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Annette Niemtzow Headshot

Do Only the Big Ds Sell Theater Tickets to the Gay Community?

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STANDING ON CEREMONY THE GAY MARRIAGE PLAYS
Alamy

I am a theater producer, one of those poor, besotted people who mount shows hoping to catch your attention, hoping to affect what you think and sing about, hoping to support the artists (actors, playwrights, composers, directors, designers, etc.) who deliver the stories we think should be told.

So I came to produce The Gay Marriage Plays (yes, it is also called Standing on Ceremony, but that was not what we will be discussing here). I thought that stories that grew around the issues of marriage equality were stories that needed to be heard, needed to be widely and publicly disseminated. For me, marriage equality is not a secondary issue but one that is as critical in our fight for human rights as any other legislative or social issue. If society does not validate our relationships, our sexual choices, so to speak, we ourselves will not be validated. Marriage equality is a key part of the fight to combat ignorance and violence, and without marriage equality, well, it won't get better.

So I thought, join a team of producers who also shared that vision, and hire that press agent, hire an ad agency, tweet, Facebook, give part of the proceeds to and from relationships with major marriage equality groups (Freedom to Marry, BC/EFA Marriage Project), bring on an amazing cast, etc., etc., etc.... Yes, let's put on a show.

These were, I repeat, stories that grew around the issue of marriage equality, and although these stories required the creativity and wordsmith brilliance of extremely talented writers (Moises Kaufman, Neil LaBute, Wendy McLeod, Paul Rudnick, Jordan Harrison, Jose Rivera, Mo Gaffney, and Doug Wright), to some extent these stories were the low-hanging fruit waiting for these genius writers to find them: we, in this case the LGBT community, give the writers the stories, and then they give them back to us polished and shiny, or raw and painful, filtered through their magnificent minds and words. We give the stories, and unless we support the stories, they won't exist.

Are you with me so far? The thing that happens is that after we support the stories, the whole world next decides if they are interested in our stories.

I have been stunned. First, we don't support these stories, and the world, or at least our world of theatergoers in New York, is just not interested in these stories. How do I know? Despite great notices (even from Larry Kramer, who told us it was "the best evening of theater in New York") and audiences that are alternately laughing hysterically, then sobbing, then telling others how much they enjoyed it and how much fun they had, our world of theatergoers just doesn't come.

There is a recent conversation said out loud, though in private quarters in producing circles. This is what is said: LGBT audiences no longer support shows that promote and interact with their own stories, such as The Last Sunday in June and Little Dog Laughed, which, like The Gay Marriage Plays, were well-reviewed and were deliciously about something. Even some gay-themed shows that looked like hits (your friends saw them, and the shows stayed open longer than Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays, which closes Dec. 18)... well, they lost money.

The talk is that gay audiences support two subjects only: the big Ds, Death and Divas, not the little ds, domestic or daily. Even Off-Broadway, which used to have LGBT "cool" support, is totally dead as a financially viable place to produce. I loved Angels in America (both On- and Off-Broadway). I loved The Normal Heart. But is this talk all true? Write and tell me why The Gay Marriage Plays failed. Why didn't you come, my community? We can't just keep running through the money of generous people (ask me about the kind and generous people from the Midwest who have no LGBT children or close friends but who still leapt in, saying that this cause is so important) to tell stories that people won't support. We need (and deserve) answers.

Is this just sour grapes? Black people support shows about black people and stories. Jews... well, we built decades of theater on that. But gays? Is it only Death and Divas that lead you to stories about your lives? About our lives?