This is the fourth in a series of blogs written by Tess DeMint (aka Professor Ed Madden), a contestant in the 18th annual Vista Queen Pageant, a fundraiser for our beloved Trustus Theatre.
Please support Tess by visiting Trustus Theatre. Each vote costs $10 and all money goes to Trustus Theatre.
You can also donate to Trustus (and support Tess!) at Tess’s donation site: https://www.gofundme.com/fxudjbhs
I know my favorite row in the theatre. I know my favorite seats.
I remember when Trustus Theatre staged Angels in America, one of the first if not the first regional theatre in the nation to do so. I had seen the original New York production as a graduate student, and I taught the play at USC, so I was inclined to be critical. But Trustus overwhelmed me with a beautiful, profoundly moving, and memorable production.
I remember Lonesome West and The Lieutenant of Inishmore by Martin McDonagh and other crazy Irish plays at Trustus. The playwright was savagely funny, and the local production amplified his ability to make violence simultaneously hilarious and horrifying.
Which one of those plays was it that Alex Smith as the suicidal priest broke my heart?
I remember the rocking productions of Spring Awakening (yes they did that here and it was fucking amazing) and Hedwig and the Angry Inch—and being so tickled when Hedwig clearly directed the song “Sugar Daddy” to a couple of dear friends in the front rows. (I won’t call out your names, Gordon and Doak.)
I remember taking my honors seminar to see Standing on Ceremony last spring as the semester began. A collection of one-act plays about same-sex marriage, the performance introduced most of the very issues we were about to discuss. The Trustus production (and talkback after) helped to set a tone for the rest of the semester as we began our own serious study of marriage politics. I usually give students the option of a creative final project rather than a traditional research paper, and a couple of students wrote their own one-act plays, adding to the political and emotional complexity of what they had seen at Trustus.
More recently, I remember Chad Henderson’s haunting and gorgeous production of The Brothers Size. The extraordinary acting (my Vista Queen fellow contestant Bakari Lebby and his colleagues were amazing), the minimal but strangely beautiful and convincing staging. The intimacy of the sidedoor theatre. The fireflies.
I remember Jim Thigpen—and later Larry Hembree—introducing a play and reminding us that we could always trust the theatre (trust us), even if we didn’t know the play or the playwright, because it would be good and it would be done well. And I remember Kay’s smiling face at the ticket window, her easy laugh.
I remember working so hard for years with gay and lesbian organizations in South Carolina, and the way that Trustus would open their doors to us, the way they’d let us buy out the final dress rehearsal for a show as a fundraiser for our local community center. The way the place filled with GLBT folks and their friends, laughing through The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, laughing at Hunter Boyle as the bitchy Santa Claus, laughing through tears at the end as the lesbian couple gave birth to a child and the gay couple resigned themselves to the new HIV drugs not working. I remember a room full of people I loved laughing and feeling giddy and connected to one another, giggling at the silliness of When Pigs Fly, or stunned by the professional production of Take Me Out.
It was the Jim and Kay Thigpen School of theatre and aesthetics and collaboration and community and inspiration and love. It was and is the theatre’s mission: “a safe space for exploration of the political, the personal, and all things human.” It was and is the theatre’s artistic mission: to produce works “that start and nurture dialogues.” As they say on the webpage: “Our success will be measured by our commitment to collaboration and innovation, while our impact will be measured by the creation of a more diverse and vibrant Columbia.”
I remember that fundraiser at Most Fabulous, the huge spread of food Bert prepared, and the enormous bouquet of flowers—mostly from our yard—and a potted night-blooming cereus Bert put on the table, the large prickly arm of it reaching over the spread, ending in a tight white blossom. I remember that it opened up during intermission, the incredible smell filling the bar. A magical night.
I know my favorite row in the theatre, my favorite seats. I know Bert and I will order a bottle of white wine, and he will have to get the basket of popcorn refilled at intermission. I know it feels like home to be there.
So when Chad Henderson walked up to me at the Deckled Edge literary festival’s opening night and asked me to be in Vista Queen, I said yes. I didn’t think about it: I said yes. I was immediately terrified at what I had agreed to (though Bert was clearly delighted), but I said yes.
Why? Because I love this theatre. Because of so many good memories and so many amazing plays. Because of the community Trustus makes possible and the community it enables and sustains. Because Chad asked me. Because I know which seats are my favorites.