Saturday evening Sister Heidi Hideyhoe joined Sister Flirt in attending the Evolution Theatre Company production of The Temperamentals. It presents the story of the founding of the Mattachine Society, and its first five members. Yes my little queerlings, there were radical political gays 17 years before Stonewall.
Waiting in the Lobby before the auditorium doors opened, we were approached by a distinguished gentleman who introduced himself as Douglas Whaley, Director of the show, and said he was so glad to have The Sisters in the house. It’s always a pleasant surprise to run in to someone here in Columbus who immediately recognizes the presence of Perpetual Indulgence. The Columbus Sisters is a new Mission of the Order, and the Cleveland Sisters only became Fully Professed last summer. During our brief conversation it was clear that Douglas had more than a passing familiarity with The Sisters’ history and our connection to Harry Hay- the main character in the play we were about to witness.
The production was spectacular. All the more so as it attempts to cover so much ground (historically and emotionally) in just over two hours. The five actors each portrayed one of the five founding members, as well as ten smaller roles between them. Clearly this is not a script for lightweights and has earned its reputation as a ‘bear to perform’. Each of the five did an outstanding job- Brent as Harry Hay had perhaps the least time off-stage and I don’t know how he did it so well for so many performances.
This is not meant to be a review of the production, or the material, but it is important to understand the challenge it represents in order to truly appreciate the following Facebook post by one of the actors in the production, David Vargo. He wrote this early Sunday morning while sharing our photograph (below):
“This is still giving me chills and making me well up inside with emotion. Last night as I took my place backstage for the final performance of THE TEMPERAMENTALS I saw our local chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence sitting in the audience. I was moved to tears that they came and immediately posted their presence on my Facebook feed.
“Why was this so moving and important to me? First and foremost because the play is about the founding of the Mattachine Society by Harry Hay and four of his friends (of which I played one, Chuck Rowland). Harry Hay went on to found the Radical Faerie Movement of which the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence is an offshoot.
“But secondly, for me it was even more personal. I have a long history with the the good Sisters dating all the way back to 1984 and the early days of the AIDS crisis in New York City. I worked closely with them for many years and many were dear friends whose tireless and selfless charitable efforts helped sustain us during that horrific reign of terror. They stand boldly on the front lines of discrimination bringing attention to conservative movements that attempt to shame members of the LGBT community or people with HIV/AIDS. Their efforts worldwide have raised millions of dollars for AIDS, LGBT-related causes, and mainstream community service organizations over the years, while promoting safer sex and educating others about the harmful effects of drug use and other risky behaviors.
“It was a great honor to have them in the house last night. And I thank them for being there and showing their support for Evolution Theatre Company, Columbus Ohio’s LGBTQQIA Theatre! Here is a photo of them in the lobby of the Columbus Performing Arts Center with my husband Douglas Whaley who directed the play and Brent Alan Burington, the actor who played the lead, Harry Hay. What a fitting end to our run!“
(Thank you David, for permission to share your story).
Of course Heidi and I did not know of David’s first post, or the history he reveals in the second one, until after we’d left the theatre. I must applaud David’s professionalism in staying in character; the Van Fleet Theater is an intimate space and we must have been visible to him during most of his time onstage (in a total of four roles).
In the 24 hours since I read David’s words we’ve exchanged a number of messages and discovered a number of connections both here in Columbus and from our lives before here. As I get older such connections are a blessing. Names, faces, events- they come out of the dustbin of memory. Good times or challenging, they are each steps along the path of my life. That winding trail that brings me to this place, to this version of me.
As a young nun back in Toronto in the 80s I learned the story of how Harry Hay founded the Radical Faerie Movement, and it was at the first national RF gathering that members of the group that would become the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence decided to bring minimal structure, the OPI name, and its holy tenets to that group. As so often happens, history, or our memories and stories of it, can get jumbled. Details are lost (or hidden) and get condensed. So I reached out to one of our founders, Sister Soami deLux (known affectionately as Grandma Mish as she was Sister Missionary Position in those early days) for his recollections.
“your mention of the play’s performance and comments caught my attention earlier today and i was intrigued. Co-founder Agnes(Garron Edmund) and I were just interviewed by faerie film director, Paul Festa for his new film, 1979, which among other considerations is exploring the emergence of the Sisters and the Radical Faeries in that year.
“Billy(RevMother) and Agnes attended that first national spiritual conference Harry and others called and it provided both inspiration and recruits to our fledgling sister’s group. i attended that second gathering in Colorado in 1980 where i first met Harry and John. Seven of us attended that one. and a majority of our original fifteen sisters were rad faes. We also met poet James Broughton in Colorado and he became an even closer mentor to the sisters. Mary Media (Cass Brayton) and Steve O’Neal recorded in stereo 27 hours of that gathering and made them available shortly after it. We broadcast their two 1-hour compilations over KPFA-FM airwaves that fall on the weekly gay men’s radio show, Fruit Punch, of which I was also a collective member.
“that winter solstice 1980 bay area faeries had a memorable gathering at Harbin Hot Springs and Harry n’John came up from LA and James Broughton and Joel were there as well and James also composed a sermon and poem about the circumcision of baby Jesus for our new year’s performance party shortly thereafter.
“I would caution you that some faeries are uncomfortable calling Harry the founder of the Radical Faeries as others such as Arthur Evans were holding faerie circles and in writings like Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture* were giving the underpinnings to our emerging movement. Tho’ clearly Harry is one of our central envisioners.”
Again, I thank David and Grandma Mish for permission to quote them. And thanks also to Douglas, Brent and everyone at the Evolution Theatre Company for taking on this challenging but important play.
* FTC regulations require bloggers make note when a post contains affiliate links. The above link to Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture at Amazon does, and will earn me a few cents should you make a purchase after following it. In this case, I do have a copy of the book, and recommend it.