It may be Pride month, but theatre allows the community to stand up and be counted all year
We're in the midst of LGBT+ Pride Month - anyone visiting LondonTheatre.co.uk's twitter account may have noticed that the logo has gone rainbow-coloured there in celebration. And yes, we've come a long, long way in the 50 years since the first Pride march took place in New York in 1969 - I'm heading to New York at the end of the month to be there for Stonewall 50 - with the first London Pride march taking place in 1971, featuring some 200 activists. Last year's festivities, by contrast, attracted one million attendees. (This year's London parade is on 6th July).
But for anyone who wonders whether Pride is still necessary in our more enlightened times, just two recent stories highlight just how important it is for us to still stand up and be counted - and feel safe - on our streets. Two women were furiously attacked on a London night bus in Camden Town, with pictures of their bleeding, beaten-up faces printed in the papers and political figures from prime minister Theresa May to London Mayor Sadiq Khan issuing statements condemning the attacks. May commented, "Nobody should ever have to hide who they are or who they love and we must work together to eradicate unacceptable violence towards the LGBT community."
Then last weekend, a performance of the touring production of Jon Brittain's play Rotterdam was cancelled in Southampton when two members of the cast were assaulted as they were heading to the theatre to perform the play.
As the company reported: "The assailants verbally abused them and threw stones from their car window, one of which struck an actor in the face. They have sustained only minor injuries but are hugely shaken from this cowardly, homophobic hate crime."
"Our community shouldn’t have to tolerate this", the actors themselves added. "This is why we have Pride. We should take all steps we can in the education system to help to eradicate this aggressive ignorance from strangers to other strangers."
So Pride - and its universal message that the streets are ours, too - is still as necessary as ever. But of course it shouldn't be for just a day, a week or a month but all year long.
Fortunately, the theatre is usually a more receptive home for us. And last weekend's Tony Awards saw welcome recognition to two leading gay playwrights, with Terrence McNally honoured with a lifetime achievement award and Mart Crowley collecting an award for best play revival for his 1968 classic The Boys in the Band that was revived on Broadway last year.
"I love being a playwright", McNally commented in his acceptance speech. "I love it when I remember the artists who try to help us understand the devastation of AIDS even when they were stricken with it themselves. I love it when I remember theatre changes hearts. That secret place where we all truly live."
And Crowley, who brought gay life fiercely out of the secret place where many lived to the mainstream stage, commented, "I'd like to dedicate the award to the original cast of nine brave men, who did not listen to their agents when they were told that their careers would be finished if they did this play. They did it, and here I am."
He and they helped carve out a place where, later this season, The Inheritance - Matthew Lopez's searing response to the legacy of HIV/AIDS on our community - will transfer this autumn, previewing from 27th September and opening on 17th November at the Barrymore Theatre. This is an incredibly bold commercial choice, given that the production is a two-play commitment; yet it demands to be seen in New York, where much of it is set.
While much of gay theatre is ghettoised to specialist companies and theatres like the extraordinary Above the Stag in London's gay commercial drag of Vauxhall, it is thrilling when it breaks out onto a larger stage to address a much wider community. Yet I also welcome horses for courses: Above the Stag also provides a welcome (and welcoming) space for us to hear our own stories, told to us, like Fanny and Stella which I caught there last week.
And this week London has also seen the arrival of the hit Off-Broadway play Afterglow to Southwark Playhouse, which although it contains the standard tropes of a lot of gay theatre - including buff naked men parading themselves around - also revealed a more serious purpose, too. As I wrote in my review for LondonTheatre.co.uk: "Yes, they inhabit a slick and youthful gay world where their good looks give them immense currency; but there's still plenty to identify with as they variously wrestle with states of depression and abandonment, lust and longing."
Photo credit: Darren Bell