Students of Sonoma State University, get ready for a gay, top-hat laden extravaganza. Yes, the Pride Festival already happened - The next big event is “Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party,” the upcoming play the theater arts and dance department has prepared for this fall.
The setting is modern day Menard County, Illinois, in the small town where Abraham Lincoln was born 206 years ago.
The election for state governor is looming when an elementary school teacher tells her students that their homegrown hero was gay. Children, parents and politicians alike then proceed to erupt into chaos in this circus act-meets-dramedy performance.
Doyle Ott presented the idea to direct “Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Party” when he brought the script to the head of the acting program seven years ago. The head of the department decided that in light of the upcoming national elections, 2015 was the prime year for Ott to direct the play.
“I think it’s interesting to do this play at a point where some aspects of it are just starting to feel a little bit dated with the recent Supreme Court decision about gay marriage,” said Ott. “There’s parts of it which on one hand feel dated on the other hand the sort of social bigotry against people based on sexual orientation is something that obviously continues and that’s what this play is wrestling with.”
Despite this, Ott believes that students will still enjoy the play simply on the basis that it’s a dance party, and who doesn’t like dance parties? According to Ott, the play is full of connections to recent history and he thinks that students might leave knowing a little bit more about the history of gay rights in America, or at least come away with a different perspective.
Anna Leach, who plays Esmerelda Diaz, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, also thinks students will like the performance.
“It’s fun. There’s a lot of humor and dance and random moments of singing, but it’s not a musical. It’s not set up like a musical.” Leach said. “There’s these random moments that pop up that just kind of make you chuckle, so it has this lightheartedness to it but it also will flip on a dime and be very, very serious.”
Leach would describe “Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party” as a dramedy, as it mimics the unexpectedness of everyday life.
Emotions in the play are all over the map; from chaos to normalcy, from silliness to seriousness, from joy to sadness. It’s a show meant to keep the audience on the toes – and the actors as well.
Throughout the play, random audiences will be selected to decide which of the three acts they want to see next, so each play will be almost as much of a new experience for the actors as the audience members watching.
Connor Pratt, who plays Thomas Houser, Abraham Lincoln, and Walter Kopaczek, thinks that “Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party” is a play that students will understand on a personal level.
“Something that I think that the students here at SSU will relate to is the idea of being a human stuck in this highly politically charged environment,” said Pratt. “The play deals with controversy of children being told that President Lincoln is gay, and as young adults growing up in a world where we’re constantly trying to figure out the moral center on so many of these political issues, I feel like people will understand that.”
From walking on stilts, tap-dancing, roller-skating, and learning how to cartwheel, students in the acting program have been doing all sorts of ridiculous things to prepare for their performance. Pratt’s favorite part about the play is how it presents political issues without making a decision for you.
“It doesn’t present you a clear answer of what is right or wrong,” said Pratt. “It’s all wrapped in this vagueness so that the audience can decide, and I myself am a personal fan of shows that allow the audience to decide for themselves how they’re going to take this advice.”
The play opens Oct. 15 and will run until Oct. 24 in the Person Theatre. Ticket prices range from $10 to $17, but students who bring their Sonoma State ID’s can come for free.
There is a post-show discussion on Oct. 18, and a student matinee on Oct. 21 where elementary and secondary school students can attend for free.
Staff and faculty who attend Oct. 22 also can go for free and seniors and visiting students who come on this night receive $5 discount tickets.
Students can buy tickets for their friends online at www.sonoma.edu/theatreanddance/, or call the box office number at (707) 664 – 4246.