Month: April 2012

The Matters that Matter

A. Nora Long, producing associate

During the time period of The Temperamentals, to be anything outside of an “Ozzie and Harriet” definition of normal could devastatingly impact your ability to get a job, buy a home, run for office. It mattered, and not because it is important to recognize and value our differences. Race, gender, sexual orientation, country of origin, political affiliation could mean the difference between a prosperous livelihood or invisibility. Just down the street, The Huntington Theatre Company is running a beautiful play that deals with the collision of race and class against the American Dream during the 1950s and today in our fair city, when an upwardly mobile African-American family pays a struggling Irish-American family to “ghost buy” a house in an all white neighborhood.

With a looming presidential election, I find myself often embroiled in endlessly fascinating conversations about the personal traits different people demand in a leader. Every day the media tells us about some charming quirk or embarrassing past deed that assaults our individual checklists when we discover our ideal is human after all. One of my Facebook friends was outraged the way President Obama stood in front of the flag. Another giggled at Newt Gingrich’s check bouncing, while another can’t stand Mitt Romney for leaving his dog on the roof of a car. However they (or you) feel about these incidents – none of them are about their proposed policies if (re)elected. But, they matter – deeply – passionately – to a good many of us. How many times have you heard “oh, I like him/her” when discussing a candidate? How many times have you said it? I know I say it all the time – when, in truth, I have never met any of these people, let alone had a meaningful conversation or game of bocce with them. I don’t really know them, and yet I’ve decided I like them (or loathe them) because of how I think that meaningful game of bocce would be.

So, I beg the question of you, dear readers, what matters to you when shopping for President? Does the personal outweigh the political or are you just interested in the facts? Are you somewhere in the middle?

The Matters that Matter

A. Nora Long, producing associate

During the time period of The Temperamentals, to be anything outside of an “Ozzie and Harriet”definition of normal could devastatingly impact your ability to get a job, buy a home, run for office. It mattered, and not because it is important to recognize and value our differences. Race, gender, sexual orientation, country of origin, political affiliation could mean the difference between a prosperous livelihood or invisibility. Just down the street, The Huntington Theatre Company is running a beautiful play that deals with the collision of race and class against the American Dream during the 1950s and today in our fair city, when an upwardly mobile African-American family pays a struggling Irish-American family to “ghost buy” a house in an all white neighborhood. 

With a looming presidential election, I find myself often embroiled in endlessly fascinating conversations about the personal traits different people demand in a leader. Every day the media tells us about some charming quirk or embarrassing past deed that assaults our individual checklists when we discover our ideal is human after all. One of my Facebook friends was outraged the way President Obama stood in front of the flag. Another giggled at Newt Gingrich’s check bouncing, while another can’t stand Mitt Romney for leaving his dog on the roof of a car. However they (or you) feel about these incidents – none of them are about their proposed policies if (re)elected. But, they matter – deeply – passionately – to a good many of us. How many times have you heard “oh, I like him/her” when discussing a candidate? How many times have you said it? I know I say it all the time – when, in truth, I have never met any of these people, let alone had a meaningful conversation or game of bocce with them. I don’t really know them, and yet I’ve decided I like them (or loathe them) because of how I think that meaningful game of bocce would be. 

So, I beg the question of you, dear readers, what matters to you when shopping for President? Does the personal outweigh the political or are you just interested in the facts? Are you somewhere in the middle?

THE MORE THINGS CHANGE…

By Victor L. Shopov, actor

Photo of the cast of The Temperamentals

Our Temperamentals: l to r, Steve Kidd, Will McGarrahan, Nael Nacer, Shelley Bolman, Victor L. Shopov. Photo Mark S. Howard

Working on the Lyric’s production of The Temperamentals has been quite the educational experience, not just in terms of the history lesson it has provided, but as a reinforcement of a famous French proverb of which I have always been fond: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Like other, similar battles throughout history, the gay rights movement in the United States, the roots of which are explored in this production, is one defined by the collision of two starkly different groups of people: those who would deny people their rights, and those who would fight to protect those rights.

Six decades later, not much has changed.
Politics play a central role throughout the production, with references to the rising Red Scare, Henry Wallace and the Progressive Party, and the country’s inaction during the onset of the Holocaust.  The common thread, as with most things, is the human element – what people are and are not willing to do based upon what is politically convenient or what is socially acceptable.

