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Abstract

The presence of homosexuality in American theatre is a complicated and controversial issue. There’s a struggle for gay actors to get cast, and critics of theatre fight to explain why a comparatively large portion of male stage actors are gay. And when there are those few plays that feature a developed gay character, the playwright often fails to write the gay person accurately and honestly. And even when a playwright manages to accurately capture queer characters and themes onstage, a new conflict arises- is it worth possible audience alienation to be honest? What level of attention does ticket sales deserve? These authors try to make sense of the complicated issue of accurately representing the LGBTQ+ community onstage.

Goodhand and Ivtzan’s “The Relationship between Socioeconomic Factors, Wellbeing, and Homosexuality in the Theatre Profession” attempts to explain why a lot of men who participate in theatre are gay. They examine a possible socioeconomic explanation, which states that they’re gay because they’re poor and thus undesirable to women. After studying 121 men straight performers and 121 men who realized their homosexuality during their performing years, Goodhand and Ivtzan were able to conclude that money has nothing to do with being gay. And while they couldn’t provide their own explanation for why many male actors are gay, they did reduce the number of pieces in the puzzle.

Darren Patrick Blaney and Rebecca Gavril both argue for playwrights that they feel deserve more credit for the work they put in when it comes to advancing homosexual theatre. Blaney advocates for Landford Wilson and Robert Patrick, while Gavril supports Robert Chesley. Blaney’s argument for Wilson and Patrick stems from how those two playwrights were some of the first to have plays produced that featured gay characters that were also received well by critics and audiences for their honesty and positivity. Chesley campaigns for Chesley on the basis that even though Chesley wrote plays that featured gay characters affected by AIDS, the plays were not sob stories- in fact, they gave hope at a time where an AIDS diagnosis not only meant certain death but was also heavily misunderstood and frowned upon.

Conversely, Ariel Nereson argues on behalf of Mae West, who was a straight female playwright struggling to get her plays staged in 1920s New York. West was subjected to mass criticism and legal issues for writing plays focused on homosexuality and cross-dressing. West helps provide perspective to the argument for gay theatre as while clearly strides have been made since she was locked up for writing flamboyant gay characters in “The Drag,” there is still progress to be made for LGBTQ+ theatre today. Furthermore, Mae West’s success despite censorship helps prove Sunny Drake’s argument that there is always an audience who craves theatre that explores sexuality.

When it comes to Sunny Drake, he provides the unique perspective of a playwright who actively tries to increase representation, yet is frequently conflicted for fear of alienating audiences, especially young ones. He ultimately justifies it by saying that even the most conservative audiences receive truthful work positively since a well-written gay play will have multi-faceted characters that have traits far beyond just being gay. The gay theatre community refused to give up when accurate representation was a rarity, but there are still many strides needed in terms of both academic research and actual progress on the stage.

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