New Play Explores Experience Of Gay 'Farm Boys'

Jul 25, 2014

The Annual Summer Pride Theater Festival continues this weekend in Randolph, featuring three plays that address concerns and issues of gay and lesbian Vermonters.

One of those plays is Farm Boys, an adaptation of a 1996 book by Milwaukee writer Will Fellows.

Will Fellows was himself a gay man raised on a Wisconsin dairy farm. For the book Farm Boys, he gathered testimony from dozens of gay men from rural areas.

Those voices come alive in this world premiere adaptation. They tell stories that show being a good farm boy doesn’t guarantee an acceptance for being gay. Disapproval can come from all directions.

One participant says his father told him he "was a mistake." Another recalls a young gay neighbor who committed suicide.  

How odd for us still, after all this time, to consider coming out a brave act. But it's true for so many people in so many situations because of family and religion and nationality. So that's why these stories need to be told. - David Zak, director

The show features a cast of seven local actors ranging in age from 16 to 71; the production was adapted by David Zak of Chicago. Zak is also directing the show.

Zak says that while the stories were collected over 20 years ago, the themes that unite these rural accounts remain relevant to LGBT issues of today.

"Family, bullying, thoughts of suicide, religion, there’s lots of pressure on gay and lesbian folk around the world today still," Zak says. "And so I think that’s one of the things that people will understand, is that [even though] some of these stories are about things that happened decades ago, and some of the references to some of the farming styles or mechanisms are old, it feels very fresh and very modern and very important for today’s audience."

Zak believes that while there is a perception of progress for the gay and lesbian community, there is still plenty of pushback politically and internationally. 

"How odd for us still, after all this time, to consider coming out a brave act," he says. "But it's true for so many people in so many situations because of family and religion and nationality. So that’s why these stories need to be told."

In David Zak’s home state of Illinois, gay marriage was only enacted recently. He gives credit to Vermont for being ahead of the curve when it came to legislating civil unions and gay marriage.

"But at the same time, I feel the resistance even here in Randolph sometimes, when we put the pride flags on the front of the building, or some of the looks you get from the teenage kids who are walking down the street, coming up from the swimming hole. You know, its not perfect."

The whole purpose of Vermont Pride Theater is to present the stories of LGBT people onstage, on a main stage, where the community can see them, to build bridges of understanding between them, their families, friends, the whole set of communities around here. - Sharon Rives, Vermont Pride Festival

That resistance is nothing new to Sharon Rives of Braintee. 

Rives is the producer of the Vermont Pride Festival. She says that the central Vermont region surrounding Randolph was one of the most bitterly divided areas around the issue of civil unions.

She points out that all of the local legislators were voted out following the enactment of civil unions in 2000. Rives says that discussion around the issue ultimately led to the creation of Vermont Pride Theater.

"We realized that theater is a means for building understanding. And the whole purpose of Vermont Pride Theater is to present the stories of LGBT people onstage, on a main stage, where the community can see them, to build bridges of understanding between them, their families, friends, the whole set of communities around here."

Rives says that the company’s first year was difficult, with objections being raised at select board meetings. Several donors and advertisers pulled their support from the Chandler Center For The Arts.

But Rives says the center decided to stand by its mission of inclusion, and that she’s seen community acceptance grow.

She recalls, "One community member said, 'Sharon, the Pride Festival has made it possible for people who live here to talk about brothers, sisters, nieces, friends, that they wouldn’t acknowledge before.'"

Theatergoers can also take in two other plays during the festival: Last Summer at Bluefish Cove and The Little Dog Laughed.

Farm Boys is being presented Saturday evening at 7:30 p.m. at the Chandler Music Hall in Randolph.