My Friend -
It is with great pride I write this note to you. I’ve successfully produced my first full-length show at SCENE, in Midtown Manhattan. It’s called THE LOST, by Keelay Gipson. Serendipitously, we opened to a packed house on the very day Marriage Equality for all became the law of the land! I’m not too shy to report just how hard we partied on that magical Friday night, and some of us are still walking off the festivities of that fabulous rainbow-coated sugar high! Tickets for this July 2nd, 3rd, 9th + 10th are going fast!
But in all seriousness, up until that very moment when SCOTUS declared #LoveIsLove, our daring little play tackling sexual orientation, gender, and racial identity in America seemed an uphill battle. An impossible feat. A Revolutionary Act!
Before you lift that skeptical cyber brow, know that I’m no writer. But I want to convey to you how important THE LOST is to see for yourself, now more than ever.
Until THE LOST had rented Loft227 to celebrate their first festival run in 2014, I was in pretty confused about the limited makeup of arts organizations who rented my venues. Nearly every theater and music group had within my doors was mostly white, and drew a mostly white audience. Not that I'm complaining about the business, but it's not the sort of business I wanted to run. You know me well enough to know how bizarre this phenomenon in the heart of NYC must have seemed to me. And you know me well enough to know I wasn’t going to let that stand for long.
And then in walked creative team for THE LOST, reminding me why I built these arts spaces in the first place: To contribute to my city and change the face of this business for everyone. To build a better community, where we all had a seat at the table and a voice on the stage.
And then Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson, Missouri.
And while peacefully marching, hands raised above their heads to show that #blacklivesmatter, so many of my friends were unlawfully arrested or detained, just one block from Loft227.
Arrested in 2015, for their skin?
And I witnessed the morning after, just what that had done to them.
I went dark. I went silent. It seemed history was just playing on loop, no matter what strides we make. I made a promise to you and me that this had to stop. That I had to stop it. That we can no longer afford to wait for “one day” on any front. That starting today I would change this world you and I share for the better, in any way I could.
Plays go up in New York City everyday, but there's a special reason I'm producing this new work by Keelay Gipson:
For all the times I walked arm in arm with my brown- skinned friend, while someone spat at my feet.
For all the times my black boyfriend was pulled over and arrested, while I was left to walk home alone scot-free.
For all the times onlookers squirmed at the site of me kissing my girlfriend.
For the collective sigh of relief felt family-wide, when I married a man that looks white just like me.
This is for every time I was called a Dyke
And even a Pussy-Ass White Rich Blonde Bitch as of late… (because a color still means so much?)
I'm producing, for all the times someone said, “I need to speak to your Boss”, and I had to remind them not once, but TWICE from my tops of my overalls and the bottoms of my combat boots: “I AM the Boss”.
My Friend - From the moment I got my first “NO” at 16 for being gay, for being female, for being anything other than what a person in power wanted me to be, or behave like, for their pleasure alone - I've forever had something to prove.
And maybe you do to.
I'm producing Keelay’s work because I want to live in a world where a group of young artists, can self sustain a game-changing work without being born with a silver spoon, or the heavy yolk of fundraising, donating, the begging and pleading, the comprises, without greasing the right palms, kissing the right behinds, or more than anything - having the right shade of skin. That borne of our collective sacrifices and struggles, this issue of race, could finally be squashed.
I dreamt of clearing the runway from where I stood then to every point beyond, so that our homes, streets, and stages could finally be ours - all of ours. That we’d no longer have to ask for permission live, love freely, say and do what's right.
So I began with me. Never once did I ask permission. Never once did I ask anyone to back me or my work, for fear it would come with the usual bureaucratic strings. I never signed away my talent to some anonymous dotted line. My friend, I never sought fame, and I never asked you for a dime. No donations, no need. I forged myself a far stranger path: To prove that through any group artists armed with a full head of steam, amazing work can be achieved.
You’ve taken that ride with me most days and nights. Fifteen years of four jobs at a time, of endless gigs that began just as everyone else was headed home. The rejection, the waiting, the successes, and all the near misses. I've worked for the brilliant, and worked for the insane. I’ve walked off jobs with bosses who spent our pay like monopoly money. I’ve walked off jobs with bosses who cried, “More skin, please!” So very many bosses who locked the door with me inside, thinking I'd do anything for a free ride.
Would anyone believe what we’ve seen?
So I fired all my bosses, and went out on a limb.
We know Art is this thing worth fighting for, but can hardly begin to define. We get up everyday, and fight in our own way for our Art to be seen; knowing nothing in this world has more power to open hearts and change minds than our music, our dances, and our rhymes.
No matter how rough the road we’ve travelled together, we always said as the dawn broke along the city’s ever-constant skyline: “One day, it will be Our Time”.
This is Keelay's time, too.
THE LOST is an answer, to the many questions that still plague our minds. Gipson’s play is Chicken Soup for you and me, and all the barriers we’ve suffered between us. Barriers that limit our love for one another as people. We are One people, One community, and One World - and that is Gipson’s message.
What a message... from a man who has surely experienced otherwise.
In THE LOST, we follow young Bobby, a poet and a foster kid, as he struggles to break box of his past, in order to write himself a new future. On his dreamlike journey for self-discovery from Harlem, to the East 70’s, and then down to Christopher Street - Bobby’s path parallels our own. We may have grown up here in NYC like Bobby, or we may have moved here just to live the life we imagine Bobby lives. What we discover along the way, is that so many of those we deal with day to day, have yet to awaken to who they really are - and see that it’s okay to just be themselves.
To Just Be.
Although I have faced many struggles in my life, the one nightmare from which I still can't wake, is that we have still not legalized being Black in America. This is a reality you and I walk in day after day. A reality I walk in, but will never completely comprehend or fully internalize, for the simple fact that I am not black. That in 2015, being black makes it exponentially harder to "Just Be", then it is to be someone who looks more like me.
I can rage against a fate so unequal for my brothers and sisters, and fight for their rights along side. I can even build a space like SCENE for their work to be enjoyed just like mine. But I will never know their exact pain and daily struggle in a world that continues to define and confine them by their very own skin.
What I can do, is make sure this ground-breaking work is seen.
Nothing frames this war for selfhood and liberty more than my friend Keelay’s words on Marriage Equality today:
You see, it is his time. It’s his turn now.
I humbly invite you to experience Keelay's beautiful work, THE LOST, a story powered by Rap + Spoken Word. THE LOST gathers together once more this Thursday to discuss and celebrate the ever changing face of America, 'till there’s no particular face it can hide behind.
We've developed an new multimedia experience about discovering your true identity in our day. With words and music by Britton Smith, choreography by Yours Truly, and Director Rebeca Rad, we bring both actor and audience together in a space where we can finally and openly speak our Zeitgeist, in poetry and rhyme.
An artistic community with no barriers begins with you and me, side by side. I’ve been dreaming of a world where our color and how we love one another will forever be a source of pride. If you’ve been dreaming the same dream as I have, then join me. Join Keelay. THE LOST is so much more than a play.
Join us with pride, to change the face of theater, one Black and Beautiful work at a time. For tickets, click here.