by Joe Basque
It has been a difficult spring for theater in the area, as school, community theater and touring Broadway productions all fell victim to safety precautions in the face of the escalating Coronavirus epidemic.
The most recent victim is the Rose Theater’s Pride Players, who were slated to perform at the Kennedy Center’s New Visions/New Voices festival in May. The 2020 festival was officially canceled in late March. New Visions/New Voices is a week-long biennial workshop in Washington DC for playwrights and theaters to stimulate and support the creation of new plays and musicals for young audiences and families. The Pride Players were to open the conference alongside Project Pride in Kansas City.
The Pride Players educates, entertains and inspires activism in audiences of teens, parents, teachers and community members. The group uses improvisation to create poetry, monologues, short scenes and songs that explore what it means to be a gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer or ally teen in Omaha. The group has been honored by many groups including The National Education Association, Heartland Pride, and American Alliance for Theater and Education.
I spoke with Brian Guehring, the Rose Theater’s Education Director and Playwright-in-Residence, about the Pride Players. Guehring, a founder of the Pride Players, received the 2017 Children’s Theatre Foundation’s Orlin Corey Medallion Award, which honors the recipients for their significant achievements for the enrichment of children in the United States through nurturing artistic work in theatre and the arts. He was also honored with the 2006 Human and Civil Rights Award from the National Education Association.
According to Guehring, each Pride Players performance is a devised theater piece developed and written by a Pride Players troupe. Some of each performance is scripted, and some is improvisational. “We entertain and educate and inspire.” Guehring says there are generally around 20 members in the troupe. Some are veterans of Rose classes and camps. Others are drawn in by community partners like GLSEN, Proud Horizons, and PFLAG Omaha, who spread the work about the program to high school students. “But the biggest group comes from when members of the cast bring in friends.” Likewise, Guehring points out the diverse backgrounds of the members: “some are theater geeks, some are activists, and some are queer youth.” All are drawn by a desire to create and perform.
Development begins with the exploration of a variety of topics that range from what kind of advice the teens would give the President to issues for a non-binary student choosing a bathroom. Guest speakers are brought in to discuss ideas. From this come approximately seventy-five ideas for scenes, some of which are assigned to writers while others are rehearsed as improvisational scenes. Eventually the best material—around fifteen scenes—are selected and assigned to directors for the final production.
The rest of the Rose Theatre’s Teens ‘N’ Theater Series; the Young Gifted and Black Devised Theater closed after opening night and the Young Playwrights Festival were cancelled entirely due to the coronavirus epidemic, although The Rose is exploring other opportunities for those students to present their work. As with so many other productions this spring, the loss is hard on performers and audiences alike. The silver lining? Auditions for the 2020-21 Pride Players is will be on Wednesday, October 21 and Tuesday, October 27 at the Rose from 6:15 to 7:45. Contact information, as well as dates and times for the auditions are posted on their website, at www.rosetheater.org.