Gay theater festival soldiers on through tough times

Gay theater festival soldiers on through tough times

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Like most of us, the Philadelphia Gay and Lesbian Theatre Festival is feeling the pinch in this struggling economy. But despite the hurdles, the organizers of the annual LGBT theater showcase have still managed to pull together an entertaining and thought-provoking lineup, which runs through June 27.

Matthew Cloran, the festival’s artistic director and co-founder, said the economic climate has definitely had an effect on the shows that were sought.

“I think we really focused on plays that reflected our mission to do quality shows, as well as bring an audience in,” he said. “It was much easier to go through what we were thinking and say we really want to put people in the seats. Before, we would take artistic chances knowing that it might not necessarily fill the seats, but we felt really strongly about the story, even if only 50 people saw the show.”

Cloran also said the festival’s slimmer coffers mean he’s taking on more duties this year than in the past, directing two productions.

“I usually direct one,” he said. “My passion is directing. But again, as a budgetary thing, I chose both of them because I felt that I could do it.”

Cloran is directing the Philadelphia premieres of both “Bare: A Pop Opera” and “Friends are Forever.” The latter follows a group of gay couples who are humorously tested when indiscretions and secrets are unexpectedly exposed. Cloran described the production as fun and low-maintenance.

“We don’t have to do any super-lifting in terms of sitting down and discussing the script,” he said. “The characters’ motivations are pretty clear cut. Our goal with ‘Friends are Forever’ is to make it as fun as possible for the audience. It’s a delightful little piece. I call it ‘Sex and the City’ meets ‘Queer As Folk’ with a dash of ‘The Women’ thrown in. I really think that description captures the play and what it’s really about.”

Cloran is more emotionally attached to the other play he’s directing, “Bare: A Pop Opera,” the musical story of two gay students trying to figure out how to express their love for each other during their senior year at a Catholic high school.

“It really hit me that this was my story,” Cloran said. “When I was a high-school senior, I fell in love with my best friend. I very much wanted to make the relationship public, but he was incredibly frightened of that and sacred of the ramifications both with school and his family. Listening to the music, it was like having flashbacks in a very cool and cathartic way. I remembered the wonderful things about it and the difficult things. Anybody who is my generation in the ’70s and ’80s who were coming out, there was a lot of that being afraid to come out with our early relationships. What I really love about ‘Bare,’ besides the great music, is that it not only broaches this relationship between the two young males, but it’s also a really cool piece about being outside of the cliques.”

The most challenging and abstract production on the festival this year is bound to be “And Baby Makes Seven” by award-winning lesbian playwright Paula Vogel, and directed by openly gay actor Daniel Student. The story centers on a lesbian couple awaiting the arrival of their newborn child, but first they must rid their crowded apartment of their three imaginary children. The play questions how people create a family when the boundaries between illusion and reality, friendship and love, female and male, can be so fluid.

Cloran said he has wanted to get a Vogel play into the festival for some time, and that this play in particular fits the bill this year.

“We wanted to do a Paula Vogel play, and then this year we were looking for something where a lesbian couple was involved and we were also looking for something that has a small cast,” he said. “I really like the play. I think it makes some interesting comments about building families. But one of my favorite moments in the piece is what it says in the end: You give something up when you go after something like this, but also you get something, and sometimes you sort of have to experience that loss as real. It looks at creating families like this in a pragmatic sort of way in this abstract framework.”

The Philadelphia Gay and Lesbian Theatre Festival runs through June 27. For productions, theaters and show times, visit

Larry Nichols can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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