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National Puppet Slam hits Atlanta with gay-themed fair

2012 Puppet Slam

This weekend’s National Puppet Slam brings together a slate of puppeteers from around the country for two days of adult-themed shows Atlanta’s Center for Puppetry Arts, including one gay-themed show.

Atlantan Gregg Van Laningham’s piece, “Jeremy’s Big Heart,” is the only gay-themed puppet show in the program for the Slam, set for Aug.3-4.  In it, the titular Jeremy is a kid, circa nine years old or so, who is hard at work making a Valentine’s Day card for another student in his class — who happens to be a boy.

When Jeremy’s mother finds out, she has mixed emotions.

“She wants him to be able to finish it but she fears what will happen if he does give it,” says Van Laningham, who is gay.

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Del Shores gets ‘Naked’

Del Shores

If there is a silver lining to Del Shores’ recent break-up with husband Jason Dottley, it’s that it has brought Shores back on the road – with a whole new array of material.

The playwright behind “Sordid Lives” returns Aug. 17 to Onstage Atlanta with his new “Naked. Sordid. Reality.”

The news that Shores and Dottley were divorcing after 10 years together came as a shock to the performer, although some in the LGBT community had questioned Dottley’s motives. 

“It was abrupt and it was planned,” says Shores. “I didn’t see it coming. I was devastated. It’s been hard, but I knew I needed to get back on the road, to hear the energy and laughter.”

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Local gay playwright offers ‘Breakfast Club’ on teachers

 'Evelyn in Purgatory'

Essential Theatre’s triumvirate of new shows this summer includes a world premiere from tireless gay playwright Topher Payne.

His latest is “Evelyn in Purgatory,” which he laughingly calls “The Breakfast Club” for teachers. It’s the story of a group of public school teachers, crammed into a tiny office at the Department of Education, awaiting disciplinary hearings.

“They’re being punished, but nobody in charge cares enough to even observe them,” says Payne, also a GA Voice columnist. “The teachers have no information on how long they’ll be there, or what they’re supposed to be doing. So they’re just stuck in the system. But you can only do nothing for so long, so they get to know each other, have screaming fights, start a book club, learn French, and workshop a screenplay.”

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‘Normal Heart’ leads the pack in summer stage fare

St Mark Drama Ministry

Summer is when most theater companies take a break, or present lighter fare than usual. That is not the case for the Saint Mark United Methodist Church’s Drama Ministry, which is staging a version of Larry Kramer’s powerful “The Normal Heart,” officially opening this weekend.

The play broke ground 30 years ago and is still successful as a warts-and-all account of the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic including the politics in New York during that time.

St. Mark’s production is directed by Jim Baker and boasts a large local cast comprised of one woman and 10 gay men. 

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One Minute Plays

Plenty of gay fare in unique weekend theater festival at Actor's Express

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Plenty of gay fare in One Minute Play Festival

Those with attention deficit disorder should cotton to the First One Minute Play Festival, opening shortly at Actor’s Express. A number of LGBT playwrights and a lesbian director are involved in a festival that delivers what it promises: All plays are under 60 seconds.

The festival is the creation of Dominic D’Andrea, a New York based theater producer who has been doing this for a few years now. Once D’Andrea has assembled a team for each new city, he said themes usually emerge in the scripts. He strives to be as diverse as possible in terms of what is included.  

“It’s important to have different voices,” he says, with artists of various races and sexual orientation. 

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Revisionist ‘Alice in Wonderland’ has outsider appeal

Alice in Wonderland

As Brian Clowdus prepares to open his new summer season at Serenbe Playhouse next week, the openly gay artistic director of the troupe is particularly proud of the new take on “Alice in Wonderland” his company is unveiling.

He promises a version of the classic that audiences have never seen.

Based on the Lewis Carroll story, Rachel Teagle’s revisionist version retains the central characters but throws a curve into the action. Here, young Alice comes across a band of actors in her journey, all wearing masks, and she becomes the main character in a story that they dream up. Part of what Clowdus and Teagle wanted to do with this new take was to make Alice less passive in the story – and give her more to do.

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Spring Preview: Theater menu full of LGBT goodies

Theater

With a world premiere musical, several plays nominated for Tony’s, and a number of campy delights, Atlanta’s spring theater season promises a lot for LGBT audiences.

Lesbian director Sheri Sutton is helming one of the most anticipated productions – Tony-nominated musical “Xanadu” by Douglas Carter Beane at Actor’s Express. It’s a goofy show based on the Olivia Newton John musical from 1980, where an Australian Greek muse comes to help a young man open a disco. One of its stars is openly gay actor Craig Waldrip and some of the campy moments are, fittingly, on skates.  

Also at the Express is Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Tony-nominated comedy drama “The Motherf***er With the Hat,” just on Broadway with Chris Rock and Bobby Canavale. Centering on the relationship between a long-time couple in and out of rehab, it is directed by openly gay Actor’s Express artistic director Freddie Ashley. According to Ashley, the drama was not in the company’s original 2011-2012 season but when “The Night of the Iguana” fell out he jumped to do this instead.

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Art and controversy

Hidden Man

A new play inspired by the friendship between openly gay artist Robert Sherer and the late conservative Baptist preacher/folk artist Howard Finster has Finster’s Georgia-based family claiming the playwright doesn’t have the legal permission to produce the work – and hurling accusations at Sherer. 

“Hidden Man,” a joint collaboration between the University of Georgia and 7 Stages, is a fictionalized account of how Sherer’s life changed as a result of the unlikely camaraderie with Finster in the 1980s. After its world premiere in Athens last week, the play is slated to open March 8 at 7 Stages in Little Five Points.

Playwright Pamela Turner says that as she was working on the project, she contacted the Finster family to let them know about it but did not hear back. But on Feb. 14, Beverly Finster-Guinn — Howard’s daughter — sent an email stating that the Finster family had not given “legal permission” to “use Howard Finster’s image or to use his name in the play or any association to the play.”