Not since 2009 have we programmed a concert that promises to be as powerful as “Red, White & You” – and our timing could not have been better. President Obama’s unprecedented statement regarding marriage equality is one of several newsworthy moments in American history that make this summer’s concert event even more timely than we anticipated.
Many of you will remember our 2009 program that focused on stories of gay men, faith and reconciliation. “Shaken, Not Heard” was culled from real-life stories of members of the chorus, woven together to serve as a thread for the music. A couple of years ago the AGMC creative team considered creating a similar concert to address the timely issue of bullying. After much deliberation, we agreed that the topic was too narrow. Bullying is only a small part of a greater problem: a lack of equality at all levels of society. Once again, we were brought back to the mother of all reasons that we sing, which is to create positive social change. It was going to be an election year. What better time to focus on our country’s challenges and triumphs? “Red, White & You” had a name, but what shape would it take?
It was just as the creative team lay its best American “power songs” on the table that I came across the online version of the play “8” by Dustin Lance Black, author of the screenplay “Milk”. In the form of a staged reading, “8” followed the trial of Perry v. Schwarzenegger – the case filed with the federal district court to overturn the California bill eliminating the right for gay and lesbian couples to marry, and much of its content taken from court transcripts. The closing argument reminded me of many recent speeches I had seen on Facebook and YouTube. There was Washington Governor Chris Gregoire’s moving follow-up on signing marriage equality into law; Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker’s speech in which he said that such laws would strengthen our society, not break it down; and there was Zach Wahls, the young man who spoke to the Iowa House of Representatives, thanking his lesbian moms for helping him to become the man he is today. And of course Attorney Theodore B. Olson’s final words of that closing argument: “The day we end the discrimination we say is making us less American is the day we become more American!” These were all inspired moments in American history, and none made by celebrities or household names in politics. These were ordinary people. American citizens. There was something to be tapped into for sure, and there was a plethora of ways to sing about it.
So we began to explore this idea of great speeches on a broader level. What did presidents have to say at earlier times when civil liberty was being debated? Which strong woman from the suffrage movement can we quote? Which African-Americans have put their struggles into powerful words? Our universal message was coming squarely into focus, and we were right: it is all about equality.
After much research, excerpts from eight speeches throughout American history are on the slate and AGMC is proud to announce that Atlanta-based actors Courtenay Collins and Freddie Ashley will be reading from them at all three performances of “Red, White & You” on June 15 and 16. What we’ve created is another thought-provoking work in the canon of choral theatre – one that reflects on our struggles, how they were overcome, and clearly demonstrates that, while the recent events in North Carolina appear to be a setback, times are indeed changing for the better.
After building a program around these speeches, we contacted some of their authors, including Judy Shepard, Maureen Walsh, and Joel Burns, and have received wonderful support from them. And who knows? In the next 30 days, much can happen and there may be some last minute changes to our program that reflect current events. It is a work in progress until the final performance.
Presented in tandem with the Emory University Office of LGBT Life and the Atlanta Chapter of the League of Women Voters of Georgia, “Red, White & You” will be debut in Glenn Memorial Auditorium on the Emory Campus – the perfect backdrop with its nod to early American architecture, red carpet, and stark white walls.
It’s an election year, and not necessarily the happiest time in America, but as Hillary Rodham Clinton said at her speech on marriage equality at the U.N., we all want to be on the right side of history. Regardless of how you vote this year, our hope is that you make informed decisions and speak from your heart, just as we will be singing from ours.
We look forward to having you join us for an event unmatched in AGMC history, “Red, White & You.” Join us in showing our true colors this June.