The 1950’s is often seen as a golden age in the United States – a post-war emergence of American supremacy coinciding with political and cultural consensus and conformity.  Unfortunately, such conformity meant that challenging the status quo was simply not “acceptable.”  Racism, bigotry, ignorance, and the scapegoating of minorities were commonplace, and went unchallenged for far too long.  While I would like to think we have reached a point of enlightenment where such traits are less prevalent, one need only cast a quick glance at the current presidential race to see that, in fact, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The quest for elected office has always been marked by the unfortunate implementation of the politics of division – setting one group against another in a twisted cost/benefit analysis resulting in the most efficient net gain of votes.  A cursory search of public comments by certain presidential candidates yields a plethora of remarks that can only be described as ignorant, inflammatory, and divisive.  

In other words, they have achieved their desired result.

For all of the progress that has been made in recent years, we still live in a country where a civil institution is permitted to be discriminatory, where sheltering bullies under the guise of “religious freedom” is deemed more important than protecting their victims, and where an entire segment of the population is openly derided by unabashed politicians, lacking any semblance of remorse, for no reason other than to earn votes from those holding a very narrow, prejudicial view of the world.

And yet, while the battle itself remains the same, the battlefield has largely changed.  Harry Hay and the Mattachine Society were forced to work largely in secret for fear of reprisal.  Today, the campaign for equal rights is fought in the open.  That transition alone is progress.

It is said that the tides of history ebb and flow, and while forward progress is occasionally marked by backward steps, ultimately, change does come.  Perceptions shift, hearts and minds are changed, and the slow march of progress goes on.  

Some things will forever stay the same.  But, with determination and perseverance, what is right will ultimately prevail and endure, and those who fought to make it so – Harry Hay, Rudi Gernreich, Dale Jennings, Bob Hull, Chuck Rowland, and countless others, will not soon be forgotten.

Reflections on the Burning Library

Neal Kane, chair, The History ProjectPreparing for The History Project’s presentation in conjunction with the Lyric Stage’s April 12 performance of The Temperamentals has enabled the members of our group to revisit some of the original research we compiled for our 1998 book Improper Bostonians. While helping to assemble the information for the mini-exhibit created by THP for the Lyric’s lobby, I thought of Edmund White’s essay collection The Burning Library, whose title refers to the idea that when someone dies, a library burns. 

What was life like for lesbians and gay men in Boston during the years chronicled in The Temperamentals? This is a question we will seek to address in our presentation – one that is difficult to answer for a number of reasons. Key among them is the fact that while American society had never been hospitable toward men and women who identified as homosexual prior to 1950, the atmosphere of paranoia and suspicion that characterized the Cold War era compelled gay people to adopt an even greater degree of secrecy. As a result, thousands of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals had to live with the reality that the substance of their experiences as loving and sexual beings would never find validation in the historical record. They were compelled to burn – metaphorically, and sometimes literally – the libraries of their lives.

Lost to history

The History Project’s work to restore gay New Englanders to their rightful place in the historical narrative of the 1950s and 1960s has often been a somber exercise. In attempting to document gay life during the Cold War, archivists and researchers are confronted, for the most part, with a melancholic silence. During that time, gay people had every incentive not to preserve the substance of their lives in letters, photographs, and public records – the building blocks that constitute the very foundation of historical research. A snapshot or love letter could serve as grounds for termination, disinheritance, or blackmail. We will never know the number and volume of records destroyed by gay New Englanders and their families in the name of “privacy” and “discretion” during that period. When those individuals died, the library of their lives perished with them – and no one was there to preserve it.

As a result, the efforts of The History Project to reconstitute that period of New England’s LGBT history have been limited to preserving the sparse remnants of historical information that survived the period before Stonewall: a few oral histories, a handful of publications, and a meager store of photographs.

black and white photo of drag king
 black and white photo of drag queen
Drag king and queen, late 1950’s, Boston

The members of THP are motivated, in large part, by a commitment to honor those brave LGBT individuals whose stories were lost to history. Having amassed one of the largest LGBT archival collections in the country, which spans both the pre-Stonewall and post-Stonewall eras, we lovingly preserve those documents for posterity and share them with researchers and the public. Our archives chronicle the rich tapestry of gay lives in Boston and beyond – how we have lived, loved, struggled, protested, and triumphed. As an independent archives, we are able to save records that would otherwise be destroyed, and create opportunities for the public to experience how the history they contain can be brought to life. Programs such as our series From the Archives give individuals the opportunity to learn more about the social and historical significance of our collections. Collaborations with other organizations such as the Lyric help us educate community members – both gay and straight – about the contributions of LGBT individuals to the historical narrative.

