JOIN US IN JANUARY FOR OUR NEXT CHESLEY/CHAMBERS READING:
WORD FROM KAMPALA
by Chris Weikel
Jane and Jeremy are unexpectedly visited in their suburban Ohio home by old friend from their days serving as missionaries in Africa. The visit brings them face to face with a troubling connection between their religious work, their estranged son Paul, and Uganda’s restrictive anti-gay policies. The couple must confront the far-reaching unintended consequences of their past actions in a deeply personal way. This play was a 2014 commission of the Smith Prize for Political Theatre administered by National New Play Network.
The Robert Chesley/Jane Chambers Playwrights Project is an ongoing, intermittent forum for playwrights to have their work presented to an invited audience.
It is an opportunity for LGBTQIA+ playwrights to have their voices heard.
The series honors Jane Chambers (1937-1983), playwright, noted for being a pioneer in writing theatrical works with openly lesbian characters and perhaps best known for Last Summer at Bluefish Cove and Robert Chesley (1943-1990), playwright, theater critic, and musical composer, perhaps best known for his play Jerker — arguably two of the most original and impassioned voices to contribute to our theatrical heritage.
HONORED PLAYWRIGHTS' BIOS
From Dr. Sara Warner’s Afterword to Lesbian & Queer Plays from the Jane Chambers Prize, edited by Maya Roth and Jennifer-Scott Mobley (NoPassport Press, 2019):
Jane Chambers was in rehearsals for Kudzu at Playwrights Horizons in 1981 when she became ill with what would be diagnosed as a brain tumor. The cancer proved to be as malignant as the invasive vine for which the play is named. Chambers lost the ability to write and couldn’t complete the revisions for Kudzu, which had been optioned for a Broadway run. The producer backed out, and Chambers never made it to the Great White Way. She would have been the first lesbian to stage a play about lesbians – happy, well-adjusted lesbians – on Broadway. Audiences would have to wait decades for alternatives to those “god-damned sick and dirty” women whose love for other women resulted in their condemnation (The God of Vengeance), suicide (The Children’s Hour), or homicidal urges (The Killing of Sister George). Nuanced and complex lesbian characters began to appear on Broadway (often as minor players, typically in musicals) in the late 1990s (e.g., Falsettos, Rent, The Color Purple), but it wasn’t until 2006 that a lesbian-themed work by a lesbian creator, Lisa Kron’s Well, achieved what Chambers was poised to do in the 1980s.
One of the most important dramatists of the twentieth century, Chambers’ reputation rests largely on “the lesbian plays” she wrote during the 1970s, though these constitute only a fraction of her astonishing creative output. In her brief life – she died one month shy of her forty-sixth birthday – Chambers wrote at least thirty-five plays, seventeen novels (two of which were published), thirty-two screenplays and television scripts, thirteen short stories, one poetry collection, and dozens of articles. Chambers’ luck changed radically in 1980 when John Glines invited her to stage Last Summer at Bluefish Cove (1974) as part of the First Gay American Arts Festival in New York. A resounding success, the festival run at the West Side Mainstage Theatre was extended, followed by a transfer to the Actors Playhouse in Greenwich Village. The play received a Villager Downtown Theatre Award, and a California production garnered the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award (1983).
Chambers headlined the second Gay American Theatre Festival with My Blue Heaven (1981), her most idealized portrait of a lesbian relationship, and one of the earliest examples of a same-sex wedding in American drama. Her Tales of the Revolution and Other American Fables (1969), a bracing exploration of the sexism, homophobia, and racism of contemporary society, earned her a fellowship to the O’Neill Playwriting Center in 1972. That same year, Chambers was elected Chairperson of the New Jersey Women's Political Caucus (agitating alongside Bella Abzug and Gloria Steinem) and co-founded Women’s Interart Theatre. In 1982, Chambers made her last public appearance when she received the Fund for Human Dignity Award and her legacy lives on in the Women and Theatre Program’s annual Jane Chambers Playwriting Award, founded in 1983.
