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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 25 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 43
Taking the stage - A little LGBT theater history lesson
Section One
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Taking the stage - A little LGBT theater history lesson

by Mark Segal - Philadelphia Gay News

Let's talk showbiz, and in honor of LGBT History Month, I'll tell you a little secret. You might have guessed over the years that I'm a little theatrical with my Gay activism, but I bet you'd never guess that some of it was actually honed in New York theater.

Here's the history part: At New York Theater Ensemble in 1970, my friends Jeff Hochhauser and Rosemary Keating were writing what we believe was the first LGBT musical performed in the New York theater scene. And, luckily for me, they choose me as their stage manager.

The show was called Graduation. It was a coming-of-age/coming-out story of a high-school student in turmoil. I don't believe Jeff, Rosemary, or I ever realized how cutting-edge that musical was for its time. Working off-Broadway, or off-off-Broadway, was an incredible creative and experimental way to hone your skills. At that same time, Harvey Fierstein was working at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club and playwright John Guare was working his magic up the street at the Truck and Warehouse Theater with a show called House of Blue Leaves. His next show was Six Degrees of Separation. And across the street, Andy Warhol contemporary Jackie Curtis was performing one show whose name I've forgotten but where I went as stage manager after Graduation. It was an incredible time for experimentation. Even a drama about 'homosexuals,' The Boys in the Band, made it to Broadway.

Jeff and Rosemary created a book that cried from the heart, and Rosemary's tunes ... let's just say I'm still humming them to this day.

Jeff was a member of Gay Youth, and I'd like to believe that his involvement gave him the strength to do something very brave: write a Gay musical. As strange as it sounds, it was almost a career-ender on the New York stage at that time to be openly Gay. Jeff was not only out, he was writing a show about the problems of Gay youth. He could not have been more than 18 when he began to write it.

LASTING CHANGE
Graduation is now almost forgotten. It's a footnote to history, but it helped foster a change in attitude on the New York stage. That little show was the talk of the theater community at that time, and talk brews education. The truth is, people like Fierstein, Jeff, Rosemary, and even Mart Crowley (Boys) started the ball rolling on theater that made LGBT people real - not cartoon figures or invisible.

Today, Jeff teaches musical theater history at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. Roe is retired in California. We still stay in touch, and I hope we can eventually do a revival of Graduation.

Mark Segal, PGN publisher, is the nation's most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. He can be reached at mark@epgn.com.

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