That Time the U.N. Ambassador Came to See Fun Home
The team behind Fun Home, the Tony-winning musical based on out author Alison Bechdel's life, are accustomed to performing for celebrities. But earlier this month, the production entertained some seriously weighty audience members: ambassadors from around the world as well as Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
It wasn't just a casual drop-by. The ambassadors, including representatives from traditionally homophobic nations like Russia and Gabon, participated in a post-performance discussion, moderated by out actress and LGBT advocate Cynthia Nixon. The ambassadors discussed the state of global LGBT rights and how art — like Fun Home — can humanize the queer experience.
We asked the Fun Home team as well as Ambassador Power about the experience. This is what they said:
Jeanine Tesori, Tony Award-winning composer of Fun Home:
Having Ambassador Power there with the U.N. delegates reminded me that the tour of Fun Home will be very important. Hearing reactions from our colleagues around the world — Vietnam, Colombia, Russia, Mexico — made me curious about the people who can't come to us, the people we meet on the road. As the Mexican representative said, "You can talk about these issues in a meeting, but to see it unfold on a stage, with a father and daughter, is beyond words."
Beth Malone, who plays Alison:
Having the U.N. ambassadors in our audience the other night allowed me to see our show through new eyes. Particularly the “Ring of Keys” and “Changing My Major” moments. I understood on another level how vital it is to convey the innocence in these moments and the universal humanity. Being a commercial Broadway show, we perform for audiences with a wide range of social attitudes, but it's one thing to perform for a conservative American and quite another to perform for a person who comes from a society where homosexuality is a punishable crime. The moments of innocence and discovery become profoundly more weighted when you allow for the possibility that if this audience can see that homosexuality is a pure impulse as natural as any other human response, well ... if they can go down that road with us and find their own empathy, we have truly done something here that could actually change attitudes, change policy, change lives. That gives me hope.
Jim Stanek, who portrayed Bruce Bechdel at the performance:
I have been making my living as an actor for most of the last 26 years. In that time, I have (gratefully) had some amazing experiences. Getting to portray Bruce Bechdel, alongside the rest of the amazing cast of Fun Home, in front of such a large and varied group of U.N. ambassadors this past Tuesday ... was, without question, one of the most thrilling and important. The entire last year of being a part of Fun Home has, of course, been spectacular. We have felt the show grow from being a big "downtown hit" to a "Broadway blockbuster" and gotten the sincere feeling that we were changing the country's views about, among other things, the LGBTQ community. But Tuesday night, we got the distinct feeling that we were, very likely, altering the world's view. To have representatives from so many different countries and cultures openly and vigorously receive the impact of our show is something that many of us didn't realize was possible ... until now. In my opinion, Ambassador Power — along with everyone else who made this night a reality— deserves a medal.
Lauren Patten, who plays Medium Alison:
There was one moment during the show, when, as Medium Alison, I'm reading my dad's response to me coming out, that the magnitude of this night really hit me. In his letter, Bruce says that he doesn't "see the point of putting a label on yourself." As Alison, I have this beautiful moment of defiance and determination. In that scene, when I say the words, "I'm gay," there is an ownership of self in that. It's far beyond a label. It's an identity. I felt like I was saying that speech directly to the ambassadors. It was scary, in a way, because I didn't know if they would really hear it. But talking with them after the show, it was clear that they did. They heard and understood Alison. Afterwards, there was a lot of laughter, hugging, discussion. The formality and distance I expected to feel with the ambassadors was never there. We were all just people.
Joel Perez, who plays Roy, Pete, Bobby, and Jeremy:
Fun Home started as this little nugget of an idea that was grown so much over the years. With the visit from Samantha Power and the ambassadors from the U.N., we became a part of a global conversation about human rights. Theater has the power to put a human experience on the abstract concept of sexuality and be a powerful tool for change. I feel so lucky and grateful to be a part of it.
Lisa Kron, Tony Award-winning book writer and lyricist of Fun Home:
These days the opening lines of Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities keeps playing in my head: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” On the one hand we now live in a country so inclusive that you can see Fun Home or Hamilton or Deaf West’s Spring Awakening on Broadway, where Barack Obama is president, where gay marriage is legal. And on the other hand… Well, suffice it to say we are living through a right-wing backlash so vicious, so powerful, that Donald Trump appears to be headed for the Republican presidential nomination. So for me, the most powerful takeaway of the visit of the LGBT Core Group of U.N. Ambassadors to Fun Home was the experience of seeing Ambassador Samantha Power in action. She is a person who has spent her life looking directly at the very worst humans do to each other. She is a person who has gazed unflinchingly at the wickedest behavior of the world’s cruelest political actors. Then, instead of throwing up her hands in despair, Ambassador Power has said, “What part of this can I change?” And then she has set about manifesting those changes, one targeted action at a time. She brings a particular blend of tenacity and joy to her work — we felt the effects of this approach in the open-hearted buoyancy of the encounter between the U.N. Ambassadors and Fun Home. Ambassador Power emanates a quality of joy I have observed one or two times before in people who somehow have the capacity to hold the entire spectrum of human behavior in their hearts — from the bleakest darkness to the brightest light. I am not a person with that capacity. Not many people are. But my time with Ambassador Power and her brave delegation from the U.N. was a wake-up call for me, reminding me that despair is not OK. I need to always ask myself the question, What part of this can I change?
Judy Kuhn, Helen Bechdel
What a night we had at Fun Home when we hosted UN Ambassador Samantha Power as well as Ambassadors representing 17 countries around the world who are members of the UN LGBTI Core group promoting gay rights in their home countries and around the world. The discussion we had after the show and their responses were profound and deeply moving. A reminder of the reach and importance of theater in general and this show in particular.
Ambassador Samantha Power:
I’ll give you one more vivid example of the power of art to change hearts and minds. Last week I had occasion to take 17 ambassadors to see the remarkable musical, Fun Home. At a time when being gay is still a crime in more than 75 countries, we are always looking for ways to encourage greater support for LGBTI rights at the United Nations and around the world. And by humanizing its subjects in a way that made them thoroughly accessible to the other ambassadors, Fun Home did this brilliantly. In a discussion with the cast and producers afterwards, the ambassador from El Salvador said, “I wondered why I could be nearly two hours so involved, suffering with you, laughing with you, when nothing really special happens onstage. What is the message? To me it is very clear. You were telling us, ‘Look, you are me. We are together and we are the same.’”