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What Theatre Means To Me

CTG’S LGBTQIA+ Community Reflects on the Power of Theatre

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Actor Deborah Cox at Center Theatre Group's 2023 Gala “Light Up Los Angeles” at the Mark Taper Forum and Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on April 15, 2023, in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging)

Happy Pride! Throughout the month of June, the LGBTQIA+ community rallies together to celebrate our history, stories, challenges, and victories. With the uptick in anti-trans legislation across the country, the community must rally together to speak on our stories and uplift our voices in our everyday lives. We spoke to staff members at Center Theatre Group who are members of the LGBTQIA+ community to discuss their passion for theatre and the arts and the power it holds, as well as their hopes for the future of the theatre industry and the community at large.

Joey Solano Digital Product Manager (he/him)

Joey first came out as a gay man when he was 15 years old in high school. He recalls being a band kid and had always gravitated towards the arts, finding a voice for himself through playing the flute. “I wanted a community, and I felt outcasted,” he said. “I found my safe space in the arts.”

When a production of Wicked arrived at the Pantages Theatre, Solano found others who shared the joy of theatre with him.

Solano would travel by bus three times a week to try to win the $25 ticket lottery. He found himself seeing the same people each time and found a community of thespians. 

But he found trouble within theatre itself, as he sometimes felt he didn’t belong. “I always felt classed out,” he reflected. “I’m not Latino enough, I’m not white enough.”

Even so, Solano found solace in the audiences around him, which showed him that theatre can be for everyone, regardless of your class or background. “My favorite part was seeing different types of people walk in through those doors,” he shared. “Who knew that there was such a love for classical music amongst the [Chicano] people... it really taught me [that it’s about] the way you message and how you [offer] storytelling to them.”

Solano was inspired to pursue theatre and share the joy it brought him, ultimately joining the CTG Staff as the Digital Product Manager in 2021. He feels theatre’s ability to transport people to other worlds is particularly impactful for queer individuals.

“Escapism has always been something that as queer people we are gravitating to... We leave the theatre and can’t hold [our] partner’s hand on the way home to the car.”

For Solano, the solution is in the inclusion of diverse communities throughout the entire theatrical process. From the creative team through, Solano calls for other voices, ideas, and opinions to be shared. When reflecting on the future of theatre, Solano hopes to see more inclusion of the various groups that compose the LGBTQIA+ community. “Gay men are still running a lot of these spaces... it’s still underneath the patriarchal structures that are at play,” he noted.

Alice Pelayo Donor Liaison and Institutional Advancement Assistant (she/her)

For a long time, Alice Pelayo knew something about her was different. “At the back of my mind, there was always this looming presence of the thing you’re expected to do,” she shared. “And then there’s the thing that I really am, enjoy the most, and believe to be an ideal world.”

But at the time, Pelayo couldn’t go for that ideal world. “I call it cowardice, but it was really survival. I went with a thing that would allow me to retain the support network, the only family that I’d ever known,” she said.

Pelayo was raised in a very strict and devout Christian tradition, which felt alienating to her, as there were factors about herself that were considered wrong or shameful. She now lives her life openly as a transgender woman, but she suppressed her identity for a long time. “I didn’t know what I was supposed to be that would make me happy,” she reflected.

Instead, Pelayo allowed herself to be filled with the expectations from others to make those around her happy. She took those expectations through high school and joined the Air Force because she was told her entire life it was a noble thing to do.

But being away from her family allowed her to get to know herself on a new level. “[I] began to question things,” Pelayo admitted. “Not only about the nature of spirituality and reality, but about my own self and sense of identity.”

Through it all, Pelayo found that what brought her the most happiness was the theatre. Her parents had enrolled her in a course at the age of ten, and she found a space where she could learn from herself further. “Even though many of the beliefs that I had been holding onto at the time conflicted with the methods of expression in that environment, I still felt better, and more at home,” she said.

During her time in the military, Pelayo continued to follow her passion and explore theatre, where she co-directed a production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf? and performed in various productions. After she left the military, she began to perform in independent theatre with people she had met and felt real community with.

As time went on, she found the courage to seek her own answers to her identity and declare to the world who she truly was.

When she came out as a transgender woman, she lost over half of her family that same day. “Some of them have come back and seen that I’m not some monster, but a lot of them stayed gone,” she admitted. “And even though I lost them, the theatre and the artists...they were there to fill in the gaps of the people that left.”

Though Pelayo holds the theatre community with admiration, she knows it is far from where it needs to be in terms of equality and inclusion of the LGBTQIA+ community. Despite having an extensive resume, she has been unable to get back on stage her entire adult life since transitioning. She finds a refusal in casting certain queer identities in other traditionally cast roles. “I see myself reflected in artwork, but I don’t see it reflected in places where the point is not that I’m transgender,” she shared.

