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LGBT theater stronger than ever

Posted: April 27th, 2018 | Feature, Featured | No Comments

Albert H. Fulcher | Editor

Diversionary Theatre celebrates 32 years of dedicated LGBT performances

With a tropical chic theme, attendees were adorned with Hawaiian leis while ukulele performers strolled through Diversionary Theatre’s Fantasy Island gala fundraiser. Held at the Bahia Hotel & Resort on April 20, it was the largest fundraiser Diversionary has held in its 32-year history.

Scott Williford, Diversionary Theatre Board of Trustees president, said the evening was a celebration of one of the community’s greatest theatrical institutions. Since 1986, Diversionary performances have been dedicated to telling the stories of the LGBT community.

August Ruterbusch participated in Diversionary’s classroom workshops. (Photo by Albert H. Fulcher)

“Tonight, we have some of our great VIPs, our greatest supporters and we have a great show tonight,” Williford said. “It is ‘South Pacific’ with kind of a queer twist to it. It’s an amazing event.”

During the course of the event, Diversionary actors sang LGBT versions of “South Pacific” songs including “Wonderful Guy,” “There is Nothing Like a Dame,” “Some Enchanted Evening,” and “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair.”

Diversionary then honored two people with The Annual Fritz Klein Award, which is bestowed to individuals in Diversionary’s community who demonstrate fearless and pioneering leadership and vision. This award was inspired by Fritz’s lifetime contributions to the theater and the LGBT community.

Lillian Faderman, the Fritz Klein National Award honoree, is a scholar of lesbian history and literature. She has earned six Lambda Literary Awards, two American Library Association Awards, and several lifetime achievement awards for scholarship. Her new biography of Harvey Milk will be published by Yale University Press in May.

Faderman said she was honored with this award because she found in her research about Klein that he impacted both  the local and national LGBT community. She is currently curating a LGBT exhibit that has been in the works for 18 months at the San Diego History Center, which will open July 6.

“[Klein] was the founder of the American Institute of Bisexuality and the author of many influential articles, and books on bisexuality,” Faderson said. “He literally put the ‘B’ in LGBT. He understood the importance to recognize all segments of our community.”

Diversionary Theatre’s Fritz Klein honoree Susan Atkins-Weathers at Diversionary Theatre’s Fantasy Island gala at the Bahia Resort & Hotel on April 20 (Photo by Albert H. Fulcher)

Faderman said her goals as a writer are similar to Diversionary’s.

“Diversionary was founded in the midst of the AIDS crisis and its purpose was to do what had never really been done before,” she said. “It is the third LGBT [dedicated] theater in the country. Diversionary wanted to put the telling of gay stories into gay hands to tell stories about our humanity, complexity, things I hope to do in my writing.”

Fritz Klein Honoree Susan Atkins-Weathers served as board chair for Diversionary for five years. She has earned several awards for her philanthropy, including a recognition from the Association of Fundraising Professionals and The LGBT Center of San Diego. Atkins-Weathers said if it were not for the supporters and the donors, there would be no Diversionary Theatre.

“We are celebrating philanthropy and we are celebrating progress that the philanthropy has fueled here at Diversionary,” Atkins-Weathers said. “To Matt Morrow [Diversionary’s executive artistic director], the team you continue to build, the vision is turning Diversionary into the pride and joy that all San Diegans can share.”

Following the award ceremony, two people from two different generations spoke about their experiences in Diversionary’s art education program. Kathleen White performed in the Stonewall Salon, an ensemble for LGBT people and their allies over the age of 50. She said they learned to use their bodies, voices and imagination during the process.

“We were creative writers, editors, choreographers, and most amazingly for the first time in our lives, actors,” White said. “Our generation grew up in a time when gayness was a mental illness and women were invisible and discarded. Sharing our stories was healing because instead of being invisible, we were visible on stage. “Instead of being silenced or unheard, we were telling our stories and being listened to,” she continued. “Instead of being ignored or opposed, we received applause and appreciation for surviving through adversity and thriving with our LGBT identity intact and resolve in our feminism and humanism. We bonded by discovering power and vulnerability and by discovering the tremendous power of live performance.”

August Ruterbusch participated in Diversionary’s classroom workshops and said its student outreach program changed his life as a young LGBT member.

“As a little gay queer growing up, it has always been hard to find places that I belong,” Ruterbusch said. “I was really interested, but I never thought I would break into theater, but then high school came, and I joined the theater program. Someone [Diversionary instructor Skyler Sullivan] came in to teach us clowning techniques, and he was from Diversionary. He really taught me a lot and I continued acting.”

Ruterbusch said he tends to be more of a dramatic actor because he is a “dramatic person.”

“I really appreciate Diversionary reaching out to kids like me who always need a place that accepts us,” he said. “Diversionary takes LGBTQIA people and makes them people instead of strange people like so many media companies portray us. I found it really healing, because I’m not just a token gay person in a production like in other theater productions.”

Diversionary Theatre’s Executive Artistic Director Matt Morrow said the theater has a lot to celebrate after 32 years. Two of its world premieres moved to “larger lives” across the country, with another show optioned for its Off-Broadway transfer. Over the past two years, its work was honored with 11 San Diego Critics Circle Awards. This year, it won three awards including Best Solo Performance by its Artistic Trustee Shana Wride. The organization also won Best new Play of 2017 for its world premiere of Georgette Kelly’s “BALLAST.” Additionally, Diversionary was called out as the No. 1 reason San Diego Theatre Rocks by CityBeat Magazine.

Morrow said he was extremely proud of the nights honorees and the participation of two of its students in its Arts Education programs.

“As we celebrate two powerful ladies tonight with the Fritz Klein Awards, I am thrilled to report that female attendance has increased by 30 percent over the past two years,” he said. “And lastly, and this one really makes my heart sing, our work in Arts Education is exploding with three brand new programs launched over the past year, reaching more young people and senior citizens than ever before.”

— Albert can be reached at albert@sdcnn.com.

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