2009 ATHE Career Achievement in Professional Theatre Award
August 10th, I received the ATHE (Association for Theatre in Higher Education) Career Achievement in Professional Theatre Award. I shared the honor with Judith Malina, the founder of the Living Theater.
Robert Schanke’s introduction:.
Marshall Mason calls him “a pioneer of the alternative theater movement.” Craig Lucas remarks that “Wilson has devoted his life to the once-radical notion that gay lives deserved true representation.” Bud Coleman: “This trailblazer literally changed the trajectory of American Theatre.” Sameer Thakur in India writes "We chose to bring [Doric Wilson’s A Perfect Relationship] to the Indian stage [in 2009] because it is relevant in the context of a litigation at the Delhi high court." The production had an impact. On July 2, New Delhi’s highest court decriminalized homosexuality. I am thrilled to present this award to Doric Wilson for his career achievement in professional theatre.
My acceptance speech:
In Minnesota in the early years of the last century, a young woman named Loraine Larson, enrolled in a University Law School. The dean of the school informed her that no woman would ever graduate from HIS school with a law degree. Four years later after graduating with top honors, she walked back into the dean’s office, tossed her degree on his desk, and walked out. She never did practice law.
In the 1940s in Eastern Washington Miss Larson was stranded by the Chautauqua unit she was performing with - she specialized in Scandinavian monologues. The town she ended up in was a small wheat town called Kennewick. She got a job in the local high school teaching English and Speech and directing the school plays.
My earliest years were spent about thirty miles away from Kennewick on my grandfather’s ranch in the Columbia River Basin. My first theater ventures took place in the barn on the ranch where I staged my younger cousins in plays based mainly on two books I had read. King Arthur and a book about the Vikings. Lots of sword action. I also costumed the productions. I also made and sold the tickets. A penny each. You could almost say I was born for off-off-Broadway.
At the end of World War II, I moved into Kennewick to live with my mother. My father had died in the war. I really didn’t play with the other neighborhood kids so much as organize them into performances and pageants. One Saturday afternoon when my radio programs were over, I was turning the dial and I stumbled upon this strange, wonderful, extremely dramatic singing. And in that instant I became - to avoid the common more derogatory term - an opera enthusiast of regal personage. I even built a model of the Met stage in our garage. I think I learned dramaturgy from Milton Cross.
By 16 I attached myself to the Richland Players, a local amateur theater. I was busy building sets, making costumes, and acting. I was a bad actor. Tall and not necessarily bad looking, and eager, and orange-red haired, but bad. Although near the end of my acting career I did play Valère in Moliere’s Tartuffe opposite the Mariane of Dawn Wells later of “Gilligan’s Island” fame.
I started high school and signed up for the debate team and met Miss Larson. And she did what most of you do, she proceeded to teach me everything I would ever need to know about theater. After High School, she got me into the Drama Department of University of Washington during the last days of Glen Hughes.
I was hardly there a month before there was a bit of a fracas over my one-person demonstration protesting the shootings of gays in a near-by park. (this was 1958) The U was not happy with my political action (the stench of the McCarthy era still lingered) so we agreed I should leave after one semester. It was Miss Larson who convinced my Mom that it would be best for all concerned for me to move to New York City as fast as I could pack.
Had I not been forceably removed from academia, I would not have been in this city the night an actress took me down to a coffee house in the Village to introduce me to Joe Cino. I offered him my play, he politely turned it away, handed me my first cappuccino and asked me my astrological sign. He then gave me a date for the opening night of And He Made a Her. He wouldn’t read the script. My Cino success introduced me to the great producer Richard Barr who in turn introduced me to “uptown” theater. But the more I was around “show biz,” the more I realized it probably was not for me.
Walking along Christopher Street one night I suddenly found myself in the middle of yet another fracas - this one in front of the Stonewall Inn - and the rest, as they say, is the main reason that each year in the last weekend in June many residents of the Village desert this city. I was involved with Circle Rep at the time when it suddenly occurred to me that I could use the Cino experience to combine my talents with my politics. I could focus my life and abilities to promote a theatre dedicated “to an honest and open exploration of the GLBT life experience and cultural sensibility.” (I really do prefer the term Queer) TOSOS - The Other Side of Silence was born. And because of Mark Finley and Barry Childs and a long list of playwrights and actors and directors, TOSOS is now going stronger than ever.
People are forever asking me - rather smugly if not snidely - why there even is a need for gay theater any longer. And I suppose in a way they are right. I mean just think back over this last season on Broadway. All those wonderful lesbian plays. And all the positive depictions of transsexuals. Seems to me there are still a lot of untold stories out there and someone has to make a space for them to be heard.
In the meantime, my least political play, A Perfect Relationship, is a HUGE hit in India where it is being used to promote gay liberation. And Street Theater, my play about Stonewall, is more or less constantly in production somewhere - next month it opens in Wichita almost under the nose of the good Reverend Phelps. Street Theater is also beginning to make inroads into in the collage and university circuit with a very successful recent production at Oregon State University at Corvallis.
And all of this, because Loraine Larson decided not to practice law. And all of this because of all you sitting in this room who also try to teach all you know to someone like me.
It was suggested that we not thank people in our speeches today. I intend to slightly ignore that suggestion. This award belongs to you, all the Larry and Loraines here and everywhere AND I thank you for making me who and what I am.