November 29, 2021 The Newspaper Serving LGBT Los Angeles

LGBTQ Seniors Share Their Stories of Love in NewStages’ “I Do!”

NewStages is providing an artistic outlet for the LGBTQ+ seniors in the Los Angeles area. Comprising of 10-25 participants at any given time, the group meets up on Saturdays to share life stories relating to the season’s theme.

This year, the topic is love in “I Do!” NewStages will share their stories with the community on May 25-26 at the Renberg Theatre. The Pride L.A. spoke with program directors and participants about their experiences. Check out the interviews below:

Mark Salyer

Can you introduce yourself and your relationship to NewStages?

Mark Salyer. I’m a director/producer and teacher and have been working in the arts for almost thirty years. For more info and bio, www.marksalyer.com

What is NewStages? 

NewStages started around 8 years ago as a part of Stagebridge, the nation’s largest senior theater company. Bruce Bierman, a San Francisco based teaching artist started teaching classes at the LA LGBT Center. We became NewStages in 2013 and we’re now a part of the Los Angeles based Oasis Theater Company. I came on board in 2012 and have since taught classes in Acting, Musical Theater and our current project, which is a performance/story-telling workshop that culminates in a performance each Spring.

What is special/unique about what you guys do? 

I think the community we serve is what makes us unique. This is a group of people who have seen a huge part of the story of gay liberation. Their personal narratives are what we try to bring to every project we do.

How many participants do you have at given time? 

Our classes have ranged in size from 10 to 25. This year, we have 14 performers. Many of them have had experience working professionally but for many, this is something they’ve always wanted to do and are finally getting the opportunity. It’s a diverse group.

What do they think of the program? 

They love the opportunity to speak out loud about the lives they’ve led. They love performing. We incorporate music, so there is the great joy of singing together that seems to help us form this community.

What is “I Do” about? 

I was with this group of people, rehearsing one of our shows, when the gay marriage ruling was announced. It was the very best place in the world to be that day. There were tears and celebration. Most every one of our participants had started out their lives closeted, feeling isolated, treated horribly by society. Now we could get married. I don’t think many of them thought they’d see this happen in their lifetimes.  I thought it would be a great idea to explore marriage and relationships to see how this generation created love when our society didn’t allow us to have the same institutions as straight people. Is marriage the end goal of gay liberation or an important piece of the puzzle? How does this generation feel about marriage? Is it important to them?

What has been interesting about worshiping this narrative? 

I was surprised at how many people have said that they never believed in the concept of marriage, probably because it wasn’t something they could legally have. As a result, LGBTQ people created their own concepts about relationships. They didn’t have to follow rules. If society wouldn’t acknowledge their relationships, they were allowed to make up their own ideas about love. Interestingly, some of those same people have been with their partners for decades.

I also have found it interesting how many people have a hard time talking about what it felt like to first fall in love.  Maybe it’s because we were forced to be closeted and to keep silent for so many years. Once they do open up about love though, it’s magical.

What is your involvement with One City One Pride?

We’ve been a part of the festival since the beginning. The City of West Hollywood is one of our sponsors.  I love this festival and love the idea of celebrating Pride all month. Art changes lives. It certainly changes people’s hearts.

Can you tell us a little bit about the performance coming up at the end of the month? 

We will have about 14 performers telling stories and singing songs about love. It’s very special and full of heart and humor. The musical director is Debbie Lawrence. I co-direct the performance with Broadway veteran Kay Cole.

What does Pride mean to you? 

Pride is something we, as LGBTQ people, decided to take back. When we were ridiculed and marginalized, we found the courage to stand up, march, celebrate, and even laugh at ourselves. Pride is being able to tell your story with courage and conviction and to have it be heard.

Kay Cole

Teaching artist and co-director of I Do!

I am forever grateful to Mary Salyer (Producer/ Director of New Stages) for asking me to direct these amazing shows celebrating the senior’s of the LGBTQ community. It has been a dream experience because this awesome group of courageous and honorable people, not only survived with their humanity and humor in tact, but with a heartfelt contribution to the world. They Have never lost their goal of hope and inclusion and love. I am honored to be a part of this community.

Carl Moebus

Participant

I’ve been with NEW STAGES and its predecessor STAGEBRIDGE for 6 years.

Besides giving me the opportunity to learn and grow my musical talents every year, I enjoy singing and sharing the stories of my life which are cued by each year’s Pride theme.

I DO is about love and sharing. For me “I DO” is a love commitment with or without a piece of paper and I do not rule out marriage for me if we both want to seal our love in that way.

This year my story is of my first gay love and it’s 7 year commitment span.

I share this because today’s LGBQ youngsters need to be aware of what we personally experienced about gay love in the past.

Lauren Peterson

Participant

New Stages: 3 years

I enjoy it because it is a supportive environment, where we can do something that is really scary. Get up and sing in public. I really love the classes and the vocal exercises, and the work we get to do with Mark and Debbie. We also get to sing harmonies, in the group numbers, which is so fun. Debbie and Mark make it fun.

