Fifty weeks of the year, Philadelphia area stages are bursting with activity. The last two weeks in August, however, are a different story. The city’s theaters aren’t quiet, but unless you want to drop in on rehearsals for the upcoming Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe, there isn’t a lot for rabid theatergoers to see. Happily stepping in during the summer slowdown is GayFest!, a new five-play festival at the Shubin Theatre in Queen Village. The brainchild of Quince Productions’ Rich Rubin, producing artistic director, the festival features works concentrating on the LGBT experience.
“We’ve always been devoted to GLBT theater but not exclusive with it,” says Rubin, adding that Quince, one of the city’s most eclectic companies, aims to diversify its productions. (Quince debuted in 2008 with a presentation by the dance troupe David Parker and the Bang Group and in April of this year produced Willy Russell’s mainstream comedy Educating Rita. And Rubin just announced that Quince has plans to stage its first children’s production next spring).
Rubin, who chose all five plays (the last of which is actually a reading) for the festival, says his goal was to stage productions that not only encompass a broad range of topics and genres but could also be accommodated on the Shubin’s tiny stage at 407 Bainbridge St. The small theater is one of the city’s best to view a show but has limited storage area for props, sets and costumes. Specifically, he says, he wanted to include “one gay male, one lesbian, one gay teen and one drag play.”
Probably the most well-known of the four plays presented at GayFest! is Jonathan Tolins’ thoughtful comedy The Last Sunday in June. A touching play that explores the meaning of community, the story focuses on a group of men gathered to celebrate New York City’s annual Gay Pride Parade. Also on the bill is Buddy Thomas’ and Kenneth Elliot’s sci-fi comedy Devil Boys from Beyond . A drag fantasia that created a stir when it was recognized with the Best Play award at last year’s New York Fringe Festival, Rubin describes the trashy comedy as “Rosalind Russell meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers .” Inspired by Ann Bannon’s lesbian pulp fiction series is Kate Moira Ryan’s and Linda S. Chapman’s The Beebo Brinker Chronicles , a uniquely funny portrait of lesbian life in the 1950s-’60s. And gay teens are the focus of Daniel Talbott’s poignant Slipping , which the Advocate cited as one of the 10 best plays of 2009. The festival will also feature a one-night reading of local playwright Dave Ebersole’s Living Space.
Rubin identifies several goals for the event, which include showcasing “the richness of GLBT theater” and providing “the gay community with something important and original.” But he also wants to attract people outside the LGBT community. “I want to draw in people that often get written off as ‘not our audience’” he says.
Rubin says that ultimately, the future of GayFest! will depend on its ability to attract these audiences. “Philadelphia really needs a theater festival focused on GLBT work, and if the audiences turn out, and the funding comes through, we have every intention of making it an annual event. I think it’s important to present GLBT theater in Philadelphia not only to give the community something that makes it feel proud and inspired, and to see our own lives on stage, but also to share with everyone a world with its own unique struggles and triumphs.”
Aug. 11-28. $15-$25. Shubin Theatre. 407 Bainbridge St. 215.627.1088. quinceproductions.com
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