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Gay Camping It Up

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I am constantly at odds with myself. I'm not a Gemini or anything (Gemini is the Twins, right?), but I feel like there is always a battle of some sort or another going on in my brain. I want to go out and enjoy the day, but I also want to stay in and watch just one more episode of Breaking Bad. I want red wine, but I also want white wine (the solution to this problem, incidentally, is to have both). So I was not at all surprised to find that I was battling with myself once again while co-writing the show Gay Camp (with my amazingly talented writing partner, Sue-Kate Heaney).

Gay Camp follows the story of several young campers who are sent by their parents to Camp Acceptance to "cure" their homosexuality. As a gay man, thinking and writing about a fictional gay reform camp for young boys and girls stirred up some strong opposing feelings inside of me. Let me be clear -- I am not conflicted about these camps. The fact that these "reform" camps exist infuriates me to no end. I wasn't conflicted about the subject matter, but rather regarding how to deal with the subject matter.

The polar opposites inside of me took hold. On the one side, I wanted to yell and scream about the ridiculousness of trying to change someone's sexuality. I wanted to be angry and indignant. I wanted to shout from the rooftops, "This is 2012. Are you out of your damn mind? How can you still think there is anything wrong with homosexuality? You don't think gays should be allowed to marry? That's the same thing as when people didn't think blacks should marry whites! YOU ARE ON THE WRONG SIDE OF HISTORY! WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO KEEP YOUR CHILD -- WHO YOU CLAIM TO LOVE -- IN THE CLOSET, FILLING THEM WITH SELF-HATRED? WHAT DO YOU CARE IF OTHER PEOPLE ARE GAY?!? HOW DOES THAT EFFECT YOU IN ANY WAY?!?!?!"

And then I took a deep breath. Anyone who knows me knows that I much prefer to laugh and smile and crack jokes. So maybe this was not the best way to approach writing Gay Camp.

The best approach to the play was something more light-hearted, right? After all, the name Gay Camp (along with the tagline "It's gay, it's camp, it's Gay Camp") implies campiness and humor and fun. I could just throw together a dozen one-dimensional characters, a bunch of hilarious one-liners, and call it a day (and a play).

But I couldn't forget about the indignant side of me, wanting to scream about injustices. What to do... I stewed, and did research, and had endless chats with my writing partner.

And then I re-watched the film Milk. One detail from the film really struck me: the idea that if people just knew someone who was gay -- on a human, personal level -- they would inevitably start to change their backwards way of thinking. Sure, they would be conflicted for awhile (hell, welcome to my world!), but truly knowing a gay man or woman would help to slowly chip away at those prejudices. And that's when it all clicked.

The reason I wanted to throw obscenities at anyone with an anti-gay mentality was because I wanted them to change their mind. I wanted to force them to get rid of their deeply rooted prejudices and march with me in the gay pride parade. But force would never actually work. I needed to create a piece that helped to slowly chip away at outdated, misguided mindsets. I could do this by creating a story about real people -- men and women with whom you could relate on levels that transcended sexuality -- that an audience could get to know and fall in love with. If the audience would just get to know and love the protagonists of Gay Camp, they might actually listen to the show's message (obviously one of tolerance and learning to love oneself) and take something away from this evening of theater.

Okay, so the angry side of me was satisfied. I'd channeled my anger into creating real people, dealing with real, universal problems, all set to the backdrop of a gay reform camp.

But what about the side of me that was itching to crack a dildo joke? If Sue-Kate and I could keep them laughing (in addition to really feeling for the characters), the audience might walk away having had an amazingly entertaining evening of theater AND having learned something about their own prejudices and ways of looking at the world.

And that's when the writing got the most fun -- we jammed the show FULL of humor. We embraced the "camp" side of Gay Camp because we'd earned it. We put these real characters -- who are dealing with some real deep stuff -- in hilarious situations, as well. One scene finds the camp guidance counselor struggling to hide her vibrator (which she can't get to turn off), while the head of security is trying to figure out where "that strange buzzing sound" is coming from. We chose to have three actors play more than a dozen roles, allowing the hilarity of a quick-change farce to shine through. We found talented comedic actors to play these characters with humor and heart. We found the perfect venue -- the New York International Fringe Festival -- where audiences go to find new, exciting, innovative theater.

But most importantly, I'd satisfied my opposing desires. Sue-Kate and I had created a show that we could be immensely proud of. We'd made something with heart and passion and a strong message and humor and dildos. I'd made peace with myself. We'd made Gay Camp.

I hope you'll join us at Gay Camp and in celebrating what it is to be gay in 2012. Gay Camp runs August 11-22 at the HERE Mainstage Theatre in NYC as part of the NY International Fringe Festival. For tickets and information visit www.GayCampThePlay.com.

Gay Camp: By Philip Mutz and Sue-Kate Heaney. Directed by Phillip Fazio