To me “I Do” is about making a commitment to someone or something. Not all of us want to submit to marriage, as you will see from the stories. It is interesting to see how we craft “I Do” in our lives. When you are marginalized and excluded from the mainstream it causes you to look inward and find out what truly works for you and your life, your family, genetic or chosen.

My story is about the long term commitment I have succeeded in making. The one to my son.

Visibility is power. What you see on stage are human beings. Their loves, their losses, their flaws, their insecurities, their strengths. I think anyone who comes to the show, will see someone they can relate to, whether they are in the LGBTG community or not. 

Love to me is realizing you care for someone more than yourself. Relationships are not easy. You have to compromise and sacrifice, even in the best relationships. When you truly love someone, you are willing to step outside your comfort zone, and stay through the hard times. 

Pride to me is being willing to be honest about who you are, even though some may judge, label, criticize and categorize you. Even as you grapple with your pronouns and sexual and gender identity. As seniors it’s being willing to be the face of queer for the young LGBTQ community.   

 Again Visibility s power. 

Ariane Gordon

Participant

This is my fourth season with NewStages

I have always enjoyed performing. It is one of my passions of my life. This is an opportunity I’ve always dreamed of. This is the way I get to express myself. Being with the LGBTQ community I feel a sense of belonging.

The “I Do” theme this year is very appropriate. Gay marriage is such an important historical even for us in our community.

My partner and I are blind and visually impaired. We just celebrated our 48th year as lovers. We would like to share what it was like for us as two disabled lesbians finding our way through our friendship and love in the most dramatic and gentle way. Sharing our happy moments and touch moments. Standing together tall and proud of being who we truly are. Never letting others dictate our lives for their sakes.

It’s important to share our story, because it’s a very dear history or our life together. We started our as friends and it developed into love. It is an inspiring story of courage, strength, love, truth, and pride in who you are! It shows others that blind people can love; be loved; and have a life with someone they choose to spend their life with. I don’t want pity. I want to inspire.

Pride: Pride in the history of my LGBTQ and our achievements.

Being proud of ones own personal history of being LGBTQ situation. Standing tall with pride of who you truly are.

Love mean:  It is a feeling of caring and compassion for someone or something. Love is a warm smile. Love is whatever you hold sacred.

Scott Bernstein

Participant

This is my fourth year with NewStages.

I enjoy Performing with NewStages, because being blind, it gives me a sense of freedom  Plus it gives me a sense of collaboration not only with the cast, but with my guide dog; who upstages me every time.

What do I think Of this year’s theme?  I think there is always room for love.

My story is about overcoming the pity that some people have for you when you are single and blind.

Pride: There are some in the gay community who believe that the past should be in the past. However, my past is someone’s present.

Love means:  Never having to say you’re not proud.

Debbie Lawrence

Musical Director for New Stages LA. 

What I enjoy most is hearing everyone’s life experiences, which always stir emotions, whether they are funny or moving and powerful.   

This year’s theme is interesting.  I am enjoying hearing of the different feelings about gay marriage.  

My partner is performing in the show.  Our story is about our lives as visually impaired and blind lesbians and our view of marriage.  

The heterosexual world needs to be made aware of the fact that we as lesbians and gay men, have the same rights, and the same feelings and desires as they do.  We aren’t going away, and the sooner they accept that, the better.  

Love? It’s growing in to a relationship. Bringing all the wreckage of the past, working through it, together and separately—and sometimes that isn’t pretty—but knowing there is no one else in the universe I want to go through life with.  It’s coming home from work to tell my partner about the politics at my workplace, and knowing she understands, supports and sympathizes.  It’s looking forward to snuggling with her in bed, watching the news.  It’s talking, talking, and talking long after dinner, or breakfast on Sunday, because we never run out of things to say. It’s so much more.  

Pride is being able to tell our story, staying together, knowing that there is acceptance from members of our families and straight friends, and being the first of our blind and visually impaired friends to come out of the closet.

Phyllis Rose-Child

Participant

I’ll go to a theater and walk right past the the ticket-taker. I always have a ticket just in case my superpower of invisibility doesn’t work. I don’t want to be embarrassed. Who knew growing older would bring so much fun.

My point is there are very few times that a 75-year-old woman has a chance to shine. New Stages is one of them.

Every year I look forward to the rehearsals and the performance.  It’s wonderful to work with professionals who don’t censor but only enhance. They really make a bunch of amateurs look really good. It’s fun. It’s challenging. Mostly, it’s really scary to be on the stage in front of an audience.

For “I Do!” reservations, please call 323.860.5830 or email seniors@lalgbtcenter.org. Event code 0514.

“I Do!” is presented with the support of the City of West Hollywood’s Arts Division as part of the City’s One City One Pride LGBTQ Arts Festival (May 22 – June 30). More info at www.weho.org/pride or WeHo Arts

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