Matthew R. Kerns on Gay Fantasia, his late-night theater immersion project
For Gay Fantasia, opening this weekend at Naropa University's Nalanda Campus, the audience has a chance to be direct participants in the production. The piece -- which binds the last days of Harvey Milk together with the beginning of the HIV and AIDS crisis through a personal story -- is presented in an immersive, interactive theater style.
Brooke C Graczyk
In advance of performances this Friday and Saturday, April 12 and 13, we talked with Gay Fantasia "inventor" Matthew R. Kerms about the involved play, and where he found inspiration when creating it.
- How To Survive A Plague: An AIDS and GLBTQ activism film primer
- Denver PrideFest 2013 announces headliners Taylor Dayne and Martha Wash
- AIDS Adagio: photos by Wes Kennedy and Albert Winn exhibition opens tonight
Westword: What is Gay Fantasia?
Matthew R. Kerns: Gay Fantasia is a late-night immersion piece of theater that spans the last days of Harvey Milk through the first era of the HIV/AIDS crisis. It's late-night theater, à la Charles Busch meets theater of the absurd meets a nightclub. It is absolutely interactive -- there are two kinds of seating. There's the kind of seating where you're going to be immersed in the play and be a part of the show, and there's the kind of seating where (you may say) no, I'm not cool with that and I'm going to sit in the stands and just watch the other people play.
Think of it like "Sleep No More" -- the interactive piece where you walk around the hotel in New York. It's like that -- not exactly like that, but the same flavor and style of theater. I'm trying to play with this new style of theater that says you don't have to sit in a seat for two hours anymore; you can get up and play with the cast and be a part of the event.
It's nice that you give the option to participate -- the audience can definitely be in different camps when it comes to being involved in a piece.
Totally. [Laughs.] Some people will not attend if they feel like they have to be put on the spot like that. There is a total choice for you -- you can decide which kind of seat you want, if you want to be an observer.
Why are you choosing to start this piece at eleven o'clock at night?
This is important for people to know, actually: I'm doing it at eleven o'clock in the evening because it's an immersion theater piece, and I want people to know what it feels like to have to creep around in the middle of the night to be yourself.
Is there a timeline for Gay Fantasia? Does it follow a narrative?
It's not a narrative per se, but there is a story -- it's all woven around the friendship of a woman and man who died of AIDS during the crisis, before they found combination therapy. The first part really focuses on establishing the vocabulary of the gay community, as far as terms and letting people start to play with those terms and figure them out.
Then it moves into the era of the last days of Harvey Milk -- when Harvey was shot. It references his death and the trial of Dan White, who got off with manslaughter on what they called "The Twinkie Defense," as the media had dubbed it. "The Twinkie Defense" said that he had diminished capacity, so he knew what he was doing but he couldn't control himself, because of a combination of depression and too much junk food.
So he killed George Moscone, the mayor of San Francisco, that day. Then he went downstairs and killed Harvey Milk -- and he thought about killing three other people, including Diane Feinstein.
Surprisingly, through all of this -- though it sounds so tragic -- [Gay Fantasia] is a journey. It's got its sour moments, there's no doubt that. But it's a journey of joy and sadness and angels that come out through all of these vents, and the demons that made these events happen.
Then it turns into the '80s, (the time that) the gay community thought was going to help us flourish and thrive and had no idea what was happening -- which was that we were about to be the people who were infected with the worst plague of our lifetime. The first fifteen years before they found combination therapy and that whole era of time before Ronald Reagan would even admit HIV existed, and gay men were just dying in scores.