Theatre is an ephemeral business, and for the most part exists only in the form of reviews, Playbills, and the memories of audience members—and that is never more true than for Off- and Off-Off-Broadway theatre. Which means that it is a simple thing for important shows to slowly fade away from the collective consciousness. Witness William Hoffman's As Is, the 1985 AIDS drama that ran on Broadway for 285 performances and was later adapted into a movie for cable television. But it has been overshadowed over the years by Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, which also premiered in New York City in 1985. But New York City audiences will get a chance to experience As Is again when it returns for a staged reading as part of Pride Plays, running June 20–24 at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.
Co-produced by Michael Urie and Doug Nevin, Pride Plays coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and World Pride being held in New York City as it examines both our LGBTQIA+ theatrical past and future. As Nevin says, regarding the As Is reading, “Part of the reason why we loved As Is so much is it's proud. And one of the questions we asked about every play that we're doing is, ‘How is it proud?’”
Armed with festival director Nick Mayo and an advisory committee comprised of Chay Yew, Moises Kaufman, Lucy Thurber, Sam Hunter, Lisa Scheps, Michael Sheppard, Miranda Haymon, and Ted Snowdon, the team began reaching out to find some of the plays that deserved to be heard again and the writers who deserve to be heard for the first time.
They've also partnered with Trans Lab for a program of original works, as well as a reading of Our Town cast entirely with transgender, non-binary, gender nonconforming, and gender fluid actors.
“We hope that everyone else will use this as a catalyst to cast their nets wider and to gather together, because we're just not accustomed to that as much as we used to be,” Mayo says, pointing to how many regional theatres were eager to share works by LGBTQIA+ writers they haven’t yet been able to schedule into a season.
“That may be the most exciting part of this,” Urie adds. “How many people are doing the festival that I'd never heard of before. That now we know.”
All three agree that it has been just as fun discovering plays they’d never heard of before as it has discovering exciting new voices being given a platform at the festival. And all three are excited to introduce new audiences to the works being produced, hopefully giving someone as transformative an experience as they had with their first experience with queer theatre.
“When I was still in high school, my community college in Plano, Texas, did As Is,” Urie says. “And my mother took me. And it was mind blowing! I'd never seen anything like it. There were things that happened in it that I didn't even know were real, like two men loving each other.”
Terrence McNally’s work comes up often in conversation, as part of the sea change that moved theatre from Tennessee Williams and William Inge to something more celebratory, so it is fitting that Pride Plays will end with a reading of McNally’s Some Men.
“There's such a proud tradition that just courses through that play,” Nevin says. “And it's really, and sort of how the generations are linked to one another and how a gay man's life in the 1920s impacted his grandson's life. It's really sort of wonderful, the tapestry that Terrence and people, and writers like him have brought to the community.”
And now Pride Plays will help put that full tapestry on display.