Written collectively by Temple University students and edited by Director Peter Reynolds, the 90-minute que(e)ry is a series of vignettes exploring sexual identity among college-age adults. The production had its world premiere in March at Temple’s Randall Theater, where it played to wildly enthusiastic audiences and sold out three of its five performances.
Reynolds, who heads the university’s music theater department, and fellow Temple professor Scott Gratson wanted to create an original piece that reflected the views young adults have on gender identity and sexual orientation. The result is a show that draws on the experiences of a diverse range of gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, transsexual and heterosexual Temple University students. “I really wanted to know where college-age students stood on the topic of queerness” says Reynolds, who adds that 95 percent of que(e)ry was written collectively by the student cast in an ensemble-based process. Reflecting the diversity of the 21-member cast, the vignettes (nearly all of which draw on real-life experiences) are at times poignant, provocative, tragic, humorous and everything in between. Although the majority of the vignettes are text-based, Reynolds says the production also features movement pieces with choreography by Brandon McShaffrey, and “a lot” of video by Drexel University students Janelle Kauffman and Mike Long, who worked on Mauckingbird Theatre Company’s gender-bending adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Reynolds says that what he discovered working with the students was that “although the amount of intolerance and abuse queer youths suffer hasn’t changed much” in the last 20 to 30 years, “what is different with this generation of queer youth is that they feel they are entitled to their freedom. They will not be told that they can’t love who they want to love. This is a generation that is out, that is proud, and that expects equal rights. I believe it will go a long way to bring about inclusion.”
Reynolds is no stranger to putting the GLBTQ experience onstage. In the last couple years, perhaps no individual has been more responsible for elevating gay theater in Philadelphia than Reynolds, who since 2008 has served as artistic director for Mauckingbird Theatre Company. In just three years has, Mauckingbird—founded by Reynolds and Managing Director Lindsay Mauck—has become one of the city’s most acclaimed companies. To date, Mauckingbird has mounted seven productions—three of their shows (The Misanthrope, R&J and last January’s [title of show]) were sensational. Howeve,r while Mauckingbird’s productions enjoy widespread critical acclaim and play to sold-out audiences of gay and straight theatergoers alike, Reynolds says that finding financing is an ever-increasing struggle.
“We can’t go for some funds because we don’t have a paid staff and other potential funding isn’t available because we don’t receive $25,000 contributed income,” he says. “We received some general operating support from Philadelphia Foundation and the Charlotte Cushman Foundation but mainly we’ve been really doing it on our own and paying for these shows with box office.” And few—if any—theaters can survive on box-office sales alone without charging exorbitant ticket prices.
As long as audiences continue to come out in force, Reynolds says he and his colleagues plan to soldier on. “We’ve been thrilled with the audience response and the diversity of the audience and we’re not going to go away,” he says says. “We’re just really wondering how the heck to get some money in.”
The show was funded with a $36,500 grant from Temple University’s Office of the Provost. The purpose of the grant is to provide financial assistance for projects that are conceived and developed at the university and are intended to have a life beyond Temple’s campus.
que(e)ry: Fri., April 29, 9pm. $5. Levitt Auditorium, Gershman Hall, 401 S. Broad St. equalityforum.com
Calendar: Aug. 26-Sept. 2