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June 5-11, 2003

art

Taking the Stage

Flying high: Anne Cruzann (left) and Bobby 

MacCallum (center) rehearse <i>When Pigs Fly</i> 

with the festival’s artistic director Matthew 

Cloran.
Flying high: Anne Cruzann (left) and Bobby MacCallum (center) rehearse When Pigs Fly with the festival’s artistic director Matthew Cloran. Photo By: Michael T. Regan

After years in the making, the Philadelphia Gay & Lesbian Theatre Festival becomes a reality.

Not so many years ago, the prospect of a gay and lesbian theater festival in Philadelphia could be summed up with the words "when pigs fly." But, surprise, click our heels together and that’s the title of a play by Howard Crabtree, one of the premieres at the first official Philadelphia Gay & Lesbian Theatre Festival 2003. On June 10, the weeklong fete will launch with 13 productions that will include 10 premieres at eight theaters around town.

It is the gay wing of a revitalized theater environment that has been developing for a decade with the establishment of the city-endorsed Avenue of the Arts and such successfully diverse experiments as the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, which has featured many gay and lesbian performers and playwrights over the last several years.

The gay theater festival was the brainchild of producer/managing director Bill Eshe and artistic director Matthew Cloran, who both saw a need for quality, stage-worthy productions that reflected the diversity and talent in the gay community. Incidentally, When Pigs Fly was the first show they chose to produce because they said the title seemed so right.

Last week, the cast of Pigs was fine-tuning a number at 10 in the evening in a sixth-floor, brightly lit studio in the Walnut Street Theatre. When Pigs Fly is a camp musical sprung from the imagination of a drama queen. Lead actor Larry Weiss explains that playwright Crabtree died just days before this hit show opened in New York. Esher was finishing the rehearsal for another director, while Cloran was across the hall running through Barrymore winner Michael Ogborn’s new play, Mary, Don’t Ask!, which is the opening play of the festival.

Esher has been checking in on all of the productions to see that everything is coming together. He was originally going to direct Pigs but thought twice about it. "I decided, we can’t both direct. We originally set it up that way for economic purposes, but one of us had to be free enough to be the problem solver," he says.

Esher met Cloran when he was cast as the lead, Bobby, in Company at South Jersey Performing Arts Center's Westmont Theatre Company, where Esher had been directing for 10 years. "I just turned 42," Cloran recalls, "we were both thinking that the idea of a long-term relationship was done. So it was appropriate that we met on April Fools' Day." By the time they were talking about producing quality theater for the gay community, the couple was finishing each other's sentences about putting a festival together.

A general call for plays in the gay press elicited over 150 scripts that took five months to read and assess. The main goal was to theatrically reflect the diverse aspects of gay life, with new voices for a new age.

"We wanted at least one piece each representing different aspects of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender life. And we especially wanted to focus on youth issues," Cloran says. "It went from that idea to recognizing great writing and thinking, "Yeah, this needs to be produced.’"

The productions run the gamut in themes from A Doris Day Collection, about a man's obsession with memorabilia, to a revival of Jean Genet's Deathwatch. There's also Cherry Hill playwright David Zellnik's Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom, an award-winning play about the new era of AIDS. Esher says, "I love that this play addresses what happened when new drugs were developed and people realized they weren't going to die."

Other highlights of the festival include Strange Light by Cynthia L. Cooper, a drama about a lesbian couple’s struggle to make their relationship work when one of their mothers is seriously ill; Bruhs & Gean by Tom Wilson Weinberg, a musical based on the lives of two real men who were together from 1929 to 1992. How Lorelei Lovejoy Became a Love Goddess and Queen of the Dyke-O-Rama! by Kristan Ryan deserves a mention just for the title, while Cloran characterizes An Evening with Jeffrey Marsh as a cabaret. "I think Jeffrey goes with where his soul is that day. There’s this wonderful melding of female and male energy."

Finally, Philadelphian Jeffrey Solomon’s Building Houses to the Moon is a compilation of stories gleaned from Internet posts by gay youth. Esher says, "This chatroom dialogue shows that they can’t walk out into their communities and be themselves."

The festival runs Tue.-Sun., June 10-15. For a full listing of the plays, dates and venues call the Festival box office at the Arden Theatre, 215-922-1122 or the Festival information line, 215-627-6483 or visit www.philagaylesbiantheatrefest.org.

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