Paul Oakley Stovall: From the White House to the Stage
BY Brandon Voss
November 23 2009 9:05 AM ET
Can a gay person who works for President Obama create and perform an autobiographical musical on the side? Yes, he can! Paul Oakley Stovall, a GLAAD Media Award nominee for his play As Much as You Can, now presents CLEAR, a “pop poem opera” featuring music by Tony winners Stew and Tom Kitt, at New York City’s Joe’s Pub on Monday, November 30. Stovall, a 40-year-old Chicago native, explains how his duties as a White House advance associate have inspired his artistic endeavors.
Advocate.com: Which elements of your life story do you explore in CLEAR?
Paul Oakley Stovall: I take the audience on a journey from my recognizing the adversity that’s inherent with being a black person to realizing the obstacle of my gay identity. Then I was in a horrible accident where I was shot and both my legs were paralyzed, so for a certain amount of time I was also in wheelchair. So I go from all that to now working for the first black president of the United States.
How does your sexuality inform the show?
One of the primary through-lines in the piece is recognizing the relationship between my sexuality and all other facets of my life. I attempt to leave behind the victimhood and shame that have sort of shadowed me over the years. My sexuality is one of my blessings, man; it’s not something to be tolerated or accepted by others.
What do you hope people take away from the piece?
I hope that people walk away — skip and hum away, actually — from this piece with a sense of wonderment about their own lives. I want people to be inspired to go back, excavate their own life experiences, and rediscover their own beauty and power.
Was the show inspired by any other artists or performers?
The show’s kind of in the vein of Sandra Bernhard. It’s structured and very solid, but it’s also freewheeling and very connected to the audience. You definitely get the feeling that you’d never see the same show twice.