Getting personal here for a moment.
Yes, I’ve been a people pleaser most of my life. I’ve been in advertising and marketing where the focus is to appeal to the broadest audience, and that’s a hard habit to break. I like having people be happy. But putting the focus on trying to please strangers is not necessarily honest, and more than anything, Gilda Shedstecker Presents! is my art, and art should be honest.
I recently was made uncomfortable because I was told GSP! has gotten a reputation as “that gay theater” and I hate being pigeon-holed, labeled, limited.
From the inception of GSP! as my theatre company, I clearly stated I would produce shows that were on my bucket list, shows I personally wanted to bring to life on the stage. We would never be doing theatre that was available in many other fine venues in the area, never mounting yet one more version of a family favorite, never competing with other basic youth programs, never producing a show that had been done two seasons ago on the other side of town.
We would do adult-oriented irreverent humor. Because beyond anything else, I love to make people laugh. I love The Carol Burnett Show. I love sketch comedy. I love parody. Nobody else in the area specializes in risqué “parental guidance is suggested” black box repertory theatre. So basically our Whatever Happened to Baby Jane in October 2014 was one big grown-up Carol Burnett Show sketch.
And often I feel a responsibility, a need, to highlight social injustice as well. There are ugly things in the world and comedy gives you an edge to introduce those topics, and shed some light on behavior that is unacceptable. So as we’re laughing through Sordid Lives, we highlight bullying. While we’re snickering at Baby with the Bathwater, we expose bad parenting. While we’re dancing and clowning though Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party, we’re blasting homophobia and bigotry.
And recently it’s been said that we don’t do “real theatre,” evidently because we haven’t yet performed any classical plays or heavy drama. But I counter: any time we impact someone emotionally and make them think, then we have performed real theatre. We’ve communicated a broader view of human experience. I know first-hand that our production of Sordid Lives changed someone’s life. Our Baby with the Bathwater affirmed a couple in training for foster parenting. Our Big Pants and Botox had sons crying in the audience relating to a mother’s pain. And you’re telling me Durang isn’t real theatre, C.S. Lewis isn’t REAL theatre? Hell, yes, Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party had some of the most powerful moments we’ve ever produced, if you were fortunate to see one of our uncancelled shows: a confrontation between a black woman and a gay white man over who is most persecuted, and an unbalanced father committing murder in defense of his son. (And thank you, local media, for completely ignoring our efforts except to briefly mention “A Big Gay Play.”) And when we do those shows that just make someone wet their pants from laughing, an evening of escapist medicinal absurdity, then that is real theatre, too, you boss-twatty snobs.
Yes, homosexuality does pop up in some of the shows I want to do. And we’ve done some drag, because we do it funny and we do it damn well. Does that make us “that gay theatre?” As my associate director and brilliant actress Miss Jacki Dietz so boldly asserted, “Yes we are just another gay theatre group in Canton, one of hundreds, because there are SO MANY in the area that highlight different playwrights and differing points of view. Felicia, if you want to go see the same show done 4 times in 2 years by 4 different local theatres, by all means, no one is stopping you. You wouldn’t know how to handle us anyway. We are here, we are talented, we are queer. Get used to it.” I will less blatantly say we are officially diverse and we are officially aggressively affirming, because who else is that? And if you ask any of our regular troupe, they will tell you our primary mission is to create a supportive environment unparalleled in openness and encouragement for anyone who is willing to play by those rules. We are dedicated to bringing exceptional and uncommon shows to the stage. Are we that gay theatre? Yep, I can proudly take ownership of that. And Canton, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Founder and Artistic Director
Gilda Shedstecker Presents!