Guest blogger Zachary Hines (left) is a local performing artist and a member of the marketing team at The Straz. An avid theatergoer since he was a child, his greatest passion in work, and in life, is to share the joy of experiencing live performance. This week he shares his thoughts on gay pride and what pride month means to him.
“When I think of home I think of a place where there’s love overflowing.” -“Home” from The Wiz
When I was 5 years old, I danced around my kindergarten classroom costumed in a bridal gown singing “Like A Virgin.” In fact, if you could portal back to 1994 suburban New Jersey, it would be quite common to catch my squad of pop star tots serving our most “extra” impressions of Madonna, Mariah, Janet and the Spice Girls – for the record, I was always Posh.
The self-awareness of my pre-teen years brought about the realization that, while I was privileged enough to grow up in a very accepting community, there wasn’t anyone quite like me. There is a long tradition of queer people finding a home in the theater and I thank the Patron Saint of Patti LuPone every day for bringing it into my life.
Not only could I step into the shoes of complicated heroes and epic villains, explore worlds as rich as Narnia and as intimate as Grover’s Corners, but I was introduced to the works of LGBTQ creators such as Cole Porter, Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein and more. I saw people like me on Broadway stages in mainstream musicals like RENT and identified with campy, complicated and over-the-top divas. Most importantly, it was the love from my adopted theater family that allowed me to thrive.
Today, young queer kids have an even richer and more visible community to see themselves a part of. Billy Porter, Taylor Mac, MJ Rodriquez, Alison Bechdel, Tituss Burgess to name a few.
The most incredible part of my story is that is it not unique in the slightest. There are countless queer people now and throughout history who have found the performing arts to be their “safe space.” It is an inheritance and it is our responsibility to make it better than when we found it. There is still much work to be done – the voices of black queer artists, queer artists of color and trans artists are still woefully underrepresented onstage and off.
Writing this essay on the same week the highest court in the land voted to protect LGBTQ rights in the workplace, it does not escape me how grateful I am to work for an organization that not only values me, but views my experience and my identity as added value to our collective mission.
COVID-19 has thrown a curveball to our industry. Three months ago, I thought I would be writing this on the eve of walking in our first pride parade as a company. I worry for the young queer individuals and queer artists whose safe space has been taken away from them. At the same time, I have incredible faith that the resilience of the LGBTQ and artist communities will build a new American theater – one that is better, richer, more equitable and a touch more fabulous than before.
This year we launched our new OUT @ The Straz branded programming to provide an intentional space to uplift LGBTQ artists and audiences. That mission continues as we navigate these uncharted waters. I look forward to the great work ahead of us and on behalf of the Straz Center wish you a Happy Pride.