Jerry Rapier has been Plan-B’s Artistic Director since 2000. He shares his thoughts on Plan-B’s LGBTQ work as part of Give OUT Day.
I stumbled onto a copy of Harvey Fierstein’s TORCH SONG TRILOGY the summer I turned 16 in the Duncan, Arizona (population 700) town library. I’m positive my aunt, who ran the library, didn’t know what it was.
I had never read a play before. I had never seen many of the words in that play before. And I had never quite understood who I was.
It opened up the world for me.
Fast forward to the fall of 2000 and I suddenly found myself in a position to make artistic decisions for Plan-B Theatre Company. I got my hands on the unpublished manuscript of THE LARAMIE PROJECT, the original production of which was still touring the country. I called Dramatists Play Service daily for 6 months and finally had to get Salt Lake Acting Company and Pioneer Theatre Company to confirm with Dramatists that they were not interested in the title so Plan-B could produce it.
That production – the first independent, regional production worldwide – was the mother of all mile markers for Plan-B. It made it possible for us to segue from a community theatre to a community-based professional theatre. With it, we launched our Benefit Performances Program; realized the value of creating true community awareness around each play; committed to producing at least one play per season focused on LGBTQ issues; and began focusing more tightly on socially conscious theatre.
Plan-B had produced LGBTQ-inclusive work prior to THE LARAMIE PROJECT. But now our body of work includes more than 100 productions, a third of which are LGBTQ-inclusive. World premieres like Matthew Ivan Bennett’s ERIC(A), Carol Lynn Pearson’s FACING EAST, Matthew Greene’s ADAM & STEVE AND THE EMPTY SEA, Leslea Newman’s A LETTER TO HARVEY MILK and Eric Samuelsen’s BORDERLANDS. Utah premieres like Susan Miller’s MY LEFT BREAST, Larry Kramer’s THE NORMAL HEART, Dustin Lance Black’s 8, Julie Jensen’s SHE WAS MY BROTHER and John Cameron Mitchell’s/Stephen Trask’s HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH.
THE LARAMIE PROJECT taught me how to listen to the rhythm of a play, giving me the courage to return to Plan-B’s roots of focusing on new work by local playwrights.
And in a world where it seems that a week can’t go by without another state embracing marriage equality, it may seem strange to say that LGBTQ voices need a platform. But there’s a lot of work to be done. Voices that have been ignored or silenced for generations will take time to reach their full strength. The very definition of socially conscious.
As long as there are proclamations from pulpits, until there is no longer the need for coming out, there will be a need for our LGBTQ-inclusive work here in Salt Lake City.