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BWW Interview: Joey Frangieh, Stephanie Loraine, And Sam Tanabe of THE GAY AGENDA Commissioned by Boston Theatre Company

BWW Interview: Joey Frangieh, Stephanie Loraine, And Sam Tanabe of THE GAY AGENDA Commissioned by Boston Theatre Company

Following their 2017 documentary theatre project exploring the impact of the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing, Finish Line, Boston Theatre Company has commissioned a new piece of documentary theatre about the varied experiences of the LGBTQ+ community, The Gay Agenda. In the work he has done thus far-32 interviews with a cognizant aim that 75% are specifically with queer people of color- BTC's Artistic Director, Joey Frangieh, has already noticed recurring themes as he curates the verbatim transcripts into a performance script. "A lot of the interviewees have talked about well-intentioned people in their lives who don't do the work to be allies to the LGBTQ+ community. There are a lot of stories where a queer person feels like they have to be the 'trans*' friend or the 'Black' friend and act as the Google for the group," he explained to me over Zoom in front of a blank wall in his New York apartment. Frangieh says he has the most success approaching these interactions with participants as "conversations rather than interviews", in which he engages without prepared questions and allows the subject to drive the dialogue. "We're creating a platform for people to tell the stories they want to tell. I've told the story of my coming out 378 million times, but that experience isn't shared by every member of the LGBTQ+ community," he continues. "Then there is an added responsibility because we are not performing a made-up story, we are honoring real peoples' real lives."

Sam Tanabe, an actor who met Frangieh when the two worked on the Broadway production of Allegiance, already sees parallels between the work he has done for The Gay Agenda and the work he engaged with on Finish Line. He says of the documentary theatre style that it is a "useful vehicle to bring about healing and express real emotions." However, he feels the success of these pieces lies in the more abstract ephemera. "It's important for the actors to get every word right because we are pulling from real life. As a gay man, there are elements of these stories I relate to but there are also ways they are different from my experiences, because LGBTQ+ people are not a monolith." While working on both productions, Tanabe has regarded the transcripts from the interviews as the key to landing the intended message, but has refrained from listening to the available audio recordings. "Mimicking can seem disingenuous," he reasons, and does not want to be tempted to replicate speech patterns or phrasing.

Frangieh sites an instance of reading Anna Deavere Smith's work in college as igniting his interest in documentary theatre. "I was captured by the depth of her stories- they are so raw and deep- while so much of our entertainment is flat. Like 'reality' TV, watched on a screen." Without attempting to replicate Deavere Smith's work, which laid a well-known ground plan for the documentary drama genre, Frangieh finds himself pondering while directing, "What would Anna Deavere Smith do?"

Stephanie Loraine, the Executive Director of the Florida Access Network, a reproductive justice organization in Florida and Producer/ Radio Host of Jevas Combativas, the only Feminist Spanish Language Commercial Radio show in the United States, met Frangieh when BTC worked on a response to the Pulse night club shooting in Orlando. She was excited to be interviewed about her experiences as a queer woman of color for this production. "I consider myself a storyteller in my work, but this will be my first time seeing my story and my experiences told this way." She continues in front of an eclectically-decorated wall in her Orlando home, "I'm interested to see a wider breadth of queer experiences from around the globe represented on stage-to continue the conversation around who is allowed to present as authentically queer."

Loraine notes that, even the title of the show, The Gay Agenda, is reclaimed from a phrase which has been "weaponized and stigmatized with preconceived notions of what that 'gay agenda' looks like. I'm excited to see a story about my mundane, bisexual life. Normalizing the queer community as people with real lives- as opposed to 'we're all sh*tting rainbows'. We are the cashier at the bodega. Actors and performers. We're everywhere."

Frangieh echoes Loraine's enthusiasm from across the country, responding, "Some people are so confused and think they need to treat LGBTQ+ people gently, but this community has some of the strongest individuals I know. We just want to love who we love and marry who we want to marry." He then closed out the interview by staunchly affirming his own belief, along with BTC's general solidarity that, "Black Lives Matter and Black Queer Lives Matter."

A workshop of three scenes from The Gay Agenda will be read as part of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce's Fierce Urgency of Now Festival on Saturday, September 19. The performance will be open captioned as well as ASL interpreted. Tickets are free and can be reserved in advance, with a $10 suggested donation to the Trevor Project. More information here.

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