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From The Louder We Get to The Sum of Us, this week we're celebrating the 30th anniversary of Calgary Pride with a list of works from our stage that tell stories of the LGBTQIA+ community.

CW: Mentions of transphobia, homophobia, HIV/AIDS, death

Ted Atherton & Gordon Pinsent in The Sum of Us. Photo by Trudie Lee

Ted Atherton & Gordon Pinsent in The Sum of Us. Photo by Trudie Lee

The Sum of Us (1991)

By David Stevens

The relationships between fathers and sons can be as loving as they are turbulent. In David Steven’s The Sum of Us, Harry (a widower) and his son Jeff (a gay man) are both searching for a partner. Harry is completely accepting of Jeff’s sexuality and even tries to help him find “Mr. Right.” Soon Jeff meets Greg who is closeted due to his father’s homophobia. At first he finds it hard to adjust to Harry’s total acceptance and love, eventually breaking up with Jeff and being kicked out of his home because his father discovers his sexuality. The play takes a heartbreaking turn when Harry suffers a massive stroke and is left without the ability to walk or speak. Jeff takes care of him and they go on daily walks to the park where, in the final moments of the play, they run into Greg. Jeff and Greg agree to try and rekindle their romance and Harry gives his blessing.

Starring theatre legends Gordon Pinsent and Ted Atherton, Theatre Calgary’s 1991 production left critics in awe and Calgary Herald critic Martin Morrow even described it as "one of the best shows Theatre Calgary has ever done." The play went on to be adapted into a 1994 Australian film of the same name, starring Russell Crowe and Jack Thompson.

Nicholas Campbell & Jack Ackroyd in Hosanna.

Nicholas Campbell & Jack Ackroyd in Hosanna.

Hosanna (1977)

By Michel Tremblay

When older films are discussed and their content is analyzed with a modern perspective, we often debate whether they “hold up” or have “stood the test of time.” Art is always a product of its time and often there are terms, symbols, and representations that do not stand the test of time and are problematic in a modern context. While parts of Michel Tremblay’s piece Hosanna certainly do not ‘hold up,’ it is still a groundbreaking piece of Canadian theatre, and the first to star a drag queen in the main role.

Hosanna tells the story of two people during Halloween night at their apartment; the titular Hosanna (a drag queen whose persona resembles an Elizabeth Taylor-esque Cleopatra) and Cuirette (a leather-clad older-gay biker). Dealing with feelings of love, jealousy, anger, aging and death, both Hosanna and Cuirette lament over certain aspects of their life that they are happy or unhappy about. A time capsule of 1970s gay culture, remounts of the play have been criticized for a number of reasons, the most prevalent being its portrayal of a transphobic ideology. At the end of the play, after a series of humiliating events, Hosanna identifies herself as a gay man and shrugs off her feminity in favour of a more ‘accepted’ life.

Hosanna played on Theatre Calgary’s second stage in 1977 starring Nicholas Campbell as Hosanna and Jack Ackroyd as Cuirette. Our 2017 production of Sisters: The Les Belles-Soeurs Musical was based on another of Michel Tremblay’s works, Les Belles-Soeurs, which also takes place in Montreal.

Evan Kinnane in The Louder We Get. Photo by Trudie Lee

Evan Kinnane in The Louder We Get. Photo by Trudie Lee

The Louder We Get (2020)

Book by Kent Staines

Lyrics by Akiva Romer-Segal

Music by Colleen Dauncey

The true-story-turned-musical of Marc Hall’s fight to take his boyfriend to prom took audiences by storm during its run in January 2020. It’s been almost nine months since everything was covered in glitter and we still can’t get most of the songs out of our heads. 

Set in the early 2000's, Marc wants nothing more than to take his boyfriend to the prom but the principal and school board trustees will not allow it to happen under any circumstances. Marc takes his fight all the way to the Superior Court of Ontario and in the middle of a media frenzy, becoming an unlikely icon for gay teens everywhere. He eventually wins his case and it will set a precedent for similar cases for years to come. A story about expressing oneself, fighting for a voice and to be heard, The Louder We Get is as much of an ear-wig as it is a rally cry for the LGBTQIA+ community. The more they try to silence us, the louder we get

Dino Shorte & John Hamelin in Streamers

Dino Shorte & John Hamelin in Streamers.

Streamers (1978)

By David Rabe

Set in the shadow of the Vietnam War, David Rabe’s Streamers is an inside look into the relationships and personal conflicts of four servicemen; Roger, Carlyle, Richie and Billy. Carlyle and Richie both struggle with their sexual identity and are suspected to be gay by their fellow soldiers. In the second act, after a night of drinking and partying in Washington D.C., the four return to the barracks. Carlyle and Richie want to sleep together but Billy (a homophobe) stands in their way and it turns into a knife-fight. To show him that he can’t get away with treating them like garbage, Carlyle stabs Billy and kills him. Another soldier who comes to see what is going on is also killed. While their ultimate fates are unclear, Carlyle is arrested and Richie is asked to come in for questioning the following morning. A searing look into the atmosphere of war in the 1970s and how different people react to different situations based on their backgrounds, Streamers is considered to be a metaphor "for the conflict that lies within our hearts being a greater war that exists beyond the bullets and bloodshed of war."

Streamers was mounted as part of Theatre Calgary's 1978 season starring John Hamelin, Dino Shorte, Michael Ball & Brian Paul. 

Peter Dvorsky & Geoffrey Bowes in The Normal Heart. Photo by Chris Thomas.

Peter Dvorsky & Geoffrey Bowes in The Normal Heart. Photo by Chris Thomas.

The Normal Heart (1986)

By Larry Kramer

In 1986, Theatre Calgary hosted the Canadian premiere of American playwright Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart. A largely autobiographical piece, The Normal Heart focused on the HIV/AIDS epidemic of New York City in the 1980s. The story is told through the perspective of activist Ned Weeks who is a loud and passionate man, in comparison to his quieter and less confrontational partner, Felix.

Set at the start of the HIV/AIDS crisis, scientists and physicians did not yet know the identity of the disease that was ravaging New York’s gay community, but Ned is undeterred from raising awareness of the unknown threat. As the play progresses, Ned and Felix lose more friends to HIV/AIDS, Felix starts to show symptoms, and Ned’s combative nature causes him to be ejected from his own organization. A work that brings to light the attitudes and actions that allowed the unchecked spread of an epidemic and wiped out an entire generation already marginalized by society, the show ultimately ends with Felix succumbing to the disease, and Ned blaming himself, believing his voice wasn’t loud enough to save him.