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about sanctuaries in the last 24 hours. For gay people, the club or bar can be a sanctuary, a public place where we can be most ourselves. I personally don’t go to gay bars or clubs often: they’re not really sanctuaries for me, but I appreciate the role they have within our community that has been more marginalized than not over the centuries. My sanctuary is the theater. Some of that feeling, no doubt, stems from work being a distraction from my thoughts, from a pain that I cannot fully understand or give voice to. But also, for many of us in the LGBTQI community, the theater, or drama club, or improv group was a sanctuary growing up because we could be more ourselves in those spaces than in the world at large.
“When I was taking the Metro in, I asked myself, ‘If this had happened here, would we still do the show? Would I know people among the dead? Would I feel more?’ I can’t answer those questions. I hope the theatre can still be a sanctuary for us, it is for me. It’s the place I come to reflect, to feel, to know myself in ways I hadn’t before. It’s my church, corny as that is. Our show starts at a church — at a funeral — so the connection is more present right now for me. I don’t know. Words aren’t enough still.
“It was our Stage Manager’s birthday on Sunday, and one of the run crew had made pie, the very pie referenced in the script. It was very sweet of him, and nice to have such warm and loving people and energies around.
“I want people to feel safe when they come here. Hell, I want people to feel safe everywhere.”
Swartz’ remarks reminded me that I had been thinking about the new version of The Dresser. As I wrote in my review of it: “It’s the Second World War in England. Air raid sirens announce the danger of Nazi bombardments. The British populace determine to keep calm and carry on…and that includes to carry on gathering in lovely, majestic old theaters to hear the timeless words of Mr. Shakespeare and to find in them a certain solace in the midst of violent upheaval, danger, destruction, and death.”
That impulse — imperative, even — to carry on, and to continue to find, through the arts, context and empathy and hope and creation as an alternative to destruction is a theme that recurred throughout so many of the comments from the Theater Alliance team.
Another thing Swartz wrote was, “I feel slightly strange about an article about us in relation to Orlando but…yeah…” I share his discomfort. As our feeds on Facebook and Twitter fill with pain, confusion, anger, un-friending, there is a lot being said, and a lot of it probably is not helping anything other than to let people vent about their intense emotions.
That said, I did see a couple posts that I want to share.
Across the river from Theater Alliance, Signature Theatre carried on with its opening of La Cage aux Folles, a play whose theme of acceptance might also have felt different on Sunday. For Mitch Hébert, though — cast as the story’s conservative foil — it must have been a harder day than usual to carry on and to step inside his character’s mindset. He posted on Facebook: “And now, I go to play Edouard Dindon. Today. #beaprofessional.”
Readers who were around town during the 90s and very early aught’s will remember Christopher Borg and Desmond Dutcher. A couple, they moved to NYC about fifteen years ago. Desmond was in Bent and the peripatetic Pericles at WSC; Borg was also in Bent, and Shakespeare’s R&J at the Folger, as well as the solo show The Only Worse Thing You Could Have Told Me for ATW.
Like Homer, the day hit close to home for Dutcher, who posted: “This horrific tragedy happened just a few blocks from my high school alma mater: Boone High…this was my neighborhood growing up during my most formative years as a kid…
“I cannot stop the tears from flowing today… So much sadness in the few blocks that made so many laughs…
“My *endless* thoughts and deepest prayers for PEACE and LOVE go out to all the victims, their families..and to all my FRIENDS from back in the day..from back in the ‘hood…from the streets of E. Michigan and E. Kaley…to the avenues of S. Orange and S. Mills..from my heart straight out and *directly* to each one of yours…all over the world.”
I will close where I began, with Theater Alliance. As I mentioned, DCTS’ editor Lorraine Treanor saw their play Saturday night, and yesterday she sent out this note to members of the Women’s Voices playwrights circle:
Going to a Place where you Already Are
5 performances remain
closes June 26, 2016
Details and tickets
When I heard the news, I felt like the chorus in Assassins: “something just broke.” Then I remembered the love and joy I’d experienced the night before seeing Bekah Brunstetter’s beautiful play Going to a Place where you Already Are. This quiet play speaks volumes about everything that matters in life — finding love, losing love, receiving love back again.
It is gentle, funny, surprising, and moving and is getting a stunning production at Theater Alliance.
If you are as heart sore as many of us today, I hope you will take time to visit Anacostia Playhouse and be uplifted by Bekah’s play.
Later that evening, Lin-Manuel Miranda at the Tony Awards used his words to fight back against ignorance and intolerance.
Here’s an excerpt from his acceptance speech (Best Score for a Musical for Hamilton)
When senseless acts of tragedy remind us
That nothing here is promised, not one day
This show is proof that history remembers
We live through times when hate and fear seem stronger
We rise and fall, and light from dying embers
Remembrance is that hope and love last longer
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love
And cannot be killed or swept aside
We need to hear your voices now, more than ever.
Disclaimer, Christopher Henley:
For the record, Tricia Homer was in my cast of Lulu, which I directed at WSC Avant Bard; Annie Houston was the lead in my production of The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore, among several others shows she acted in at WSC; I acted in WSC’s Bent with Christopher Borg and Desmond Dutcher; and, while WSC’s Artistic Director, I hired Colin Hovde to direct Mary Stuart and The House of Yes.