#SDTheatre: A Space to Explore Diversity and Identity

by Anthony Methvin

in National Conference

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(Pictured: Anthony Methvin. The following post is part of a series highlighting and celebrating the theatres and theatre people of San Diego as part of the 2014 TCG National Conference in San Diego. Email Gus Schulenburg if you’d like to participate.)

One of the things that makes San Diego’s theatre community so extraordinary is its incredible cultural diversity. Diversionary Theatre has been telling the stories of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community since it was founded in 1986. It fits snugly alongside local theatres dedicated to exploring the experiences of women, African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, as well as a whole network of amazing theatres, both large and small, which attempt to highlight many cultures on their stages.

Diversionary has a very clear social mission to tell the varied stories of the LGBT community on our stage. But in a time when LGBT culture is more and more a part of the mainstream, what makes a theatrical work LGBT? Is it possible that we are in an age of “post-gay” theatre where sexuality is irrelevant? In this economic climate, how do you responsibly fulfill a more focused mission while continuing to speak to a broader audience that will support you? Are theatres with a specific social mission still relevant in a more progressive cultural climate?

These are the questions that Diversionary is confronted with on a regular basis. We certainly don’t have all of the answers, but we are dedicated to continuing the conversations. We hold our mission very close to our hearts. However, we understand that theatre companies should be living and breathing entities. Stagnation is not their friend. LGBT people have achieved greater visibility, and now our mission must adapt to serve our current community.

We must continue to be a safe space for the LGBT community to come and see themselves reflected on stage. There will always be a need for our community to gather and laugh, come out, understand, get angry, grieve, and celebrate. At the same time, we will be a welcoming environment for our straight allies to enjoy great theatre that hopefully speaks to all kinds of people on a universal level.

In a time of shifting priorities for LGBT culture, our focus must widen. For many years, stories of coming out, sexual identity, and the AIDS crisis were the focus of our mission by necessity. We can reach our arms out to invite even more diverse stories from a diverse community onto our stage. Topics like race, religion, family, cultural identity, bullying, and marriage equality are all ripe for exploration in this new landscape.

We must keep our seasons exciting and relevant. Explore our theatrical past as we look for brand new dramatic voices. Make audiences think, engage, laugh, cry, and laugh through tears, which, to quote Steel Magnolias, is our favorite emotion. Look to all corners of the LGBT community to celebrate the things that make us different from our straight allies and discovering the things we have in common. Bring playwrights that deserve to be rediscovered to the foreground and feature them alongside the usual suspects that have earned their place in the canon.

Almost every San Diego theatre now contains at least one play in its season with LGBT themes or characters. This is a beautifully exciting sign of the times. It points toward a bright future for queer theatre that is reflected in the quality of new LGBT work being produced nationwide. Visibility is something that our community has been fighting for vigilantly, and we feel proud to have been a part of that fight for more than a quarter century.

LGBT writers like Paula Vogel and Tom Donaghy, whose play Boys and Girls recently got its West Coast debut at Diversionary a dozen years after its premiere at Playwrights Horizons, seem to point towards an intriguing generation of dramatists creating characters that are gay among many other things. Who are human first and foremost. Among these writers are Samuel D. Hunter and Jordan Harrison, who have been locally produced at The Old Globe and Cygnet Theatre respectively during the past year. For a community that is more and more defined by its humanity than its sexuality, highlighting these voices is essential to speaking to a new generation of audiences.

This last year has been exhilarating. Kinky Boots- a huge, spangled musical collaboration between outspoken LGBT ally Cyndi Lauper and patron saint of gay playwrights Harvey Fierstein- won a Tony for Best Musical. Meanwhile, the smaller, brilliantly intelligent, and stunningly emotional Fun Home opened at the Public as both a critical darling and popular hit. The show, by Jeanine Tesori, a composer who has always had a fascinating penchant for musicalizing characters who do not fit the norm, and genre-smashing lesbian writer/performer Lisa Kron, also happens to be one of the most thrilling musical theatre pieces, LGBT or otherwise, in the past decade. These prove that there are as many varied ways to tell our stories as there are stories themselves. This is the exciting sandbox of LGBT theatre in America that we get to play in.

We are grateful that San Diego has provided us a supportive network of artists and theatres, giving us the opportunity to continue to explore, learn, and foster change. As we contemplate the conversation that we are having with our brave and intelligent local audience, we know how important it is to be thoughtful, passionate, and wise about what stories we choose to tell and how we tell them. Our city has allowed us to have a dialogue about how queer voices can fit into the conversation using the platform of theatre. It’s a dialogue that continues to be necessary both here and across the country. And it’s one that we are thrilled to be an active participant in.

Anthony Methvin is the Literary Associate at Diversionary Theatre in San Diego, California, where his acting credits include Kent in Harmony, Kansas and Reed in the West Coast premiere of Boys and Girls. Other favorite roles include Leo Frank (Parade), Prior (Angels in America: Millennium Approaches and Perestroika), Sparky (Forever Plaid), Peter (Company), Seymour (Little Shop of Horrors), Dionysus (The Bacchae), Matamore (The Illusion), and Man (Laughing Wild). His play, Bleed Like Me was seen as part of Diversionary’s Open Mondays series after being given a developmental reading at Florida State University, where he graduated with a BFA in Acting.