CORVALLIS — On Monday, Nov. 7, the Majestic Theatre, in collaboration with the Oregon State University Women Studies and Theater Arts departments, will participate in a nationwide staging of “Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays,” making it one of only two Oregon theaters that will stage the production.
“Standing on Ceremony,” the latest production by the Tectonic Theatre Project, is a series of short one acts depicting various perspectives on gay marriage.
The Tectonic Theatre Project is a socially conscience theatre company based in New York and best known for writing and producing the first production of “The Laramie Project,” a play centered on the grisly death of gay teen, Matthew Sheppard.
Ten years later, Tectonic went back to Laramie, Wyo. and wrote a follow-up play, “The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later,” depicting how the community had been changed over the past decade. “The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later” debuted in 100 cities across the United States on Oct. 12, 2009, at various theater companies, high schools and universities — including OSU.
Tectonic Executive Director Greg Reiner again contacted OSU Theatre Professor Charlotte Headricks to be a part of their latest nationwide staging, but because OSU Theatre was already committed to other simultaneous projects, Headricks instead brought the project to Corey Pearlstein and the Majestic Theatre.
One of Pearlstein’s goals for the “New Majestic” is to increase the diversity of groups that the Majestic serves — one group being the LGBT community. But “Standing on Ceremony isn’t — and shouldn’t be — just for the LGBT community; as a free, open theater event, Pearlstein and Headricks hope everyone in the community will want to attend.
“It’s such a vital and important topic and however anyone might feel about it, I think it’s really important to have a public forum to engage the subject,” Pearlstein said.
“It is a charged issue, and I think what is more interesting is the question of ‘What happens if we as a venue start taking on programs and materials that have more immediate subject matter? If we’re doing a play that’s set in the 1920’s and there’s nothing controversial in it, then it’s a nice piece of entertainment. But if you bring the history more into the present, you’re going to be intersecting with topics that can stir some controversy. I feel personally that that’s a responsibility I have as a theater producer.”
“Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays” wasn’t necessarily created with the intent of becoming a political campaign, but it is aimed at sharing the pro-gay marriage perspective.
“You’ve got it in the title,” Headricks said. “They’re doing it through art, they’re doing it through theater, but they’re making us see the human face and also the foibles of all these people and the stereotypes.”
“Standing on Ceremony” features nine or 10 one acts — the script is still in flux — that are written from different perspectives and by different dramatists.
Doug Wright paints a portrayal of how people in the 21st Century share their escalating opinions about gay marriage “On Facebook,” and Moises Kaufman, Tectonic’s founder, contributed a poignant piece about a man who gives the eulogy for his deceased lover of 46 years at his funeral. Joe Keenan’s “This Marriage is Saved,” tells the story of the Reverand Hank Hopkins who goes on national TV with his wife after having an affair with another man. And there’s the piece by Wendy MacLeod about two women preparing to fly to Iowa — where they are having their wedding ceremony — and one of whom is going through all the typical motions of having cold feet.
There are also one or two pieces that explore certain aspects of a relationship that are designed to discomfort the audience.
“The most in-your-face one is Neil Labute’s. It made me uncomfortable to read, but it’s hard-hitting and it’s very sexual,” said Headricks, “and I said, ‘Leave it to the straight playwright in the group to write the most sexual play.’”
As an entire production, the one acts all speak to, as Headricks said, the human face behind the issue.
“This is pretty important work that Tectonic is doing. They’re pretty fearless,” Headricks said. “But they’ve gotten incredible responses and we had incredible responses when we did ‘Laramie Project: Ten Years Later.’ So I think this gives voice.”
OSU Theatre also had an incredible response from the community when they performed “The Laramie Project.”
“When we did ‘Laramie Project’ here, something happend that I’ve never had happen: We had a standing ovation every single night,” Headricks said. “And I’m not a big person on standing ovations, but it was like telling Matthew Sheppard’s story was so poignant and so important.”
For “Standing on Ceremony,” Headricks encourages the audience to “Be open minded and don’t be afraid to laugh. Or cry.”
And also don’t be afraid to think. “This experience is about having time to meditate on this topic,” Pearlstein said. “The lights come down in the theater and you listen to these stories. These stories are not reflective of the whole range of human experience on this issue, about gay marriage, but I just think it’s important to have your thinking challenged, and to go into a space and share as a community an opportunity to look into topics like this.”
The production and the issue are also personal for Headricks, who stands in support of gay marriage.
“I just think about my friends Steve and Donald who have been together for — going on 15 years,” said Headricks. “They are committed to each other. Their marriage has lasted.”
“And they’re not alone.”