One of the double-edged swords of all the progress the gay community has made over the last few years is the fact that those young people coming of age now don’t remember how hard it used to be. As a thirty-something gay man, I feel in many ways on the cusp of that – I remember what it was like in the 80’s and 90’s, and I know how easier it is in many ways today. While this is the way it should be, we must not forget from whence we came, and all our rich, tumultuous, and often-unlearned history.
A bit of our history that I had not known until recently was a 1973 arson fire that killed 32 people in a gay bar. It went ignored by the media, and unknown to many, like myself, until Wayne Self brought it back to over-due prominence in his upcoming musical ‘Upstairs‘. Events like this need to be remembered. We cannot forget, because such hatred will flare up in other ways.
Director Zach McCallum sums up the story as such:
Upstairs tells the long-forgotten story of a tragic arson fire in a gay bar in New Orleans in 1973. Thirty-two people, many of them members of the then-fledgling New Orleans Metropolitan Community Church, which had been meeting at the Up Stairs Lounge, were killed, in what remains to this day the single deadliest crime against an LGBT population in US history. At the time, the story was almost completely ignored by the news media. Though a suspect was identified, no arrest was ever made.
Wayne’s play is an elegant, haunting tale of damnation and salvation, telling the stories of several of the victims of the fire. The characters include Buddy (based on the real Buddy Rasmussen), a bartender who led 35 people to safety, and Buddy’s partner Adam. Mitch, the associate pastor of the NOLA MCC, and his partner Horace. Drag performer Marcy and her dresser Reginald. And Agneau, a tormented and self-hating gay man. It is a morality play with a twist, told with sensitivity and dark humor, with a catchy and modern jazz and blues influenced score.
The production is up against a large goal, and timeframe: they need to raise $10,000 in order to move forward. They’ve got a good start (about halfway there at the time of this writing), but it must be raised by February 17, so the pressure is on. Please consider helping out with a donation at THIS LINK. (Your donation will only be collected if they reach their goal.) Another way to help is to attend one of the shows (which is what I would do if I were a hair closer to California…) Tickets can be found HERE.
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