I have had the great fortune to see several plays that I absolutely loved this month for free: some through ushering, others just by asking. (I want to be clear that these plays are 100% worth the money and my goal is to have the resources to financially support theatre. But in the meantime, I’m grateful I have opportunities such as these to see the plays anyway.)
I love theatre. I love its immediacy and that while you can’t touch the actors on stage, there’s something about the energy in the space when you’re in the same room breathing the same air. I love that theatre, more so than film, has been more successful at diversifying the stories we get to see.
This month, I got to see to tell my story (a hamlet fanfic), a brand new play by humor columnist Alexandra Petri that reached well into my own teenage years as a fanfic aficionado. I loved how it spoke directly, hilariously and adoringly of a topic often derided for being the lowly purview of teenage girls– it legitimized it, allowed me to be proud, nostalgic, and feel ok in my own skin.
I saw An Octoroon, a powerful, wildly entertaining, deconstruction of race and the stories we tell about it.
I saw My Fair Lady with an African-American Eliza Doolittle who killed it and owned her power.
And finally, I saw Wig Out!
Now, the place to start the story of Wig Out! is with the film Moonlight which… it just weakened my knees how beautiful that film was. I’m not a black gay man, but to have Chiron’s story told unflinchingly, with empathy… It was done in such a way that was beyond love and hate; it was done by people who could see the entirety of a human being. (It has definitely inspired my dreams of being a filmmaker and bringing that same empathy and understanding to more communities and more life experiences.)
So when I saw that Studio Theatre was producing a play by the playwright who had a hand in creating Moonlight, Tarell Alvin McCraney, I knew I had to see it.
I got the tickets purely by luck: a former co-worker from Studio Theatre passed by my current job at Trader Joe’s. I expressed my enthusiasm and desire to see the play to him and he asked me to send him an email. We went back and forth with the date, but eventually settled on August 15th, as it was far enough in advance that I could block it off in my work schedule.
I was a bit nervous because, despite blocking it off in my work schedule, they still put me in the calendar to work that night for 7 hours. I tried trading my shift, but it didn’t work. I ended up calling in to one of the mates (managers) and he ended up just taking my shift away, period. I had tried to bargain with him if I could just leave for the two hours of the play and come back, but he said, “I want you to enjoy your play.”
It made me think a little bit. My job matters to me, I genuinely and truly enjoy it and I didn’t want it to reflect poorly on my record. But I chose to take the mate’s words to heart and enjoy the play. Though the play would be performed on other nights, I knew that this performance (like every performance) was going to be singular. I relaxed and went back to being over the moon excited to see the play.
I DRESSED UP. I dressed up in such a way that people (not just men) made comments and priceless facial reactions. I took the bus to Studio Theatre with one of my new housemates, gabbing about creating the love lives of our dreams.
And then I saw the play.
It is such an alien play to me in so many ways. All of my knowledge of drag is from RuPaul’s Drag Race, my understanding and appreciation of African American life from living in DC, my understanding of LGBTQ issues from an ex boyfriend who is trans. And I JUST LOVED IT. I love the joy and theatricality of drag queens, here presented with that heart and love that was given to the people of Moonlight. (Need to throw in a hat tip to that rat-tat-tat language. The Shakespearean comparisons are well deserved.) A huge part of the second act is a straight up drag show, celebrating these women being their loudest, most ostentatious selves. I was cheering and clapping and so so unspeakably delighted.
And then it turned out that there was a talkback with the cast after. And TARELL ALVIN MCCRANEY WAS THERE. (I had actually seen him before the play, sitting a few rows behind me next to my friend who was the Assistant Director. I was looking at his face and couldn’t shake the feeling like I’d seen him before, but I couldn’t place FROM WHERE.)
Really, I’m not one to be starstruck at all. But Moonlight, man. I remember asking my friend in the cast (who has been posting daily about being part of the show) if he was going to meet Tarell Alvin McCraney on Opening Night and if he could get me an autograph. My friend didn’t reply to that, and I chalked it up to being busy with the play and it was just a little autograph anyway. No big deal.
So you better believe I was dying inside that I had the opportunity to get the signature in person. I was immediately very, very grateful the mate had refused my deal and freed up the rest of my evening. The talkback was so illuminating as the playwright and cast spoke about performing the play in the era of Charlottesville, the importance of families and representation.
After the formal part of the talkback, I was able to just thank Tarell Alvin McCraney for Moonlight and to compliment his suit at the Oscars and get that autograph I wanted. I thanked my friend in the cast over and over again for his great work and his daily Facebook posts. I hugged and thanked the lone Filipino actress for being part of the thing (Wig Out! is not about us, but I loved that we had a part in the story, we were part of the community!) and I got to appreciate one of the actors for his work in this play and another play I loved, Ulysses on Bottles. And I got to meet and thank the transgender actress for how fabulous she was and greet another actor on his birthday.
I was practically crying by the end of the night with sheer joy. I felt so moved in the deepest parts of my soul.