When I was 15, this old guy Andy (I think he was probably 30 at the time) worked with me at the local community theatre in Randolph, New Jersey. One day Andy handed me Reflections of a Rock Lobster and One Teenager in Ten. I don’t recall if we had a conversation about being gay or not but those books changed me. I read them dozens of times and carefully hid them under my bed.
When I was 16, I got my driver’s permit and Melissa Etheridge released a CD called Yes I Am. She sang a song called “Silent Legacy” and I pulled over on the highway because I couldn’t see the road anymore. I sobbed for about twenty minutes pressing repeat each time the song ended. She had written a song for me and she felt like I did. When I was 17, I walked into the Drama Bookshop in NYC and with butterflies in my stomach and sweating hands bought The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me by David Drake and read about what it was like to be a sissy and a badass all at the same time. I met David in Provincetown two years ago and it continues to be a very special day for me. Sometimes I think he saved my life. When I was 32, I read The Temperamentals and all the memories above came rushing back to me immediately. There is nothing more powerful than the moments when you realize you are not alone.
If the Mattachine Society did nothing else in those formative years of the gay rights movement it reached out with welcoming arms and embraced hundreds of men and women who up until that point had lived their lives alone and in the dark. What is even more incredible to me is that they did this during the early 1950s, a period in American history marked by extreme paranoia, rigidity and an almost inflexible adherence to a moral standard that we look back on today as largely a fantasy of politicians and advertising. One of the fascinating and frustrating things about being gay is that we are all largely “self-taught” especially when it comes to our place in history. Black families and Jewish families pass down the words, ideas and customs of their culture and occasionally schools will fill in some of the gaps. Will Roscoe says in Radically Gay, a book on the writings of Harry Hay, “There is no mechanism, except by the initiative of the individual, for Lesbians and Gay men to learn their own history. And this is a very serious problem when one realizes the role that the construction of the past plays in any social movement.” I’m embarrassed to admit that up until a year ago, I was among the many who thought the movement for our rights began on a hot night in June at the Stonewall Inn. I read earlier this year of 20-year old gay men leaving the recent revival of The Normal Heart, looking at their friends in their 40s and 50s with a mixture of horror and awe, saying “I had no idea that’s what you went through.” We have a history and it’s an important one. It’s an American one and it matters. It matters to the 15-year old that always felt a little bit different who comes to see this show. This play is for them.
Sorry, blog, this is a day late. But, hopefully, I will make up for my tardiness, with thoughtfulness (fingers crossed).
On Sunday, I led our second talkback for our current production Time Stands Still; (Hang on, isn’t this blog about The Temperamentals? Wait for it!) the story of two journalists recovering from trauma they have faced abroad, and the impact their work has on their relationship. It is a play about relationships, primarily, but one of the questions it raises (and was again raised by several audience members) surrounds the idea of the value of journalism. Is it worth the risk these journalists take to cover these stories? With so many images fighting for our attention, does any single image have power anymore? Why is it important for average citizens to be informed about the world? What can we really do about it?
I think we can all sympathize with this feeling of helplessness. What can any of us small individuals do about all the many terrible things happening in the great big world? Well, in this country, you have two powerful tools at your disposal – voting and shopping.
I think the benefits of voting are fairly self-explanatory – you can have a direct impact on who makes decisions in the one of the most powerful nations in the world. You can lobby your elected officials, you can let them know how you feel about anything. And, with the advent of the internet, it couldn’t be easier. In case you weren’t otherwise aware (cause you read this blog but no other source of news?) this is an election year. In Massachusetts, you must register to vote by August 17th to be eligible to vote in the State Primary, or by October 17 for the General Election on November 6th. You can read more about it here. So, vote, and email your representatives.
Shopping may sound silly, but as a consumer in a capitalist country, where you put your money matters. The fact is the advances of technology and the global market mean that we are all much closer to events in the world than ever before. In the 90’s, we all started to look at our sneakers differently, and changed the industry – and now the true cost of the Ipad is drawing similar comparisons. In the last month, a group threatened to boycott JC Penney for hiring Ellen DeGeneres as a spokeswoman, only to rally several thousand more supporters to DeGeneres and the retailer, in a sense boycotting the boycott.
I could go on as there are many examples of how each of us can contribute in our small ways to shaping the world we want to live in – which brings me nicely to the story of The Temperamentals.As Stuart Timmons writes about in his biography of the leader of our group (and incidentally revealing the inspiration for the title, “The trouble with Harry Hay was his refusal to adapt to a reality he found unacceptable.” We can all do the same. As the philosopher George Santayana wrote, “Those who fail to heed the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.”
