Op-ed: Why Gay Men Love The Theater
Every profession has an “old boys network,” but Broadway is one of the only professions in America where most of the “old boys” are gay. Gay men have commandeered the business of creating theater for so long that being gay could actually be considered a career move. Gay writers and performers have dominated theater since the Greeks – the opening night party of Sophocles’ Oedipusallegedly featured Dionysian go-go boys and an open bar. Gay writers and directors such as William Inge, Edward Albee, Tennessee Williams, Stephen Sondheim, Tommy Tune, Arthur Laurents, Joe Mantello, Terence McNally, Jon Robin Baitz, and Harvey Fierstein have ruled the theatrical roost for decades. Choreographers? With the notable exceptions of Bob Fosse and Gower Champion, forget it.
Why are gay men so attracted to theater? In my case, I was recruited into the theatrical lifestyle against my will. My parents, active in community theater, forced me to audition for a children’s theater production of The Wizard Of Oz. So, at age 9, I made my stage debut as a Munchkin uttering the immortal words, “We thank you very sweetly for doing it so neatly.”
I knew I belonged in that world, having no idea that I was gay or even that such a thing existed, but I unearthed a newfound love for prancing around in costumes and makeup in front of an audience. I also met plenty of kids exactly like me, kids who didn’t fit in anywhere else. I fit into the theater world like a stripper into a G-string.
Gay men are like anyone – they want to hang around with a bunch of people who “get” them. In the theater, they do. Many gay men love playing dress up, putting on a show, and creating fantasy. In show business, as Johnny Carson said, “You can be the center of attention without being yourself.”
We also love musicals and musical divas – ask many straight guys who Patti LuPone or Audra McDonald are and you’ll hear crickets. And we love loud, brassy women, the kind of girls with a big talent, a hilarious sense of humor and a quick tongue. The theater attracts many of those girls, and when I began writing my novel, You’ll Be Swell, it quickly became about one of those women who are phenomenally talented, frequently overweight, and pal around with gay men. I had known plenty of them.
You’ll Be Swell, the title of which comes, of course, from “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,”chronicles the ups and downs of a great talent trying to make it as an actress, held back by both the perils of show business and her own self-esteem. Since I originally moved to New York to work in theater – when I got to New York, the theater said, “We don’t see you as an actor, we see you as an usher” – the book became a fantasy of if I had made it as a musical comedy star with a couple of hot men vying for my affections.
I know the theatrical world well and wrote about my early days as a struggling performer through the eyes of Lucy, the main character. I had forgotten how hilarious it was to work in a Times Square steakhouse or perform singing telegrams dressed as a chicken.
The book became, partly, about my own fantasy career if I was doing Anything Goes instead of Comedy Central. I’m one of those gay men who really loves the theater, but if I can’t work in it, at least I can dream. And so Lucy is a great talent who ultimately makes it, but not at all in the way she intended.
Jim David’s first novel, You’ll Be Swell, is available in paperback on Amazon.com, and on Ebook on Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, and the iTunes bookstore.