Actor Kirt Bateman on creating LGBTQ work with Plan-B

Kirt Bateman has appeared in Plan-B’s A PERFECT GANESH, THE LARAMIE PROJECT, THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, ANIMAL FARM, EXPOSED, GUTENBERG! THE MUSICAL!, DI ESPERIENZA, AMERIGO, BORDERLANDS, LADY MACBETH, NOTHING PERSONAL and CLEARING BOMBS; as well as the Script-In-Hand Series readings of THE NORMAL HEART and 8. He also acted in or directed for every SLAM,  directed TRAGEDY: A TRAGEDY and is married to Producing Director Jerry Rapier, with whom he has a son, Oscar.  He shares his thoughts on Plan-B’s LGBTQ work as part of Give OUT Day.

Chances are if you are a Gen-X baby, as I am, that just happens to be a member of the LGBTQ community, you rarely saw anything in film or television – or certainly on stage in Utah – to give you an idea of what being gay meant or could mean, or (maybe just as importantly) didn’t mean.

I was born in the mid-70s.  My formative years were in the 80s during the plague that wiped out a generation of light (I use that word on purpose).  I was in high school and college in the early 90s when, fortunately, we started to see ourselves portrayed, but in cities that might as well have been Siberia to a little farm boy from West Jordan.

What must it be like to be a millennial or a kid today with gay people as part of your every-day-boring-routine world?  Gay affection without dudes screaming.  And lead characters on stage and TV and in film, living normal, successful, difficult, promising, disappointing, exciting, boring lives.  Just living.  Life.  I envy young LGBTQ people today in many ways.

Now, chances are if you are part of ANY generation older than me, you have a hell of a lot more to complain about regarding visibility than I do.  I bow to you and honor what you lived through. 

My point really is this:  If art holds a mirror up nature to show us our true selves, then what did it say about us that we were non-existent in these film, television, music, and theatre mirrors?  I’m certain that if you lived in San Francisco, New York, West Hollywood, or some other mecca, you would have had a very different experience.  But, I’m talking (actually rambling aimlessly) about Utah in particular.  Salt Lake City specifically.

I still battle my own sense of worthiness, in large part because of my religious upbringing and the awesome, deeply implanted idea that I am not good enough.  But mostly because I didn’t see me.  I had no idols to look up to. I had no future to plan for. I didn’t see – certainly not in the theatre available to me at the time – anything that resembled the torrent that was stirring inside me.  I’m almost 40 and I am still too uncomfortable to hold my husband (yes, my HUSBAND’s) hand in public—certainly I feel like I’m going to have to fight off the salzgivers (inside joke for my brother; read: bullies!) of the world if I were even to peck him on the cheek.  This is the man that I love and that I have been with for nearly 20 years!  It’s exhausting.

Oh, how I wish I would have had Plan-B Theatre Company when I was in grade school and high school.  You know, I don’t think I ever really put a lot of concentrated thought into just how hand-in-glove at home I feel at Plan-B.  My story, and the stories of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters – in all our beauty and ugliness and wonder and magic – our stories are told every single season!

I LOVE playing gay characters.  I really do.  I’m a gay man and dammit, I love playing gay men!  I love it because I feel like I know just one layer deeper the meaning of that person’s backstory.  I understand – just one step further – their path.  Maybe I do, maybe I don’t, but I feel that kinship, whether it’s real or imagined.  Even characters that are completely opposite of me in every other way – I still feel like I am giving a voice to a person that remained voiceless in our culture for far too long.  I love it.

My first Plan-B role was in 2001 in a play by a gay playwright, Terrence McNally.  The play, A PERFECT GANESH, was one of those really fun shows where I got to float in and out of more than 20 different characters.  Multiple-character plays are really challenging and rewarding (read: fun!) and in all honesty, though I shy away from praising myself in anything (read: false modesty!) I do think I’m pretty good at multiple-character roles.  I’ve been told so, anyway.  So, in A PERFECT GANESH, one of the characters I played was a deceased gay son of one of the main characters, played with heartbreaking and breathtaking reality by Marilyn Holt (goddess of theatre).  I had this otherworldly speech where I describe how I died, pretty brutally.  OH MAN!  What a gift.  It’s almost like I got to just get this anger out to the audience as I was screaming and begging for my mother in the play to see me.  SEE ME!!!  Just like I wanted my friends, relatives, and associates to see me in my real life.  And my own mother did see me, with a program hiding her face in the audience so I wouldn’t know she was there.  I wasn’t sure it was a play she’d want to see – but she said she HAD to see it.

Oh Plan-B Theatre Company.  Really.  Every single one of us that count ourselves members of Salt Lake City’s LGBTQ community owe you a debt of gratitude.  When it was not the hip thing to do nor very commonplace, you were telling our stories.  And what I love most of all about that, is that for the large majority of those plays, our story was just another component to an already complex and diverse world.  It wasn’t anything shocking (unless that’s what it needed to be: uh, hello, HEDWIG).  It just was.  And since you (Plan-B) focus on local playwrights telling stories from local perspectives, we even get to see, hear, watch, play, study, explore, and share stories that are even more us.

In BORDERLANDS by Eric Samuelsen (read: genius!), I played the straight guy and the straight guy played the gay kid.  I loved that. But what I really loved is that the gay kid had things figured out in a much healthier way than any of the older straight characters.

We are holding up a mirror, right?  Plan-B Theatre.  I truly love you.  Not only for giving me the opportunity to participate in the most meaningful theatrical experiences of my life.  But since I also get to see your story told on stage at Plan-B, I understand you a little bit better.  And in turn I understand myself a whole lot better.

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