Pelayo also finds that there are few opportunities for members of the transgender community in the theatre, and, when there are, it can be hard to balance a passion for the arts while also finding avenues to support themselves.

Additionally, Pelayo finds that to succeed, transgender actors must assert themselves and take up space in artworks that weren’t made with them in mind.

Pelayo believes the work for better inclusion, both at Center Theatre Group and other institutions, is worth the required focus and dedication from all. “So people...who because of their statues and identities haven’t had the opportunity to present themselves to the art community, can participate in this extremely important form of performance...I think we’ll get there.”

Liv Scott Lead Covid-19 Compliance Officer & Testing Coordinator (she/her)

Liv Scott first began her journey with theatre at the age of three. She had learned how to sing and dance, and also explored other forms of art, including piano, choir, and saxophone.

During her sophomore year of high school, her English teacher was looking for an assistant stage manager for the school production, and Scott agreed to take it on.

At one of the performances, the stage manager didn’t show up, and the responsibilities all fell on Scott. Quickly, Scott assembled her team, and prepared for the show. “After the curtain went up, I finally had a chance to sit down, and it hit me,” she said. “This is what I’m meant to be doing. I’m meant to be a stage manager.”

For Scott, the joy of stage management comes through facilitating others and helping operations run smoothly.

When she was 20 years old, Scott began to understand her identity. “I found that I was queer...it explained a lot about my life,” she said. “And I [was] having an identity crisis, because this didn’t go with my upbringing.”

As a bisexual woman, Scott hasn’t felt very represented onstage in the stories being told. One of the first opportunities for some form of representation onstage was through Fun Home. For Scott, the song “Ring of Keys” was relatable because the character Alison saw herself through somebody else, a delivery person who is masc presenting.

Scott has been able to find a community and her identity through her friends, who empowered her in her journey. “I had accepted it, but I hadn’t embraced it. And there is a difference between resigning to the fact that I am who I am versus [realizing] this is a beautiful thing,” she reflected.

Theatre has also been healing for Scott. “When my mom passed away, I didn’t see my dad smile for three months. We had tickets to Mary Poppins...I saw him laugh for the first time in three months,” she shared.

Scott feels that, due to a recent uptick in anti-drag laws and the political state of the country, there are only certain stories that are allowed to be told onstage. Despite this, she finds solace in shows that push the boundaries and create representation, such as A Transparent Musical and Alma. “When I [saw] Alma, the biggest thing was seeing an audience full of kids who suddenly saw themselves on stage.” Scott stated. “Their own stories, some of them their own fears, suddenly normalized and verbalized,”

One of Scott’s favorite musicals, Ragtime, normalizes and places marginalized bodies onstage. “They take every racial trope and just spin it. They just storm the stage and they’re like, we’re here. We exist, and we are beautiful. Because we are who we are,” Scott explained.

Ultimately, Scott finds joy in that ability to give space to the voices that don’t have one within the theatre. “There’s plenty of room,” she said. “We just need to make the table longer.”

Simon Martin Production Assistant (they/he)

“I remember feeling this gray area between a lot of the kids where I wasn’t boy enough for the boys and I wasn’t a girl,” shared Simon Martin, a 24-year-old director and writer. They recall a moment in their childhood where they were holding hands with their best friend, and having a strange feeling, but not having the language for it.

As they got older, that language became more accessible during the age of social media, which allowed them to explain and label themself. During college, Martin felt more comfortable with how they presented themself and identifying as trans, gay, and gender non-conforming

As a writer and director, Martin believes their queer identity aids in naming the hyper specific things they felt in their youth. In that, they can share stories that others outside the queer community can relate to. “I feel the more specific you get, the more universal it becomes...People may not exactly know what it's like to be this young little gay boy on the playground, but [they] know what it feels like to be different.”

Martin first began writing and directing in college as a student at UC San Diego. Their first play, Weirdo or (make nice) follows Zealand, a young boy who learns and navigates social hierarchies and the stigma of social norms and relations. Martin finds the process of writing and directing to be liberating, allowing them to understand their feelings and the feelings and perspectives of others.

At Center Theatre Group, Martin is the Production Assistant for A Transparent Musical, which has allowed them to experience a process with a queer input, which they find to be unique to the performing arts. “We’re having conversations every day about how this [show] can be developed and strengthened,” they shared. “It’s a medium that promotes conversation and discussion in the process of it.”

Looking ahead, Martin hopes to see more stories of queer people simply existing and living their everyday lives, with stories going beyond their label. “I just want to see [queer] people being normal, because that’s what we are—normal.” 

Beonica Bullard, Assistant Production Manager (she/they)

Beonica Bullard was first introduced to theatre during a school production of Thoroughly Modern Millie, and, soon after, fell in love with the artform. From the sixth to twelfth grade, she attended the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts (CPA).

