This is the fifth post is a series of blogs about our upcoming production, Ex-Gays, written by Eric F. Avery. Ex-Gays will be presented at Matthews Park and Recreation Center opening July 15th. This blog is written by cast and company member Russ Dugger.
Some of you may remember a moment in Theatre History that (for a short time, at least) gripped our attentions and forced us to acknowledge and investigate how we perceive a performer's life and choices and connect them to their performance.
A little over a year ago, Ramin Setoodeh, a writer for Newsweek stated that it is much more difficult for openly gay actors to play straight characters—and be taken seriously—then it is for known straight actors to do the reverse. “Most actors would tell you that the biographical details of their lives are beside the point. Except when they’re not.”
Now, this little explosive moment in the theatrical world (see Kristin Chenoweth's comments to Newsweek to see just how explosive) was all but lost to the dark sweeping vortex that is my mind when a few weeks ago, I realized that I am portraying a gay man in Ex-Gays while I identify as heterosexual. All of a sudden I'm feeling a little more connected to Mr. Setoodeh's observations.
It's not really my intention to blast Mr. Setoodeh's opinions, because they are just that. His opinions. But I can't help but get lost in what he wants us to glean from his piece. Are audiences incapable of seeing beyond homosexual stereotypes and suspending their disbelief for story's sake? Or are gay actors just too “queeny” to ever hope to be taken seriously as heterosexual characters?
Since Mr. Setoodeh acknowledges that Rock Hudson in “Pillow Talk dissolves into a farce when you know the likes of his true bedmates.” I'm going to guess it's all up to the audience, but when he begins his piece remarking Sean Hayes' performance, it becomes a little less clear. “He comes off as wooden and insincere, as if he’s trying to hide something, which of course he is.”
I realize how all of this is sooooooo last year. Literally. So let's bring this back to our little project. Ex-Gays is about people (gay and straight alike) attempting to cure homosexual urges and tendencies. I can't help but wonder how much it would change for the audience if they could look through the playbill and see how we identify ourselves in our bios; like seeing that little asterisk indicating we're part of some theatrical union. Would some of the language achieve a whole new level of harshness if it was known that the actor was actually gay? Could my heterosexual identity be blamed for a “wooden and insincere” performance?
I believe that each audience member brings a fresh perspective to any performance. What I see is not what she sees, is not what he sees, is not what they see. And maybe we see a bad performance. Maybe it's because of an off night or bad direction. Anyone can have an opinion on the cause, but that doesn't always mean it's the correct cause for an entire group of people.