WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT TO EXPERIENCE AT THIS WEEK’S PERFORMANCES
In 2010, after the AGMC toured with “Shaken, Not Heard: Stories of Gay Men, Faith and Reconciliation,” we thought we were ready to tackle another tough subject: The relationship that gay men have with their fathers. But we were emotionally drained from the cathartic performances of a work that explored the complex relationship that we have with organized religion. The idea of a similar show about our fathers just never found traction. Four years later, however, it has — and this week’s performance of “When I Was Your Age” are poised to carve another significant niche in the emerging genre of choral theatre.
Apart from some preexisting music, “When I Was Your Age” is an original work. We began the creative process by asking members of the chorus to complete a survey about their relationships with their father figures. Many did, which was very helpful in establishing some common themes; but many chorus members felt that they just had to write and get it all out. And by that, I don’t just mean anger or frustration or how difficult things were — there was plenty of that — but there were some amazingly positive stories as well.
The next step was to determine some over-arching themes while at the same time pulling together options for music. One of our singers with a great background in theater, Christopher Repotski, took the lead on the thematic elements, and our creative team of 10 singers began searching for songs that might work with this subject matter. Once the themes were determined (a couple of which are stunningly unique), we looked at specific stories that suited the themes while keeping the song list at hand. Christopher and I have had a blast writing this show. We’ve laughed, cried, and sometimes just shook our heads, thanking the universe for handing us some incredibly brilliant ideas that made us think, “Where did THAT come from?” As with most creative work, it’s like it’s already out there, waiting to be discovered, and you feel so lucky when you’re the one who gets to unearth something amazing that no one’s found yet.
So if you’re wondering what to pack for the performance, I would say that a staple for being an audience member this week is tissue. This is not a total tearjerker, but there are some very powerful moments. As performers, we are still working through the emotion of this material ourselves. Since the first rehearsal, I’ve had to give all 100 of these men permission to stop singing at any given time and have their “moment.” I see that happen in every rehearsal. People crying through tears, laughing through them, and sometimes just remaining in their seat with their face in their hands. Some have even had to leave the room. It’s been great! But the audience should also know that we have not forgotten the very important need for a sense of humor with subject matter like this. One story is about a father who was never present in his son’s life, and while the story is very sad, the juxtaposition of the attending music turns out to be hilarious.
If I had to compare this show to films, I’d say it’s more like “Steel Magnolias” than “Dead Poet’s Society.” The stories are mostly told in the form of monologues by some very talented actors in the chorus. But only one person is telling his own story, which is unique. It comes in the very middle of the show and is literally pivotal. And, thankfully, this is a one-act that runs about 60 minutes. That’s plenty of material for a show that covers this subject matter.
It is not a “stand and sing” show. The Fabrefaction Theatre provides the perfect space for this piece. It’s unique in that it’s a very large, wide stage but an intimate house of less than 10 rows. Also, we’re using a significant amount of multimedia projection in this production. The image design (the show logo, as I call it) is the silhouette of a father and son in two open panes of a window. On stage, the window comes to life in the form of a screen. On it, we project photos of us as children, humorous cartoon effects, a music video, and old home movies that propel the journey along. Plus, this show is unique in that it doesn’t begin with music. It begins in darkness with the spoken voices of the chorus as fathers who are kicking their sons out of the house. The lights come up on a young man who sings, a cappella, before leaving with his duffel bag. Then we segue into the quiet opening number. Some shows have flashy openings, but this is what I call an emergent one. The show also ends with the same character on the stage, alone this time, singing the same song, but with a different perspective. He’s all grown up, and he’s all good. That is all I’m giving away.
Also, a very intentional choice on our part was to avoid using the word “gay” as much as possible. Not because we’re hiding anything (Um, we’re a gay men’s chorus), but to illustrate that it isn’t all about us. The kinds of stories that we tell are universal, regardless of how someone identifies. We talk about being different, coming out, not being the son our father’s expected, but there is only one time in the show where the word “gay” is spoken and it’s said by one of our straight (yes!) members as he tells his own story. He’s amazing and it’s an unforgettable moment in the show. “When I Was Your Age” is universal. It’s about parenting, being a son or daughter, and the challenges, obstacles, and the beauty of parental relationships.
You don’t want to miss this week’s production. It came to the AGMC as a gift from the universe and we are thrilled to be the channel for this moving, healing, and thought-provoking work. This is the AGMC pushing the envelope in a way that we’ve never done before.
I like pushing envelopes sometimes.
Artistic Director, Voices of Note
Conductor, Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus