Having worked with colleges in the past, I’m starting to see all the ways that this play and story can be useful for students. As I’m sure you’re aware, college students are in a very significant life process right now — they’re a few years (maximum!) out of their parents’ homes, trying to find their way in the world. They’re dealing with a lot of growth: where do I fit, who am I really, what do I believe in, what beliefs am I willing to defend, how do I react when challenged, how do I begin to communicate out into the world…
The play confronts all these valuable questions.
As I make clear in talkbacks, in discussions with students, in the story, conflict is a messy, messy thing. But it’s not messy once you have the language to articulate it. The biggest work I think this play and my residencies do is articulate, deal with, and resolve conflict. Understanding what conflict is can only help your students become better people and fulfill your all’s mission of having them be engaged citizens who can advance the common good. When you understand conflict, you can work to resolve it.
When Phi Alpha Gamma has been brought to colleges in the past, attendance has been part of some requirement (e.g.: students must attend a certain number of cultural events; related to required reading or a guest artist class visit). I don’t particularly enjoy the idea of an audience being held captive (it’s awfully weird for the performers, too), but I haven’t had a case yet where people regretted coming.
If Phi Alpha Gamma is part of a class requirement or attendance quota, it’s useful to let students know it won’t be a boring lecture. It’s a solo theater performance (a style they may not have seen before) about a gaybashing from the perspective of homophobic young men, written by a gay man. The answer to who all was involved in the gaybashing is left until the end, so there’s even more of a reason to stick around to see what happened and how the relationships unfold. And it’s only an hour long.
As far as performances at festivals has gone, the plot is what drew in the first audience, and word of mouth fueled more people to attend. (If it fits in your budget, maybe we could do two showings?)
Persuasive talking points to various audiences:
Theater: A guest artist is coming to town from New York City. He’s performed his own work in theater festivals throughout the United States, and he’s been doing this since he was 17 years old. This play was his senior undergraduate thesis, and he’s still performing it years after graduation. Also, it’s written in the strucutre of a Greek tragedy. (“Why’d you do it like that?” I thought it was funny – a Greek tragedy about a Greek tragedy, get it? – but then it ended up being the best structure because … Things for the talkback.)
Creative writing: A guest artist is coming to town from New York City. His books have been finalists for the Lambda Literary Award, and he’s won several other grants and fellowships to support his writing. This play, his senior undergraduate thesis, opened up many opportunities to him after graduation. But, to discuss the actual process of writing, he created flesh-and-blood characters from academic research on topics from homophobia, feminism, women’s studies and men’s studies, Greek social life, ancient Greek theater history, and other creative works.
Greek life: Activists can be very nasty toward Greek social groups, and they can say hideous things about you just because of your affiliation. They talk about “frat boys” and “sorority girls” like they’re all one person, one cookie cutter. (“Isn’t that hypocritical?” Yep!) A performer is coming to campus to perform a play about a fictional fraternity dealing with a gaybashing committed by one of its members, but not once does he attack fraternities. He was never part of a fraternity, but he did research to try to get it right — and he’s done a good job of it, because people often ask him “Are you sure you weren’t part of a fraternity?”
Why did he write this play? His freshman year of college he had a roommate, “Jack,” who wasn’t like him at all. When Jack found out Dan was gay, Jack had no problem with staying, but it was because of Jack’s parents’ pressure on him that he moved out. As a result, years later Dan wanted to really try to understand what makes people make the decisions they make, how much of what we do is because of who we are and what we want, and how much of it is because of what other people want for and from us?
Looping back into Greek life, here’s an issue that affects you and your brothers and sisters: how do groups negotiate their identity? In the event that someone else does something that makes you look bad, how do you address that? What should you do (and not do) to address that? How do you address the line between what you want and what other people want from you? And how do you determine how “bad” something is? This play looks at what we do to fit in and what happens when we focus too much on fitting in instead of taking action to develop who we are.
Gender and sexuality studies, psychology: Most of this has been covered in the final paragraph of Greek life. But I think the important thing to address is that I did this research to try to understand why people hate gay people. I had to look critically at my own biases and ideas, and I realized that I hadn’t been listening to what’s going on within hateful people. As I learned later, those people are the ones worth studying — leave me, as a gay dude, out of it. The problems and the barriers are within them. But I had to look at them compassionately — and it was difficult to be compassionate for these men who so strongly hate me. I think my being gay was an advantage to finding the roots of their fear. Who else can so strongly write about masculine love than a gay man – one who loves their fellow man in the most intimate possible way? Love was the way inside.
Faculty: All the notes above, but let me emphasize that the work students do now can create and launch their careers. Faculty can show this as an example.