Our dream is to acquire a space that will serve as a permanent home for our archives and a center for scholarly research and public exhibitions related to New England’s LGBT history. As we pursue that dream, we continue to process thousands of documents annually, thanks to the tireless efforts of volunteers who spend their nights and weekends transforming chaotic boxes of paper into carefully preserved and fully indexed collections. Their work is informed by pride, patience, and a shared goal: ensuring that the achievements of LGBT individuals assume and maintain their rightful place in history for generations to come. 
Click here to learn more about The History Project and to support our work.

photo of Scott Erickson with button collection
Scott Erickson discussed the button collection he donated to The History Project as part of our From the Archives series

Reflections on the Burning Library

.eal Kane, chair, The History Project

Preparing for The History Project’s presentation in conjunction with the Lyric Stage’s April 12 performance of The Temperamentals has enabled the members of our group to revisit some of the original research we compiled for our 1998 bookImproper Bostonians. While helping to assemble the information for the mini-exhibit created by THP for the Lyric’s lobby, I thought of Edmund White’s essay collection The Burning Library, whose title refers to the idea that when someone dies, a library burns.


What was life like for lesbians and gay men in Boston during the years chronicled in The Temperamentals? This is a question we will seek to address in our presentation – one that is difficult to answer for a number of reasons. Key among them is the fact that while American society had never been hospitable toward men and women who identified as homosexual prior to 1950, the atmosphere of paranoia and suspicion that characterized the Cold War era compelled gay people to adopt an even greater degree of secrecy. As a result, thousands of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals had to live with the reality that the substance of their experiences as loving and sexual beings would never find validation in the historical record. They were compelled to burn – metaphorically, and sometimes literally – the libraries of their lives.


Lost to history

The History Project’s work to restore gay New Englanders to their rightful place in the historical narrative of the 1950s and 1960s has often been a somber exercise. In attempting to document gay life during the Cold War, archivists and researchers are confronted, for the most part, with a melancholic silence. During that time, gay people had every incentive not to preserve the substance of their lives in letters, photographs, and public records – the building blocks that constitute the very foundation of historical research. A snapshot or love letter could serve as grounds for termination, disinheritance, or blackmail. We will never know the number and volume of records destroyed by gay New Englanders and their families in the name of “privacy” and “discretion” during that period. When those individuals died, the library of their lives perished with them – and no one was there to preserve it.


As a result, the efforts of The History Project to reconstitute that period of New England’s LGBT history have been limited to preserving the sparse remnants of historical information that survived the period before Stonewall: a few oral histories, a handful of publications, and a meager store of photographs.

Black and white photo of Drag Queen

Drag king and queen, late 1950’s, Boston
black and white photo of drag king

Drag king and queen, late 1950’s, Boston

The members of THP are motivated, in large part, by a commitment to honor those brave LGBT individuals whose stories were lost to history. Having amassed one of the largest LGBT archival collections in the country, which spans both the pre-Stonewall and post-Stonewall eras, we lovingly preserve those documents for posterity and share them with researchers and the public. Our archives chronicle the rich tapestry of gay lives in Boston and beyond – how we have lived, loved, struggled, protested, and triumphed. As an independent archives, we are able to save records that would otherwise be destroyed, and create opportunities for the public to experience how the history they contain can be brought to life. Programs such as our series From the Archives give individuals the opportunity to learn more about the social and historical significance of our collections. Collaborations with other organizations such as the Lyric help us educate community members – both gay and straight – about the contributions of LGBT individuals to the historical narrative.

photo of Scott Erickson in front of button collection

Scott Erickson discussed the button collection he donated to The History Project as part of our From the Archives series

Our dream is to acquire a space that will serve as a permanent home for our archives and a center for scholarly research and public exhibitions related to New England’s LGBT history. As we pursue that dream, we continue to process thousands of documents annually, thanks to the tireless efforts of volunteers who spend their nights and weekends transforming chaotic boxes of paper into carefully preserved and fully indexed collections. Their work is informed by pride, patience, and a shared goal: ensuring that the achievements of LGBT individuals assume and maintain their rightful place in history for generations to come.


Click here to learn more about The History Project and to support our work.

Thoughts from the Audience

Brian Dudley, Box Office Manager
So have you seen the show yet?

Our production of The Temperamentals has now played four full performances, and things are off to a really great start across the board. Oh, sure, I could tell you what the critics are saying – The Boston Globe called it a “solid production,” noting Will McGarrahan’s “finely etched character portrait” of Harry Hay in their review today – but really I feel as though it is more important to you what I think.