They followed their passion and went to college to specialize in acting. But things changed when she took a course in technical theatre. “That’s when a whole other world that I didn’t know existed, existed. This is where the real magic happens,” they shared.

At school, Bullard began to make friends within both the theatre and queer communities. She recalls always feeling safe in the theatre, which influenced her commitment to the artform.

Bullard came out as bisexual in their final years of high school, but she met other members of the LGBTQIA+ community during the technical courses. She found a home in this newfound community, which helped her in the transition from acting to stage management.

Bullard finds themself gravitating towards stories by young Black women that tackle the systemic problems the black community faces that often aren't discussed. “It leaves people learning a lot that they didn’t know about the Black community,” they noted “So, I always gravitate towards work that will help the next generation be the person that I wish I saw growing up.”

As a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, Bullard finds they gravitate towards the theatre because they build a safe space for one another. But as a person of color, Bullard notes that it is not the same experience. “Being a [person of color] in the theatre community is rare, and there are obstacles in the way,” she shared. “We’ve been through a lot to get to this point.”

Growing up in the arts, Bullard felt support from her family, but they didn’t always attend the theatre. For Bullard, this was an example of the privilege required to be in the arts. “Black people aren’t given the chances of being in the arts like white people do,” she said. “Why would they understand something that they never were introduced to at a young age?”

Bullard believes she was fortunate to attend a performing arts school simply by external factors out of her control. She was able to get into CPA because her grandmother lives near a magnet school that provided a clear path to the performing arts academy . In high school, Bullard was one of a handful of Black students in the theatre department.

Looking forward, Bullard feels good about the future of theatre. “Everything keeps getting rocked, but I love rocking the boat. Nothing changes unless we rock the boat,” they stated.

She believes that in tandem with the LGBTQIA+ and Black communities, there is an opportunity to uplift each other's voices, and speak on the issues each community faces. “At the end of the day, we each follow our different paths and come from different places, but we are all the same. We all want to be heard,” they said. “We all want to be loved.”

Paul Vitagliano Donor Advisor (he/him)

Paul Vitagliano understands the impact of live performance firsthand.

Vitagliano recalls always feeling connected to the arts. In college, he followed a musical career, first interning at a radio station where he answered the request line. Soon, he found himself DJing on the radio after being offered a position, which opened the door to the future of his career.

In 1993, Vitagliano and his peers came up with a concept of a monthly club called Dragstrip 66. The premise of the event was for the audience to dress in drag following a theme that the club had set. 

The event allowed the community to have a space to gather and party, but the show offered more to its audiences. “We started as a respite from HIV and AIDS,” he shared. “Our friends were still dying. We [went] to memorials almost every week.”

Dragstrip 66 provided a form of escapism to the community at a time when the harsh realities of the AIDS crisis, which had peaked by 1995, heavily affected them. Vitagliano noted the events were about enjoying life and having fun while also paying attention to the world around them. “We can’t be passive because our community is [always] targeted.”

Vitagliano found that the club provided a safe space from the world outside its doors. It offered the community the opportunity to connect with each other to discuss the realities and hardships they face. “We forget that we need these conversations to know that we’re not alone,” he said.

For Vitagliano, one thing he has learned as a gay man is the idea of chosen family and creating a community for yourself. He found his chosen family through his work with Dragstrip 66, noting that it was more than just a nightclub, but rather a community that created real connections amongst one another.

Through his work, Vitagliano was also able to push the aspects of performance at The Cavern Club Theatre. The group began to perform live drag soap opera shows named The Plush Life, where audiences were entertained by the comedic improvisations of the performers. Vitagliano wasn’t an actor, but he found the synergy of performance exciting, and enjoyed the opportunity to bring joy and entertainment to audiences.

Looking ahead, Vitagliano calls for the LGBTQIA+ community to be proactive in its defenses. He finds that to move forward, the community must learn its own history and adapt to the world around them. “Learn about queer and gay history,” he shared. “We need the next generation to take that torch and carry that mantle because this is their fight.”

Vitagliano also calls for the community to be active in the politics occurring in both the local and national government. “Our democracy and our rights are not spectator sports,” Vitagliano stated. He also notes that the community must check in with its own level of racism, as it is built into the American fabric, and will cause for the suffering of all. “If one of us is not equal, then none of us are equal,” he said.

Even with the state of queer rights in danger, Vitagliano finds solace in the creativity the queer community produces. He calls for the community to follow their passions, whether it's through acting, singing, or drag. “I think that’s what makes us special, and I think it is our superpower,” he admitted. “I’ve always felt my queerness is a gift, it sets me apart, and allows me to step out of myself.”

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