October is National Coming Out Month. Originally a one-day observance, it has grown into a monthlong, international celebration of independence filled with pride, civil awareness, maturation and discovery. Throughout the LGBT community, it also is a time of reflection, activism and self-determination filled with events, parties and education.
For Sean Michael, a local thespian and director who has graved the boards in several productions, National Coming Out Month is something much bigger. It serves an opportunity for him to harness his sass and vigor to serve his community with the craft he cares passionately about.
Michael recently unfurled The Q Collective, a professional company producing theater that explores gender and sexuality with an emphasis on the development of local playwrights and composers. He also heralded the arrival of their troupe’s inaugural venture,The Coming Out Play Festival.
Geared at fostering an atmosphere of respect and openness, The Coming Out Play Festival, happening from October 19-20 at The Monocle (4510 Manchester Avenue), features eight 15-minute short productions that explore the coming out experience as a central theme. Two of the works presented are from St. Louis-based playwrights, Elizabeth Breed Penny and Lisa Meyers.
The Coming Out Play Festival is the heir apparent to BRIEFS, a series of plays curated by STL stage luminary Joan Lipkin and produced by The Vital Voice. Spanning 6 years, that festival (which also featured original plays centered around LGBTQIA issues) was the first of its kind. Hailed by critics, it birthed 50 short plays.
Another legacy of BRIEFS was that it was an ongoing fixture in American Theatre magazine each year it was staged. Additionally, it also awarded 6 annual scholarships via the Ken Haller Theatre Award.
Taking up that mantle, Michael’s ambitious project brings the National Coming Out Month to the forefront of local theater. Michael talked to The Vital Voice about this years’ event and the important role it plays in our community.
Where did the idea of The Coming Out Play Festival come from?
About two years ago, I directed in a short play festival that the Theater Guild of Webster Groves sponsored. I didn’t have any plays ready at the time so I put out a call for some. One of the plays I received was Open by Donald Miller (a local writer and actor), which was a slice-of-life story of two gay men talking through their open relationship. It was really eye-opening and empowering to direct a piece of theater with gay men experiencing struggles that I’ve been through and worried through. It just kind of occurred to me that we needed more of that in St. Louis.
How were the plays selected?
The plays were selected by a reading committee consisting of our directors, Carl Overly, Jr., Sarah Lynne Holt, Shualee Cook and Taylor Gruenloh, as well as myself and Tina Farmer. We opened a blind submission process at the beginning of June and received 66 plays from 50 playwrights based around the world. We read all 66 plays, we each decided our top choices and then deliberated. Originally, we were only planning on producing six of the plays but we got down to our last slot with three plays and I made the decision to include all three.
How does this festival empower others to come out?
What I really want to accomplish with this festival is to get everyone to recognize that there is no one way to come out, that coming out has so many meanings, and that we come out often and as different identities. One of the plays, I won’t go into too much detail, has a double coming out which is really neat. Another play is autobiographical and puts sexual assault front and center. It’s about giving people a mirror to look at and see themselves.
There are two local writers featured in the festival, how did their involvement happen?
Part of our mission is to help in the development of local playwrights, and we did a lot of outreach with writers in the St. Louis area, mostly by Facebook posts but also some personal messages and face-to-face talks, so that we would have material from writers based here. After that, they were chosen by blind submission. I’m really pleased with the work they submitted and the fact that we have two locals in the festival.
What is next for the company?
We are in the middle of planning our next play festival, Transluminate, which will feature works written, directed, and acted by transgender, agender, non-binary, gender fluid and gender queer artists. For next April, we’ve got a really fun take on Romeo and Juliet that I’ll keep quiet about for now. Beyond that, we are looking at several musicals and plays. Hedwig and The Angry Inch is at the top of my priority list to hopefully produce next year to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. We are also exploring two Paula Vogel plays, How I Learned to Drive and The Mineola Twins, and really interesting musical from the ‘70s called The Club.
Performances of The Coming Out Play Festival are Friday and Saturday, October 19 at 7:00 PM and October 20 at 4:30 PM and 8:00 PM. Tickets are $15 in advance through Eventbrite.com or $20 at the door.