PARTING GLANCES INDEED:
WHAT I LEARNED FROM A LEGENDARY GAY FILM-MAKER
Published in Issue 140 of ScotsGay Magazine
Although not all of my plays match this description (I have a play about the 1969 race riots in my hometown that’s been produced Off Broadway and won awards), many of my plays have gay protagonists. Our surprise hit at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, “Made for Each Other,” is a story of two gay men in love, dealing with Alzheimer’s disease with wit, humor, and ultimately, grace. My play about a lesbian couple which explores the science and yearning behind making babies, “The Maternal Instinct,” made its UK debut at this year’s Brighton Fringe, and was a runner-up for the New South Best New Writing award. Clearly, something is attracting me to these lives in particular.
This Fringe, along with a return engagement of “Made for Each Other”, I’m bringing a brand new piece of solo theater that I wrote to explain to myself why it is that I write the plays I write! It’s my only autobiographical work, “The Year I Was Gifted.” I’m calling it a gay-straight love story, but, as usual, these short-hand descriptions I come up with can only give a glimpse. It’s not a story of sad, unrequited love, and it’s not a stereotypical “fag-hag” (how I abhor this phrase!) story, either. Like everything I write, it’s…complicated.
Last year, when asked the inevitable “why is someone like you writing plays like that” question, I struggled to answer. I’d often cite the true story of a gay friend who committed suicide just after high school graduation from a school for the arts. But this year I ran into someone who was also at that same boarding school, where I met my first gay friends. And meeting him prompted me to go back to the school’s yearbook, and when I turned the page that had Bill Sherwood’s picture on it, my heart stopped. And I thought about a true story that had not crossed my conscious mind in over forty years.
Bill Sherwood was, when I met him, a 17 year old of exquisite beauty, with many musical gifts, but the greatest gift he had was the gift of friendship. He reached out to me, a chubby scholarship girl from the middle of nowhere, and decided to make me his “personal project.” When he graduated and went to the Julliard School as a composition major, he invited me to sit in on a class given by one of the towering figures in modern music, Elliot Carter. When I decided that the world of new music was not right for me, we simply lost touch, and our friendship became part of our pasts, as happens with student friendships. A friend of a friend let me know when Bill died, at age 37, in 1990. One of the many victims of the Aids epidemic, dying too late to be saved by the breakthroughs that could have, and should have, come much earlier.
Gazing again into that angelic face of his, I remembered the story of that year, and how his friendship had changed me, and led to a decision that had a huge impact on my future. And I began to write. At first, it was an essay, but then, it wanted to be on stage. At first, I was not eager to give this play a life, because I knew it was a story I would have to tell myself. And that would mean I couldn’t hand the script off to an actor. I’d have to expose myself to critical scrutiny as a performer. I’d have to rehearse with a director. I’d have to work hard to regain my skills as a storyteller in front of live audiences.
This may sound corny, but I decided to do this for Bill. A lot of solo shows that are autobiographical can be self-centered, in the worst way. Getting back at one’s parents or teachers, proving self-worth by showing off. Asking for self-pity, and getting applause. I never wanted to write like that, so I resisted a true story. But this isn’t just my story, it’s also Bill’s story.
There’s a lot of irony in our friendship. Bill wanted to be a modern composer, but left Julliard after a few years because he changed. He wanted to tell stories about true things that would move people emotionally. He went to film school. In his brief creative life, he managed to write, produce, and direct the very first feature film with a realistic story about gay men with Aids. The title was “Parting Glances,” and it premiered in 1986. It was the only film he would ever make.
I began as a composer, too, and eventually made my way to Boston University to get a graduate degree in playwriting, because…because I also wanted to tell stories about true things that would move people emotionally.
I’m hoping punters at the Fringe will see both, “Made for Each Other” and “The Year I Was Gifted.” They belong together. They talk to each other. They share the truth together, like Siamese twin plays. They share a spine. They share a heart. And that’s what has given me the courage to get back onstage myself, each night, to tell a story Bill might tell himself, if only he were here. And in a way, I guess, every time I perform, he still is.
|Genres||LGBT, new writing|
|Group||Atomic Force Productions|
Drama with comedy for anyone who’s ever wondered what to do with their life. Direct from New York, a gay-straight love story. The true tale of a working class girl’s attempt to survive a prestigious boarding school for the arts. ‘When I was 15 years old I lied my way into the best boarding school for the arts. Then I had to decide if I was willing to betray my beliefs to stay there.
|Group||Atomic Force Productions|
Gay marriage, with an Alzheimer’s twist. Vincent’s desperate to have at least one good year before he falls into what could be Alzheimer’s. Should he tell Gerry before the wedding, and give him a chance to back out? John Fico stars in a Fringe 2012 hit