Written by Aaron Fricke in 1981, Reflections of a Rock Lobster is an autobiographical tale of the then 18-year-old high school senior who — more than three decades before Constance McMillen made headlines in Mississippi — successfully sued his Rhode Island school for the right to take a same-sex date to the prom. "I remember reading this book 30 years ago and thinking, I would never have had the courage to do that," says Burgess Clark, executive artistic director of the Boston Children's Theatre (BostonChildrensTheatre.org). Clark has now adapted the groundbreaking story into a play that will make its world premiere in March at the Boston Center for the Arts.
The play, which explores topics not often associated with children's theater — gay teens, prejudice, depression — is part of BCT's commitment to broadening the diversity of the arts for today's youth. "Three years ago when I assumed leadership of BCT," says Clark, "I wanted to dedicate it to doing stories of history and triumph through the eyes of a child. We started with The Diary of Anne Frank, and this past year we did To Kill a Mockingbird. Rock Lobster will be third in this series."
And while it may be disheartening to think that decades after Fricke's book came out, LGBT teens are still dealing with similar issues, Clark notes some definite progress. Performed by students aged 14-19, the play features an onstage kiss between two boys, neither of whom seemed particularly fazed by the act. "One of the boys was in Diary of Anne Frank and kissed the actress playing Anne Frank," says Clark. "[When the Rock Lobster kiss was discussed], he just kind of shrugged and said, 'What's the difference between that and this?'"
As for Fricke, who provided a voice to a generation of LGBT kids, he now hopes to let some of those he inspired speak for themselves. "Over the years, I've received letters from around the world," Fricke says, and with the help of Facebook, he has been approaching those who reached out and inviting them to write an update. "I thought it would be great to put them into a book: a letter from 30 years ago next to one from today. Almost like proof that it gets better." After all, says Fricke, now 50, "growing up gay doesn't end when you graduate from high school. Growing up gay is a lifetime experience."