ST. LOUIS: That Uppity Theatre Company and Vital VOICE magazine will present BRIEFS: A Festival of Short LGBT Plays, March 9-11. The festival sheds light on current political and social events through the lens of the LGBTQ experience. Culled from more than 250 submissions, eight short plays will be performed at the new .ZACK Performing Arts Center in St. Louis.
“I feel that it is really important that we have community as much as we can, especially now,” says Joan Lipkin, producing artistic director of That Uppity Theatre Company.
The plays cover different aspects of LGBTQ experience. Shannon Geier’s Twenty Questions follows a family as they adapt to the transition of a transgender family member. When Oprah Says Goodbye, by Dan Berkowitz, is about an unlikely friendship between an African-American lesbian and her roommate at an elder-care facility. Daniel Hirsch’s Last Night at the Cherry Pie takes place at a gay bar that will be closed because of gentrification. Theresa Masters’s Danny Boy follows a gay man who takes care of his ailing, homophobic father. Lipkin’s Our Friends, which has toured the country as part of the After Orlando project, addresses the Pulse nightclub massacre.
The festival won’t be without laughs, though. John Fraser’s Gaga is an absurd comedy about a gay couple in their 60s who encounter two millennials at a bar, and Lisa Konoplisky’s Straight Up follows a straight man and a lesbian who discover they have a lot in common.
The festival’s political activism extends beyond the content of the plays, however. Last year, the festival donated $1,000 to the Metro Trans Umbrella Group. Lipkin and the festival’s board have decided to donate this year’s proceeds to the Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis and to the International Institute of St. Louis.
“I really feel that it is important that we signify coalition building and intersectionality to say that we stand with Muslims, refugees, and immigrants whose humanity is under attack,” says Lipkin.
Putting together the festival is a yearlong process, and a panel selects the plays from national submissions, and Lipkin works with the playwrights on their plays.
This year marks the festival’s first time at the Kranzberg Arts Foundation’s .ZACK theatre, a new arts facility in St. Louis. “We have really struggled with a lack of affordable, accessible performance spaces in St. Louis for small and mid-size groups,” says Lipkin.
Gad Guterman, faculty member of Webster’s Conservatory of Theatre Arts, serves as the festival’s dramaturg. Students from the theatre program are also invited to take part in the festival, performing and working behind-the-scenes.
“It gives the students an opportunity to be exposed to the work of older writers and to the St. Louis acting community,” says Lipkin. “It gives them things for their portfolio and résumés.
Also part of the festival’s programming is a play by the recipient of That Uppity Theatre Company’s Ken Haller Award for LGBTQ and Allied Youth, given in honor of the pediatrician, performer, and longtime LGBTQ activist Ken Haller.
“I wanted to make sure we were providing a platform, visibility, and support for the next generation of young writers, and to encourage them to write about LGBTQ and Allied concerns,” says Lipkin.
This year’s winner, McKenzie Moser, received a cash price and her play Trial and Swear, about finding love, will be presented at the BRIEFS festival.
“I am moved and humbled by what BRIEFS is creating and by having the Haller Playwriting Competition for LGBTQ and Allied Youth named in my honor,” said Haller in a statement. “In every sphere of my life—growing up gay, caring for kids as a pediatrician, and working in theatre—I know how crucial it is for kids who have been marginalized to have their voices heard. It is my hope that the Haller Competition will allow voices silenced for so very long, finally, to speak their truth out loud!”