Last June, for the 50th Anniversary of Stonewall in New York, three friends — actors Michael Urie and Nick Mayo, and producer Doug Nevin — presented a month-long celebration of LGBTQ theater in New York. Dubbed “Pride Plays,” the festival, held at the Village’s Rattlestick Theatre, spanned five days and featured 19 staged play readings, involving over 250 artists from the theater community.
“When it was all said and done, I understood Pride in a more visceral cellular way,” says Mayo. “I felt proud of the stories we told and the community that we brought together.”
In curating the event, says Urie, “we wanted to tell the story of all of our histories — the collective histories of all of the colors in the rainbow, all of the letters in the alphabet, and all the socio-economic backgrounds.” Adds Mayo, “It was our way of saying the stories of the LGBTQ+ community are alive and vibrant in the theater and it’s our responsibility to come together and share them.”
Spurred by overwhelming response, the trio decided to give “Pride Plays” a second go, this time putting out a call for submissions. “We invited anyone who had a play that fit our criteria — which really is just queer — to submit their plays,” says Urie. “We got over two hundred.” The works were finalized, plans were set, and then, the pandemic struck.
With support from Playbill.com, “Pride Plays” was reconstituted into an online-only festival, opening it up beyond the confines of New York’s Greenwich Village. “How do we still mark Pride?” says Nevin of the switch to digital. “Pride doesn’t go away simply because we can’t gather in the way we like to gather. We also were very aware, as theater professionals, of how hard hit the theater industry is right now.”
“The logistics were challenging, but queer people have always been resilient,” says Mayo. “We are resilient by our nature. Our culture is a resilient culture. Have you ever seen someone in a gay bar try to get a gin and tonic at the bar during Pride? We’re resilient. We know how to make it work.”
This year’s festival boasts four live showcases each Friday in June, streamed on Playbill.com and its YouTube site (and available for a few days after the initial broadcast). The streams are free but donations, which will go to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, are encouraged. The series kicks off Friday, June 12 with Donja R. Love’s one in two, followed by Brave Smiles: Another Lesbian Tragedy by The Five Lesbian Brothers on June 22, The Men from the Boys, the late Mort Crowley’s sequel to Boys in the Band, directed by Zachary Quinto on June 26, and concluding with Masculinity Max on June 27.
On Sunday, June 28, Urie will host an online Pride Spectacular Concert featuring Cheyenne Jackson, John Cameron Mitchell, Shakina Nayfack, and other luminaries from the theater world. The festival will also feature private, invite-only workshops of 11 plays to help foster creative momentum.
“There’s so much talent and so many voices and stories just waiting to break through,” says Nevin. “That’s why we’re here, right? We’re the midwife of that next generation of LGBTQIA+ storytellers.”
The de facto platform of choice is Zoom, which Urie says has its own set of challenges for actors. “Rehearsing for three hours on Zoom is like rehearsing for eight hours in a room. It’s a much more concentrated effort. It’s a lot more exhausting. So you tire quicker.”
As for a return to live stage productions, Nevin is optimistic. “The theater will be back, we can bet on that,” he says. “Theater has survived for thousands of years. Theater is not going anywhere. This is just a brief intermission.”
Pride Plays debuts on Friday, June 12, at 7 p.m. Visit YouTube.com/playbillvideo.
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