From the Robert Chesley/Victor Bumbalo Foundation website:
After receiving his B.A. in Music from Reed College in Portland, Oregon in 1965, Robert Chesley spent ten years teaching private school in upstate New York. From 1965-75, Chesley composed the music to over five dozen songs and choral works, chiefly to texts by poets such as Emily Dickinson, Willa Cather, James Agee, Walter de la Mare, Gertrude Stein and Walt Whitman. In 1976, he came out as a gay teacher and moved to New York City. During the next few years, his essays and theater criticism appeared in Gay Community News, The Advocate, Gaysweek, The San Francisco Review of Books, The Bay Guardian and The New York Native.
Chesley began writing for gay theater in 1980 and his first play, a one-act titled Hell, I Love You, was produced by Theatre Rhinoceros in San Francisco. Productions of his subsequent plays followed in San Francisco, New York City and Los Angeles, as well as in other U.S. cities and Toronto and London. Night Sweat became the first produced full-length play to deal with the AIDS crisis, when staged by Meridian Gay Theatre in New York City in 1984. Jerker or the Helping Hand had its premiere at the Celebration Theatre in Los Angeles in 1986. A subsequent radio broadcast by KPFK-Los Angeles of excerpts from the play prompted the Federal Communications Commission to attempt broadcast censorship for the first time since 1975. Jerker has since become his most performed play.
Robert Chesley leaves a literary legacy of 10 full-length plays and 21 one-acts, as well as short stories, novels, an opera libretto, and the text for a dance-theater piece. The catalogue of his music lists more than 60 works composed between 1964 and 1976, and includes songs for solo voice, choral pieces and instrumental works. He was a member of the Dramatists Guild and the Society of Gay and Lesbian Composers.
The Dads Try to Get Married (2010)
Damaged Goods (2015)
The Minute Man (2013)
J. STEPHEN BRANTLEY
Billy Baal (2015)
Tops and Bottoms (2004)
Hurricane Damage (2015)
My Blue Heaven (2013)
Stray Dog Story (2013)
And Sophie Comes Too (2008)
Dog Opera (2005)
I Wanna Destroy You
The Writers Block (2003)
I Know My Own Heart (2008)
That Was No Lady from the Sea! (2004)
Zombie Grrrlz from the Crypt (2004)
Missionary Position (2008)
Who’s Your Daddy?
Penny’s One Date (2005)
The Chiselers (2008)
Forever Under (2008)
How Do We Get Her in the Water?
The Mermaid (2003)
THE FIVE LESBIAN BROTHERS
KEVIN R. FREE
Balboa Is Not Drowning (2018)
The Countess and the Lesbians (2008)
Waiting for Giovanni (2013)
DONETTA LAVINIA GREYS
The B Factor
The Review: Or How to Eat Your Enemy
The Lady was a Gentleman (2018)
Dixie Boy Fireworks
In One Room (2004)
Wretched Little Brat
L. JAY MEYER
Minor Victories (2004)
What to Say (Glass Houses) (2004)
Bar Dykes (2018)
Slap & Tickle
NICHOLAS A PATRICCA
Oh, Holy Allen Ginsberg… (2008)
Hollywood at Sunset (2003)
The Haunted Host & Sound (2008)
Light and Noise and Bees and Boys
The Bombay Trunk (2003)
POMO AFRO HOMOS
Dark Fruit (2021)
HARRISON DAVID RIVERS
This Bitter Earth (2019)
Satan in High Heels (2013)
Roll with the Punches (2003)
BILL SOLLY & MARK FINLEY
A Night at Danny Larue’s (2018)
AYLA XUAN CHI SULLIVAN
Last Stop (2021)
Screaming in the Wilderness (2004)
Fabulous Ride into the Unknown (2003)
The Audience/Rock the Line (2005)
The Further Adventures of…(2014)
Making it up as We Go Along (2004)
Pig Tale: An Urban Faerie Story (2008)
Gareth and Lynette
Clothes for a Summer Hotel (2005)
The Parade or Approaching the
End of a Summer
The Boy Next Door
Now She Dances! (2004)
The West Street Gang