To the editors:
At the risk of sounding “Fringier-than-thou” you just don’t know what the Fringe is until you’ve performed openly as a gay theater company! I read with amusement and dismay Dan Liberty’s chronicle of Stormfield Theatre at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe [October 23]. “The World’s Largest Cultural Event,” as they bill themselves, is definitely ripe for a “Fringe of the Fringe” mutation if haggling about per diems, putting on conventional plays, and dreaming of West End glory is what “fringe” theater of the world has boiled down to.
When intrepid little Lionheart Gay Theatre of Chicago performed at the ’86 Fringe we weren’t talking per diems, we were looking at the bricks thrown by the local homophobes through the stately Georgian windows of our performance space in the new Edinburgh Lesbian/Gay Community Center. (It was decided our SRO benefit performances would help buy metal grates for the windows.) We were discussing the fact that out of a couple hundred venues ours was the only one omitted from a large fashionable Prince’s Street department store map of the Fringe. We were also chatting with the acclaimed gay cabaret trio, the Insinuendos, about the bottles and abuse thrown at them by the “straight” acting fraternity, when they performed at the Fringe Club. We shared with them our experience of a death threat while performing at the New Orleans World’s Fair; of having our mail opened with weird epithets scrawled on a donation check returned to sender; of routinely having posters torn down back home, some defaced; the thrill of going through customs with concealed, decidedly “gay” props; of having produced over a dozen original plays by Chicagoans; only two reviewed by the big papers, then seeing several go on to win prizes and praise in other cities; to have produced the only undiscovered (not by choice) “underground” hit in the history of “off-Loop” theater; to have been a part of the 40-plus member companies of the International Gay Theatre Alliance and this first time in the history of world theater phenomenon go completely uncommented upon by any American theater journals; to have produced the first several plays to deal with the AIDS crisis and the first AIDS theater benefits in Chicago and then a couple years later see other theaters finally jump on the benefit bandwagon and even congratulate themselves publicly for setting it in motion; of often being unable to send out photos of cast members for fear of losing their jobs; or the joy of “fan” letters and full houses, marveling that our audiences find us with no mainstream press, calendar listings, or community service radio spots. (PR dutifully sent.) Out of 494 theater troupes at the Fringe we were singled out for favorable notice on the BBC Critics Forum and the Guardian but not a mention back home in the “gossip” or theater miscellany columns (PR hand delivered). You’d think Chicago wasn’t proud of this, albeit, minor theater triumph. Ah well, some spiritual tradition says “Bless your enemies for they define your path.” The premiere issue of Chicago Theatre magazine asks “How Gutsy Is Chicago Theatre?” I suspect most “minority” theaters would reply “not very.” Guts and Fringe should be synonymous.
P.S. The Reader has always used our photos, when they were interesting, and often managed to include us in their listing even for short-run performances, and we are eternally grateful.