In looking back on our past, we have the advantage of hindsight, and can determine for ourselves how much has really changed, and how much has stayed the same. And then we can figure out what we want to do about it.
But wait! Before you start chasing me out of the box office with torches and pitchforks, please note that this does not mean I don’t like plays. On the contrary! I think plays are great. The play is such a unique narrative form in that the script, the actual words are just the skeleton, and the muscles and veins and lungs and eyes and ears all belong to someone else: an actor, a director, a designer, a member of the audience.
Therein, however, is my problem with just sitting and reading plays. All I know is that more often than not, when I curl up by the fire with a cup of tea to read a play1, I get a few pages in and then I go all cross eyed because my brain isn’t filling in the blank spaces between the dialogue and I’m unable to process the story being presented to me. When I look at a script, often I’m boggled by the white space between the lines. What the actors will look like. Will they have accents? Is he wearing a suit in this part, or is he dressed more casually? How will they transition from being in a crowded diner to a cramped bedroom? The questions never cease, and my poor fragile brain isn’t able to answer all of them at once. The white space is endless.
There’s so much not being said in The Temperamentals, so I’ll admit it to you here and now that when I first read the play, I closed the script and I didn’t quite know how to react. This was my first verbalized2 response, via a text message to a good friend of mine:
The answer to her question was, “yes, I think so.” Because, see, when I read the script of The Temperamentals, it’s like I’m scanning the list of ingredients for a cookie recipe. I see things like social justice and political awareness and men in suits and chocolate chips3, and it’s like when I read an actual cookie recipe and my mouth fills with drool imagining the plate of baked goods I will eventually be consuming. There are so many interesting, thought-provoking, and exciting things about the play, a lot of which lives in the white space, so as good as the words are, I look forward to hearing them once the whole production has been baking in the oven for a little while, and the smell of intelligent discourse and interpersonal relations waft through the theater. You know, I think I got lost in the metaphor there. Excuse me while I go find some cookies. And we’re back. At its core, The Temperamentals is a story about Harry Hay and his relationships, both romantic and platonic, with other men, and how they were created, influenced, and effected by the conception of one of the first successful gay rights organizations in this country. Anytime a playwright dips into history and recreates a real person, the opportunities for distinctive and exciting storytelling are everywhere, and nowhere more than in this script. This is a story I’m glad the Lyric will be telling, because I am so interested to see the way the characters interact with one another in “real life,” instead of on the page. I look forward to gauging their posture and gait and tone of voice; to the story really living and breathing along with these men. So the short version of this is that I’m really excited to see this play. I’m excited that you’re going to see it too.4 And afterwards, you can come to the box office and tell me how well you think we filled in the spaces.
 I do not actually do this.  In a manner of speaking – I was alone in public so I did not actually verbalize anything.  I cannot promise there will actually be chocolate chips at the theater, but I encourage you to bring your own. I know I will.  What do you mean, you don’t have tickets yet? Call 617.585.5678 and talk to one of our charming box office representatives today. Is this a shameless promotion? Yes. Yes it is.
Hello Internet!And welcome to the Lyric Stage Company of Boston’s blog for our upcoming production of The Temperamentals. This play by Jon Marans centers on events in history that don’t get much play in lessons about the 1950s, and we thought you all might benefit from an extra look-see into the world of the play and our production process.
Every Tuesday you can expect a new update from a member of the cast, production team or Lyric staff, and every Thursday (or “Turgsday”) I will be posting some dramaturgically-related information about the show. Have a question or a comment burning in your breast? Let us know, and you might just be the subject of our next post.
In the meantime, you might be asking yourself, “what is The Temperamentals about anyway?” I’m so glad you asked. The Temperamentals is a beautiful, moving, and true love story of political activist Harry Hay, and fashion designer Rudi Gernreich and the formation of one of the first Gay rights organization in the United States, the Mattachine Society. “Temperamental” was one of the many code words for “homosexual” in the early 1950s. In this play we see Hay, Gernreich, and the first few Mattachine members struggle to shuffle off the veil of secrecy and discover who they truly are. It is a remarkable and timely piece, perfect for launching many thoughtful and fruitful discussions through the virtual world here and the analogue world out there. Till next time, see you at the theatre.