URI Feinstein Providence Campus Urban Arts and Culture Presents
The Journey Out—LGBTQ Coming Out Play for PRIDE
written and directed
by Frank V. Toti Jr.
June 2-4 PROVINCETOWN THEATRE
June 9-11 2011
URI PROVIDENCE CAMPUS
What if you had to hide who you were for fear of rejection or harm? What if you felt growing up that you were somehow different and different was not a good thing to be? What if you had no one to talk to or look up to who could help you shape and mold your life?
The Journey Out is a play, taken from the words and stories of older members of the LGBTQ community in Rhode Island, as captured in a series of oral history interviews this past year. The play – set in a disco, a church and an AIDS support group – is a celebration of love, of faith, of courage – of women and men who fought and struggled for their right to live openly, to live without shame, to live authentically.
THE JOURNEY OUT
The production, which premiered in October at the URI/Feinstein Providence campus was a tremendous success. Calls came immediately from the community to tour the show to schools so that those who are bullied and struggling with their sexual/gender identity can realize that they are not alone and that they can thrive. That those relatives and friends and neighbors who are supportive can gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be gay in today’s world.
There is much humor, great joy and moments of loss in the gathered stories of the fifteen people whose lives are told on stage. An older woman coming out to her mother on Rhode Island Independence Day who receives her own surprise in return. A young Italian man whose mother wants to take him to see a priest after she finds out. A young girl who sees her future in the flying joy of Mary Martin as Peter Pan. Some of the people were embraced on their journey to liberation while other lost friends and families and their faith. But for each person, the telling of their story is an inspiration and celebration of the human spirit, a way to help other members of the tribe on their journey out. The cast includes Cynthia Glinick, Chuck LaFond, Sandra Slonim, Frank Toti, Clare Vadeboncoeur and pianist Gary Harris.
The Journey Out was written and directed by Frank V. Toti Jr. from months of interviews conducted by seven oral historians as part of a project conceived and supervised by Steven Pennell of the Urban Arts and Culture Program at URI/Feinstein CCE. The project began in January 2010 and included interviews with over 60 local LGBTQ members.
Pennell and Toti, two Cranston residents, along with a small group of interviewers, undertook this journey to locate and interview more than 60 older lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and ‘queer’ Rhode Islanders and Southeastern Massachusetts resident. The goal of the project is to gather and transcribe their stories for present and future generations as an archive of information and to transform these inspiring stories into a public performance for the stage so others would know the stories.
The project came into being 6 years after Pennell and Toti attended a PRIDE Parade in New York City and saw an inspiring trolley full of older Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered people who had been at the Stonewall Riots in June 1969, an event which sparked the Gay Liberation Movement. Once funding had been secured, Pennell connected with Peter Hocking from the RISD Office of Public Engagement, who had begun an oral history project of this nature in 2004. Hocking, Pennell and Toti then gathered and trained the additional interviewers. Pennell began contacting individuals from the LGBTQ community who might be willing to share their stories and those who might have additional contacts willing to be interviewed.
For some members of the LGBTQ community, it was too threatening to be public, for some it was a painful journey into the past and for others it was a celebratory dance of liberation and joy. Among the narrators, were some who lost friends, families, jobs, social circles and faith communities. Others were embraced and aided on the journey to become inspiring community leaders know for their talents and gifts not merely their sexual and gender identities.
There is much humor and great joy in the gathered stories as there is for Pennell and Toti, who grew up just streets apart in Cranston, who left the area for work but also to find and accept themselves as gay men. Then twenty years later both men returned to Cranston, they met and fell in love, and began a life together in their forties with the love and support of their families and friends. As with the gathered stories, there were many potholes and pitfalls in Pennell and Toti’s own journey out, but there have been and continue to be glorious sunrises and sunsets to mark the days ahead.
Following the premiere in October 2010 and a tour to local schools in April 2011, the play is being performed for PRIDE 2011. In addition, the story gathering is continuing. There are many individuals who saw the play or heard about the project and expressed interest in participating. Ultimately, the digital files, transcribed interviews and an amazing trove of memorabilia (clippings, photographs, and artifacts) will become the Rhode Island LGBTQ Collection housed in the URI Library Archive to be available for further study and research. The process of interviewing is continuing for those interested in sharing their stories, photographs, clippings and artifacts from their journey out.
Support for this project includes grants and funding from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, Rhode Island Foundation’s Equity Action, URI Providence Student Government Board, The URI Providence Arts and Culture Program and URI URBAN INITIATIVE Grant.
The play will be presented on:
June 2-4 @8pm & June 4 @ 2pm at the Provincetown
Theatre, 238 Bradford Street, Provincetown MA . Call
508-487-7487 or visit provincetowntheatre.com
June 9-11 @ 7:30pm at the URI Providence Campus, 80 Washington Street, Providence RI. For information on the project, contact Steven Pennell at 401-277-5206 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.