Beyond “Boys in the Band”

By Willa J. Taylor

I have been Black all my life, queer almost as long, and doing theater since Nixon was President. Yet until Goodman Theatre produced Christina Anderson’s How To Catch Creation in 2019, I had never seen myself fully represented on stage in a play.

Representation matters. Our stories matter. And as we begin to reopen our world—after the devastation of a global pandemic; after the racial reckoning after the murder of George Floyd—the theater will be a place where we more fully remember our histories. Our voices and lives on stages around the world allow us to see our commonalities and not our differences.

As we celebrate Pride Month this June, it is a good time to learn more about some artists and queer theater history that colors the canon more completely.  

Here are 10 things that I can recommend:

  1. If you want to meet 30 BIPOC playwrights you should know
  2. …Especially if you are a musical theater lover.
  3. If you want to earn more about Indigenous and Two-Spirit queer performance history, read Two Spirit Acts: Queer Indigenous Performances by Jean O’Hara.
  4. If you love Lorraine Hansberry, watch the first documentary about her.
  5. If you want to know what is happening now in queer theater, check out HowlRound, the digital theater repository.
  6. If social media is your thing, here are some great BIPOC queer theater artists to follow.
  7. If podcasts fill your playlists, check these out.
  8. I still love scholarly texts. If you do too, here are two of my favorites: Blacktino Queer Performance, a collection edited by E. Patrick Johnson and Ramon Rivera-Servera and Towards a Queer Black Feminist Theatre Aesthetic, by Deana Downes.
  9. If you only thought James Baldwin was a novelist, read “James Baldwin and the Lost Giovanni’s Rooms Screenplay” …then watch I Am Not Your Negro
  10. Number 10 is a little more difficult and very personal because they were not just artists, they were also friends. They were a part of a queer cultural awakening, in me and in the country, that was so vibrant and so of its moment that most burned white hot and then went out. But they laid a path and created a roadmap for the artists of today.
  1. If you want to meet 30 BIPOC playwrights you should know
  2. …Especially if you are a musical theater lover.
  3. If you want to earn more about Indigenous and Two-Spirit queer performance history, read Two Spirit Acts: Queer Indigenous Performances by Jean O’Hara.
  4. If you love Lorraine Hansberry, watch the first documentary about her.
  5. If you want to know what is happening now in queer theater, check out HowlRound, the digital theater repository.
  6. If social media is your thing, here are some great BIPOC queer theater artists to follow.
  7. If podcasts fill your playlists, check these out.
  8. I still love scholarly texts. If you do too, here are two of my favorites: Blacktino Queer Performance, a collection edited by E. Patrick Johnson and Ramon Rivera-Servera and Towards a Queer Black Feminist Theatre Aesthetic, by Deana Downes.
  9. If you only thought James Baldwin was a novelist, read “James Baldwin and the Lost Giovanni’s Rooms Screenplay” …then watch I Am Not Your Negro
  10. Number 10 is a little more difficult and very personal because they were not just artists, they were also friends. They were a part of a queer cultural awakening, in me and in the country, that was so vibrant and so of its moment that most burned white hot and then went out. But they laid a path and created a roadmap for the artists of today.

Pomo Afro Homo, short for Postmodern African American Homosexuals, was a Black queer performance troupe founded by Djolo Branner, Brian Freeman an Eric Gupton in San Francisco in 1990. They were radical and controversial as they portrayed issues of racism in the queer community, homophobia in the Black community, and AIDS and HIV at a time when all were taboo subjects. Their performance at Juicy’s Juke Joint in the Castro in 1991 was the first time I had ever seen proud queer Black people naming and proclaiming their truth. They were fierce, funny, and fabulous. They disbanded in 1995.

The Pomos were a part of a black queer cultural scene that included poet Essex Hemphill, filmmakers Marlon Riggs and Michelle Parkerson, root wymn (the theater collective founded by Sharon Bridgeforth), comedian (and the first Black performer on Saturday Night Live) Garrett Isaac Morris, and the dancer Bill T. Jones.  These artists’ fierce and proud declarations of who they were was a clarion call to so many of us living less loud. Their friendships opened my soul and fed my spirit. Sadly, much of their work is lost to time (the exception is Jones, who is still choreographing today) with only brief snippets archived on YouTube. 

These artists, as well as the contemporary playwrights, actors and multi-hyphenates shaping our stages today, are claiming space that for so long was denied to many.  But no queer history, no theater, performance, or film history, can be complete without them. 

Happy Pride!

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