Graduate Theological Union

Workshop Performance of Upstairs, musical chroncling an anti-LGBT arson in New Orleans

Dates: 
Wednesday, February 13, 2013 - 7:00pm

Upstairs chronicles the New Orleans arson fire of June 24, 1973, that killed 32 people at the Up Stairs Lounge, a gay bar known for its affiliation with the LGBT affirming Metropolitan Community Church (MCC). In the months after the tragedy, the fire was virtually ignored by local leaders, law enforcement, institutions, some families of the victims, and the wider world.

“As a gay Louisiana native, I was shocked I had never heard about this crime,” said Upstairs creator Wayne Self, a resident of Southern California. “This was a great tragedy and it was swept under the rug. Once I became aware of it, I had to do my part along with others give voice to the victims, many of whom identified as gay, and as Christian. It’s a lesson in the perils of silence.”

Upstairs will premiere with the following workshop performances:

 

Upstairs creator Wayne Self draws much of his inspiration for the musical from the work-in-progress book about the incident, called Seventeen Minutes of Hell by author, Clayton Delery, Ph.D., who continues to provide support and guidance for the project. Unlike the Stonewall Riots in New York City, which sparked the modern day LGBT Civil Rights Movement, the Up Stairs Lounge Fire is unknown by most people, including LGBT activists and allies, even though it is arguably the largest crime against LGBT people in U.S. history.

“There were few proclamations of outrage or sadness from politicians at any level. There were no charges filed,” said Delery. “There would have been no memorial service if the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), a primarily LGBT Christian denomination whose New Orleans church counted many of its members among the dead, hadn’t sent its founder, Troy Perry, into town to organize one. Troy Perry and other clergy and activists had a difficult time even finding a location for a service. When they asked for cooperation, they were turned down by clergy and leadership from the Catholic, Episcopal, Baptist, and Lutheran churches. Only one Unitarian congregation and one unusually liberal Methodist congregation were willing to cooperate.”

“In a way, the whole city was staying in the closet about the fire,” Delery continued. “This arrangement protected tourism for the city, protected religious leaders from having to choose between compassion or condemnation, and protected New Orleans’ gay community from ‘coming out’ of the quiet arrangement they had with the New Orleans Police Department and entering a political and legal fight for equality that they didn’t think they could win.”

Rather than focus on the aftermath and its silence, Self has chosen to tell the specific stories of the victims, including stories of heroism and inspiration in the midst of tragedy. Though based on historical details and thorough research, and named in homage to the victims, the characters and events presented in Upstairs are fictional and composite in nature. The musical is infused with a complex, haunting blend of New Orleans jazz-like arrangements.

“When I first heard the songs I was moved to tears,” said Upstairs director, Zach McCallum, a gay San Francisco resident originally from Nashville, Tennessee. “I grew up knowing about Stonewall, about the AIDS Quilt, and about Harvey Milk. How did I not hear about the Up Stairs Lounge Fire? This story cannot be forgotten. It should be in the cultural mindset of everyone who cares about LGBT equality.”

Self and McCallum have assembled an outstanding group of experienced professional actors to perform in this intimate, low-budget production of Upstairs, which is set to be expanded later this year. Proceeds and feedback will be used to prepare for the full June premiere, in time for the 40th anniversary of the fire.

To learn more about the new musical Upstairs, please visit: http://www.upstairsthemusical.wordpress.com

To help support the project, please visit: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1050849868/upstairs-a-new-musical-new-orleans-anniversary-sho