Luke McCoy, a senior musical theatre major and director of the play “The Pride,” stood nervously alongside nine other applicants as each gave a speech to a selection committee as to why their play should be chosen. Surrounded by other budding directors, McCoy was ecstatic when his was picked. It will play at the Studio Theatre in Forbes Thursday to Tuesday.
Written by Alexi Kaye Campbell, “The Pride” portrays scenes that demonstrate what life is like for people who identify as LGBTQ. The story is set in 1958 and 2008. It deals with love and acceptance, but also the realities of changing attitudes toward sexuality between the decades.
McCoy began pursuing the idea of directing this show at JMU because of its relevance to the LGBTQ community today. He says he was struck by the parallels of what it means to be gay in 1958 vs. 2008.
“You have to do a lot of careful research,” McCoy said. “Doing that, I think, really helped [the performers] get in touch with a mindset that they’re definitely not familiar with. A lot of what we spoke about was knowing gay history, and for those characters, the fear and the reasons that they’re trapped inside their closets is because they’ve been given no reason to think that a gay person could ever have a future.”
Ryan Groeschel, a freshman musical theatre major, plays the role of Phillip. Groeschel says that for the majority of the show, his character is seen in the 1958 storyline as a closeted gay man married to a woman named Sylvia. Later, Phillip and Oliver, Sylvia’s co-worker, develop feelings for each other.
“For me, as a straight person playing a gay role, I just want to make sure that I’m bringing truth and honesty to the experience that this guy is having,” Groeschel said. “While I might not be able to relate to aspects of Phillip, at the same time, I think everyone knows what it feels like to be lost or maybe not always know exactly who they are.”
While it’s been a rewarding experience getting to play this role, Groeschel says that at times, it’s difficult to approach because it portrays dark topics such as sexual assault. In the play, Phillip struggles with his sexuality and identity.
“So that is kind of, I think, a theme that anyone can relate to … coming to terms with an aspect of themselves that they might not love about themselves,” Groeschel said. “For me, that’s kind of how I’ve gotten into this character. But it’s been a ton of fun playing this character and just figuring out who this person is.”
Oliver, played by freshman theatre major Garrett Redden, develops mostly in the 2008 storyline. Oliver still struggles with his sexuality despite society being more accepting at this point. He falls victim to stereotypes such as excessive promiscuity and anonymous sex that are commonly associated with the gay community.
Amanda Willis, a freshman theatre major, plays Sylvia. In 1958, Oliver cheats on Sylvia to have an affair with Phillip. In 2008, she is Oliver’s best friend whom the men turn to when they have relationship troubles.
“I find her character very ahead of her time. In 1958, homosexuality is not accepted in the slightest bit, but she’s so accepting and empathetic and just a genuine person and she’s really kind,” Willis said. “I think the hardest thing is that I definitely want to play her and portray her as a strong female character who is very empathetic, but I don’t want to play her too passive.”
Willis says that throughout the play, Sylvia is Oliver and Phillip’s support system, loving and accepting them before they can do so themselves. Playing the only female character in the show, Willis wants to show the importance of a strong friend in many gay men’s lives.
“I feel like this story is a story that needs to be told and needs to be shared,” Willis said. “Being a part of that and playing a character I have some experience with, like the straight female best friend, [and] being able to share a story that hopefully can touch as many people as possible is really cool.”
McCoy says that while the characters aren’t based on one particular person, he hopes members of the audience who aren’t as accepting can be affected by the reality of this play.
In the closing scene of the play, Sylvia, in 1958, gazes at a picture of Oliver and Phillip in 2008 and repeats, “It will be alright. It will be alright. It will be alright.”
“Yes, gay people have struggles and yes, they probably will continue to struggle,” McCoy said. “But we cannot give up hope that things will be alright because if we gave up hope, then there would be no reason to tell this story.”
Contact Traci Rasdorf at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.