Let's talk showbiz, and in honor of LGBT History Month, I'll tell a little secret. You might have guessed over the years that I'm a little theatrical with my activism, but I bet you'd never guess that some of it was actually honed in New York theater.
Here's the history part. At New York Theater Ensemble in 1970, my friends Jeff Hochhauser and Rosemary Keating were writing what we believe was the first LGBT musical performed in the New York theater scene. And, luckily for me, they choose me as their stage manager.
The show was called "Graduation." It was a coming-of-age/coming-out story of a student in turmoil going through high school.
I don't believe Jeff, Rosemary or I ever realized how cutting-edge that musical was for its time. Working off-Broadway, or off-off-Broadway, was an incredible creative and experimental way to hone your skills. At that same time, Harvey Fierstein was working at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club and playwright John Guare was working his magic up the street at the Truck and Warehouse Theater with a show called "House of Blue Leaves." His next show was "Six Degrees of Separation."
Across the street, Andy Warhol contemporary Jackie Curtis was performing a show whose name I've forgotten but where I went as stage manager after "Graduation." It was an incredible time for experimentation. Even a drama about "homosexuals," "Boys in the Band," made it to Broadway two years earlier.
Jeff and Rosemary created a book that cried from the heart, and Rosemary's tunes... let's just say I'm still humming them to this day.
Jeff was a member of Gay Youth, and I'd like to believe that his involvement gave him the strength to do something very brave: write a gay musical. As strange as it sounds, it was almost a career-ender on the New York stage at that time to be openly gay. Jeff was not only out, he was writing a show about the problems of gay youth. Jeff could not have been more than 18 when he began to write it.
"Graduation" is now a part of our history almost forgotten. It was a footnote to history, but it helped foster a change in attitude on the New York stage. That little show was the talk of the theater community at that time, and talk brews education. The truth is, people like Fierstein, Jeff, Rosemary and even Mart Crowley started the ball rolling on theater that made LGBT people real -- not cartoon figures or invisible.
Jeff now teaches musical-theater history at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. Roe is retired in California. We stay in touch, and I hope we can eventually do a revival of "Graduation."