Madison’s StageQ Celebrates Pride Month with 14th Annual 'Queer Shorts' Play Series
By Stephanie Harte
Photo Credit: The five local 'Queer Shorts' playwrights from left to right: Edric Johnson, David Heuer, Kaia Kalise, Steven Smith and Maxton Young-Jones. Photo courtesy of Brianna Mueller.
Following StageQ’s mission to tell stories by and about LGBTQ+ people, the 14th and final Queer Shorts play series will honor the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. This uprising that sparked the gay rights movement began in the early hours of June 28, 1969, when police raided Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in the Greenwich Village of New York City.
Queer Shorts veteran Mark Albright has directed and acted in the show for the past 10 years, and even wrote a monologue for a previous series. This year, he is directing the short Aunt Joanne by local playwright Steven Smith, which he teases as a chance encounter between a young man and older woman, with a surprise ending that ties their worlds together. CapitalQ Theatre Festival will replace Queer Shorts next season with a May 2020 launch. For the new festival, StageQ will invite Wisconsin area acting troupes, high school drama clubs and college theatre classes to submit original one acts, monologues and short plays, culminating in a weekend long event.
Albright and executive producer Brianna Mueller shared what audiences can expect from this year’s Queer Shorts and how the show, which features five plays by local writers and five plays by national authors, came together.
What made you want to get involved with Queer Shorts?
Brianna Mueller: I thought the way that it all worked was really cool because it was clearly this bohemian production. It has many shows, many actors and lots of moving parts. I thought that was the most beautiful version of collaboration that is theatre.
Mark Albright: The woman who created Queer Shorts, Katy Conley, wanted to create something that fostered community. You have a gay theatre company wanting to open their arms and invite people to be a part of a production where maybe someone who hasn’t really acted in a long time, or hasn’t acted in anything, but wants to give it a try, could audition and be considered. Or maybe you have someone who wants to work behind the scenes, this would be their way in.
Besides new plays, how is the show different this year?
Mueller: I think the coolest thing about this season is that so much of it is coming out of real, local stories. Five of the pieces are written by local artists, specifically people who are all connected to the show in some capacity, whether they have been in the show before, directed or just have connections to the community.
You never really know what you are going to get from submissions. We have shows that range from blatant political revolution and rebellion to the politics of being who you are. We have relationships. We have youth. We have historical plays that are truly political time pieces. We have some that touch on discrimination and homophobia. We have some that are light and some that are dark. It’s a wide range of themes, but they all ultimately come back to this idea that Stonewall is and will ever be this icon of history for queer individuals.
Tell me about the new writing workshops that complements Queer Shorts.
Mueller: I had this dream I wanted us to promote more local voices because we have a difficult time getting local playwrights to submit. I wrote a grant to the Wisconsin Arts Board and National Endowment for the Arts to create something called Work Shorts, and got that grant back in October of last year. We harnessed eight to 10 playwrights in this community and basically trained them, workshopped pieces and did table reads. It was the pre-Queer Shorts phase of getting local writers support, training and teaching. Three of the pieces from that workshop came into the submissions pool and they were actually selected (The Thin Blue Line by Maxton Young-Jones, Closing Arguments by Kaia Kalise and The Last Minute Suspense by Edric Johnson) and two other people (Steven Smith and David Heuer, who wrote Aunt Joanne and The Good Fight, respectively) were just doing their own thing. I think it’s cool we were able to support them (the workshop playwrights) from the initial concept and idea, all the way through them being involved in the production.
What are you looking forward to most this year?
Mueller: It’s kind of the end of an era. So many people look forward to this production every year that it’s kind of this annual tradition. The same people often come to audition and they feel that connection. We call them the veterans of the show, but then there is also all of these new people who come and audition and want to direct and it’s like these two worlds of talent and people coming together and working together. This year, more than ever, I have just been really excited to see how they put this piece of art together and how much it means to them and the stories that they are telling.
I feel like we are leaving quite a legacy having brought so much local voice and stories to the show this year and having truly seen this through start to finish is super helpful. I think our company especially is really working on rebranding and thinking about our vision, which is to have more of the work we are doing be by and about queer people, and we did that with this show.
Albright: With the theme this year being the spirit of Stonewall, it will be interesting to see how revolution is defined and how revolution is looked at. Is it strictly on a level where it’s about joining a protest? Is it about a different level where it is about something interpersonal between a couple of people? Is it something within yourself that you realize a thought or a belief that you once held is no longer, or it gets confronted and you have to realize which is it? Do I hold on to the belief or do I look at the person and realize they are the same person they have been all along and I still love them?
“Queer Shorts: Spirit of Stonewall,” presented by StageQ, runs June 14 – 29 at the Bartell Theatre, 113 E Mifflin St. For tickets visit bartelltheatre.org or call the box office at (608) 661-9696.