You may recall that I wrote a few weeks ago about how I was excited to see this play up and running because of how much the script lends itself to being staged. Well, as it turns out, I was right, because everything about this play is nuanced and tempered (excuse the pun – is that a pun?) and it’s all pretty great. My confusion was washed away and I found myself sitting and really enjoying the show I was seeing. Of course, I don’t want to sit here and just review the play for you, because I am sure you are planning on seeing it. But let me say that I am really excited about how our first four audiences have been responding to this show.

I heard a story recently about a theater professional from out of town who was lamenting and chastising theater audiences these days for only looking for mindless entertainment, for not being interested in  connecting with art, and being afraid to take their engagement with a piece to a deeper level. And I am pretty thrilled to say that The Temperamentals audiences thus far are proving this guy completely wrong. Our audiences have been stopping to talk to us on their way out the door, and I gotta tell you, biased I may be, but all of the conversations I’ve had with people have been thought-provoking and indicative of a real connection to the play.

Some examples. At our post-performance talkback last Sunday, there was a lot of discourse about how truthful and honest the play was when it came to portraying these real-life characters in a fictional setting, and about how timeless and important this story is, and how moved they were by the show. People who’ve been using our Virtual Photo Booth (patent pending) have been chatting animatedly about how the characters are the lifeblood of the piece and how talented and invested our actors are. I’ve observed people fervently reading Nora’s excellent dramaturgy – articles in the program and posted in our lobby – and have overheard conversations that range from dissecting the play from all angles, to stories being told about living through the times depicted in the play, to one person musing on the themes of the play and deciding to sum it up with the classic “to thine own self be true.”

So to whoever says people only want entertainment, I say, pbbttttttthhhhh to you, sir.

… which is not to say that this show isn’t entertaining. I mean, look, this picture contains not only a ukulele, which is statistically proven to be the most entertaining instrument*, but also a turnip with a face on it:

Photo of Victor Shopov, Will McGarrahan, and Shelley Bolman in The Temperamentals
Victor Shopov, Will McGarrahan, and Shelley Bolman. Photo by Mark S. Howard.

So there’s that, too.

*Okay, there is no such statistic, but come on! It’s a teeny tiny little string instrument!

Thoughts from the Audience

Brian Dudley, Box Office Manager
So have you seen the show yet?

Our production of The Temperamentals has now played four full performances, and things are off to a really great start across the board. Oh, sure, I could tell you what the critics are saying – The Boston Globe called it a “solid production,” noting Will McGarrahan’s “finely etched character portrait” of Harry Hay in their review today – but really I feel as though it is more important to you what I think.

You may recall that I wrote a few weeks ago about how I was excited to see this play up and running because of how much the script lends itself to being staged. Well, as it turns out, I was right, because everything about this play is nuanced and tempered (excuse the pun – is that a pun?) and it’s all pretty great. My confusion was washed away and I found myself sitting and really enjoying the show I was seeing. Of course, I don’t want to sit here and just review the play for you, because I am sure you are planning on seeing it. But let me say that I am really excited about how our first four audiences have been responding to this show.

I heard a story recently about a theater professional from out of town who was lamenting and chastising theater audiences these days for only looking for mindless entertainment, for not being interested in  connecting with art, and being afraid to take their engagement with a piece to a deeper level. And I am pretty thrilled to say that The Temperamentals audiences thus far are proving this guy completely wrong. Our audiences have been stopping to talk to us on their way out the door, and I gotta tell you, biased I may be, but all of the conversations I’ve had with people have been thought-provoking and indicative of a real connection to the play.

Some examples. At our post-performance talkback last Sunday, there was a lot of discourse about how truthful and honest the play was when it came to portraying these real-life characters in a fictional setting, and about how timeless and important this story is, and how moved they were by the show. People who’ve been using our Virtual Photo Booth (patent pending) have been chatting animatedly about how the characters are the lifeblood of the piece and how talented and invested our actors are. I’ve observed people fervently reading Nora’s excellent dramaturgy – articles in the program and posted in our lobby – and have overheard conversations that range from dissecting the play from all angles, to stories being told about living through the times depicted in the play, to one person musing on the themes of the play and deciding to sum it up with the classic “to thine own self be true.”

So to whoever says people only want entertainment, I say, pbbttttttthhhhh to you, sir.

… which is not to say that this show isn’t entertaining. I mean, look, this picture contains not only a ukulele, which is statistically proven to be the most entertaining instrument*, but also a turnip with a face on it:

Photo of Victor Shopov, Will McGarrahan, and Shelley Bolman in The Temperamentals

Victor Shopov, Will McGarrahan, and Shelley Bolman. Photo by Mark S. Howard.