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A Festival of Short Lesbian & Gay Plays

Joan Lipkin is the executive co-producer of “Briefs” and artistic director of That Uppity Theatre Company. photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
February 15, 2012
Audiences of all kinds will be in for a treat at an evening of short lesbian and gay plays called "Briefs."

The festival, the first of its kind in St. Louis and put on by That Uppity Theatre Company in partnership with The Vital Voice, will be anything but a traditional night of theater. "Briefs: A Festival of Short Lesbian & Gay Plays" will be performed Feb. 24-26 at La Perla, 312 N. 8th St., a historic bank in downtown St. Louis that has been renovated for a variety of events. A DJ will be spinning tunes between performances and a cash bar will be available.

"It's going to be way fun," said Joan Lipkin, executive co-producer of "Briefs" and artistic director of That Uppity Theatre Company, which she founded in 1989. "The event itself is going to be lively. A DJ will be spinning music, there will be a bar, people can have a drink and relax, and enjoy the theater in a casual way that they may not often experience."

Lipkin, who recently was named Arts Innovator of the Year (2012) by the Arts and Education Council, said "Briefs" can be enjoyed by all, regardless of sexual orientation.

"I feel strongly that good theater is for everyone," she said. "LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) stories are human stories, and everyone knows someone who fits into that category. And as human stories, they're interesting and entertaining."

The eight plays, which each have a different director and are about 10 minutes long, show the emotional side of human relationships and explore themes such as acceptance of others and oneself.

"These are not traditional plays in the sense of what we think of gay and lesbian voices to be," said Vanessa Roman, who is directing "Madrigal in Black and White" for the festival. "For me, theater connects us as human beings, allows us a look into another life experience and that life experience gets a voice. This is what this festival offers the community – a voice to be heard, to be listened to, to be understood."

That's a large part of what Lipkin had in mind when she came up with the idea for the festival. She also wanted to do something that would bring different aspects of the art community together.

"I wanted to create an opportunity for emerging and established directors to work together," Lipkin said.

From left, Director Michael B. Perkins goes over lines with actors Ken Haller and Daniel John Kelly. photo by Kholood Eid (click for larger version)
And so she did. Lipkin solicited scripts from writers all over the country, but the eight directors and 20-plus actors for "Briefs" are all from the St. Louis area. The directors have been working together for months discussing the plays and issues related to the production.

Lipkin and the other directors hope the festival generates a sense of community and brings together audiences from the LGBT community, their straight allies, and local businesses and artists.

"'Briefs' will hopefully inspire conversations during the event and long afterward, bringing a diverse audience together that wouldn't otherwise interact," Associate Producer Michael Perkins said. "We learn so much not only by doing, but by watching our peers."

Annamaria Pileggi, who is directing "Ladies' Room," echoed that sentiment.

"'Briefs' is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate diversity within the St. Louis community and the LGBT community," she said. "It is a positive way to broaden our understanding of 'otherness' and bring ourselves one step closer to shrinking the gap between 'us' and 'them.'"

More than anything, Lipkin hopes audiences enjoy what they see on stage.

"I hope they are entertained and that they see aspects of themselves reflected in the work, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation," she said.

Lipkin, whose award-winning work has been featured on network television, National Public Radio, the BBC and the Associated Press, was meticulous in all aspects of planning for the festival, including its February debut.

"Darin Slyman of the Vital Voice, with whom I am co-producing, and I thought it would be a fun time to try to get people out of the winter doldrums," she said. "It's the anti-cabin-fever event. People can come with friends and make a party of the evening, but people should also feel free to come on their own – if they don't know anyone, I'll introduce them to someone."

There's no doubt the bubbly, outgoing Lipkin will make good on that promise. The playwright, director, activist and social critic developed the DisAbility Project, which brings awareness and sensitivity to issues in the disability community and has been performed for more than 90,000 people throughout the U.S.

Lipkin is keenly aware of other people and the world around her.

"I'm inspired by everyday life and everyday people," said Lipkin, who lives in the Central West End. "I always have my head cocked, my ear turned, listening to what's going on in the news and the culture thinking, 'What stories are asking to be told?'"

Some of those stories will be told through "Briefs." Performances will be: 8 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 24; 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 25; and 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 26, at La Perla, 312 N. 8th St. in St. Louis.

All eight plays will be performed at each show time. Valet parking will be available. Tickets are $15 or $12 for students and seniors, and can be purchased by calling 995-4600 or via Brown Paper Tickets online at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/215115. Audience members must be at least 18 years old. For more information about "Briefs," visit www.uppityco.com.

Presented by: That Uppity Theatre Company & Vital Voice Media

What: "Briefs: A Festival of Short Lesbian & Gay Plays"

Where: La Perla, 312 N. 8th Street

When: February 24-26

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