‘Street Theater’: Liberating gays
There are many, but certainly not all, homosexual Americans who either remember, or know the significance of, the overnight hours of June 27 and 28, 1969 — which is considered the culmination of the Gay Liberation Movement, when hundreds took to the street in revolt of the frequent police raids on gay bars, particularly the Stonewall Inn on that night, in Greenwich Village, New York.
Alan Doric Wilson, an actor/playwright/director was not only a participant in the “uprising” on that fateful night on Christopher Street, but also his witness to the events and his subsequent gay-rights activism-through-artistry ordained him the “Founding Father of Gay Theater.”
Wilson wrote 11 plays before his death in the spring of 2011 at the age of 72; each play dealt honestly and openly with the transcendent homosexual experience. His final play, written in 1982, called Street Theater, is an award-winning satire about the experiences he had just prior to, and during, the three nights of the Stonewall Riots. Coming this fall is a Utah production of Street Theater, which will be performed Oct. 20–23 at Studio 115, 240 S. 1500 East, on the University of Utah campus; in correlation with the university’s Campus Pride there will be Student Preview performances of Street Theater on Oct. 18–19.
According to Bill Poore, director of the Utah production said, “Doric wrote Street Theater not so much as a history of the event but as a record of the people he knew and the incidents he was involved in on Christopher Street in the months, days and hours leading up to the night gays fought back. The play focuses on the panorama of drags, dykes, leathermen, flower children, vice cops and cruisers — the innocent and not-so-innocent bystanders who would turn the 28th of June, 1969 into D-day in gay history.”
Street Theater has been produced hundreds of times during its 29-year history, both in original form and in Wilson’s preferable second-act rewrite. The play consists of a large ensemble cast and, according to Poore, some of whom portray characters based on actual people that Wilson had encountered during the riots.
“After I graduated from the U I moved back to New York City and lived three doors from Stonewall and got to know two of the drag queens that were arrested that night,” said Poore. “The two drag queens in the play, (Ceil and Boom Boom), are based on these two people, Miss Masha and Yvonne.”
The main setting of Street Theater is a bar in Chelsea, and the array of characters also include the bar’s mobster-tied owner, a dazed flower child, rough leathermen, a butch lesbian (probably based on the actual lesbian that was first to fight back against the police), queer politicos and what Wilson called “Sweater Queens” — mundane, superficial gay men.
Poore, like Wilson, believes that a decades-old play about the homosexual experience is still relevant today, especially one like Street Theater that symbolizes a milestone in the history of the gay movement; a history that so many young people today seem to take for granted.
“The young queers in this town need to meet the leaders of the our fight,” said Poore. “Not Jefferson, Washington, Adams … our leaders, who were low lives that hung out in the Mafia-owned dive called Stonewall Inn. Street kids who lived in the park across the street were the first line of attack.”
“Thanks to AIDS silencing some of our most eloquent voices and the religious right prohibiting even a passing reference to our community in public education, most young gays have almost no sense of their culture unless it is naked and singing,” said Wilson in a 2002 interview. “They have superficial or no knowledge of their own past. Street Theater, because of the history it presents, is a perfect choice to begin with.”
In reflection on the Stonewall Riots, Wilson concluded in the documentary Stonewall Uprising: “We were ourselves for the first time.”