Performing this theater piece is lots of fun for me, but it is also emotionally draining.
Any time someone denies their true identity and is aided in creating a false one, this is a tragedy.
Hi, my name is Peterson Toscano. I created a theater piece with a cast of characters through whom I unveil the bizarre world of the Homo No Mo Halfway House.
Performing this theater piece is lots of fun for me, but it is also emotionally draining. It deals with tragic issues. Gay reparative therapy is stupid and very sad. Any time someone denies their true identity and is aided in creating a false one, this is a tragedy. Ultimately though, in its humorous and poignant way, this theater piece triumphantly celebrate those who embrace themselves fully. I cannot wait for you to see Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House--How I Survived the Ex-Gay Movement!
I actually never set out to create a performance piece; I wanted to write a memoir about my experiences in the ex-gay movement. To show the progression (and digressions!) that ultimately led to the premiere of "Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House--How I Survived the Ex-Gay Movement," I include excerpts from my journal below (I took out the real juicy parts so the kids can read it :-)
Excepts From My Journal
Summer Break + Spain = A Finished Book
June 18, 2002
This summer I am going to finish a draft of my book, "Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House--How I Survived the Ex-Gay Movement." It will chronicle my experiences in the ex-gay movement, how I got there and, more importantly, how I escaped.
I completed the first chapter outlined the rest. Now I only require time and space to get it done! Tomorrow I leave for a month in Spain. My main purpose is to write, write, write! (And of course visit family, friends, eat a lot and fool around a bit but mostly write, write, write!)
Family, Friends, Food, Fun in the Sun but no Book!
July 12, 2002
Nearly a month in Spain and I wrote NOTHING! I am on the train back to Barcelona after a few weeks with my brother, Manuel and his wife, Teresa in Madrid. A few weeks ago, on an overnight train from Barcelona to Madrid when I first arrived, I met two actors from Barcelona, Carlos and Mercela. We hung out in Madrid seeing plays, eating two hour lunches in outdoor cafes and talking about our art. I actually performed excerpts of my piece, "Footprints, An Inspirational Comedy" in a park we called La Plaza Fea (ugly plaza--because the mayor of Madrid remodeled the park in total concrete.) I told them about my Homo No Mo book; they suggested I do it as a theater piece. What a silly notion; I need to write a book not a theater piece!
Lugging Luggage Bookless in London
July 19, 2002
Bother! I have absolutely NOTHING done on the book, but I did start researching a cool play idea about the patriarch, Abraham and his servant Eliezar, AND I worked on a killer summer tan at the beaches of the very gay friendly Spanish town of Sitges. By the way, nude beaches are overrated. Naked men, splayed out under the hot sun, slathered with oil, limp on the sand does nothing for me.
Right now I am in Heathrow airport at the Holideck, a very cool, three-story computer, multimedia lounge with full bar and Nestle Quik dispenser. All you can eat, drink, and surf for about 20 Euros. This would be a great place to work on the book if I wasn’t distracted by the giant Game Boy with my old friends, Super Mario Brothers.
I Frolic with the Quakers
August 8, 2002
I’m surrounded by Quakers! I’m spending a week at the yearly meeting of the New England Religious Society of Friends. They even serve Quaker Oats at breakfast. In addition to learning about the peace movement and sitting in silent worship, (where I fell asleep) I thought it would be a good place to work on the book.
It’s my first day here and I just saw a woman wearing old Quaker garb with a bonnet and all AND, believe it or not, I bumped into a woman with a full beard on her chin. We’re not talking about a few stray hairs that need to be plucked; she has a full beard. I want to know why.
A few months back I began attending a Quaker meeting house in West Hartford. I decided to come to yearly meeting to learn more about the Quaker movement and see if I want to get more involved. I didn’t realize it would be so much fun.
The Actress of Peace
August 10, 2002
Today I met a wonderful actress, Jane Bernhardt, who wrote a one woman show about Julia Ward Howe, the woman who created Mother’s Day as an antiwar protest. Of course the holiday has blown far off course since then.
Jane and I talked for hours about being inspirational performance artist with a message. We shared bits of our work with each other. She performs biblical passages powerfully.
Somehow through our talk and being here with all the Quakers, I devised an idea for a new theater piece based on a short story I stared to write years ago, "How the Indians Discovered Columbus, " Through the piece I can explore the Tainos of the Caribbean before, during and after their historic and deadly encounter with Christopher Columbus. Then I can present it at yearly meeting next year. Cool!
Homo No Mo Book???? Okay, so I wrote nothing. It’s the damn Quakers; they inspired me in a different direction.
Working in the Oral Tradition?!?
October 8, 2002
Forget the damn book! I’m stuck. Besides, I realize that I am a talking, a storyteller. I work best in the oral tradition (hmmmm.) Anyway, what if I create a performance piece of the Homo No Mo Halfway House. What a great idea. I can then organize the content, begin to perform around the country, then I will write the book.
Stuck on Myself
October 14, 2002
Stuck again! I thought this performance piece would work well as a giant monolog where I tell the story of the Homo No Mo Halfway House, but it is way too dreary! I want to create a comic piece, but reparative therapy is a tragedy. How can I make it funny? There are some great funny stories to tell for sure. The other issues I now realize is that I resist being on stage as myself. I prefer to be a character. As myself, I lack the expression I desire. I’m learning that it is hard to play me (but so easy to play with myself :-)
Hearing Voices in my Head
October 20, 2002
Breakthrough! Why play ME when I am a character actor?!? I can create multiple characters to tell the story of the Homo No Mo Halfway House. Just playing around with idea when I was at Roy Steele’s, I developed two characters. "Chad" is the zany and flaming tour guide of the Homo No Mo House. He is VERY nelly, as we would say down in Memphis about someone who is flamboyant physically, or as they say in Spain, con plumas o sin plumas, "with feathers or without feathers." Chad definitely WITH feathers.
Another character is Tex, based on XXXXXX from the Homo No Mo Halfway House. His story is very moving, but with some very funny bits, including a little sexual encounter one Sunday morning during our church service.
Oh, now I am getting excited about this piece!
I Get High with a Little Help from my Friends
Several weeks ago Tom and I started our little writers’ group where we come together to share our writing. Of course I took over and turned it into my personal stage where I show off and work on bits of my new theater pieces (and old ones too.)
Through our meetings I developed and polished "How the Indians Discovered Columbus" and "Legion," the retelling of the miracle when Jesus evicted a bunch of demons into some unsuspecting pigs. I also share with Tom all about Homo No Mo.
By the end of our meeting tonight I was so wired and excited about the Homo No Mo that I drove performing all the way home. The other drivers must have assumed I was a nut job talking and wildly gesturing to myself.
I Got the Power!
November 2, 2002
The characters are really coming together nicely. Some characters are based on real people I know-- Pete, who is my dad and Tex. Other characters I develop by combining personality traits and stories of two or three people. Chad is a combination of the frenetic energy of a participate from the House, the obsessive traits of another mixed in with the story of a missionary kid I knew in Ecuador. Pastor Meadows is fashioned after Tim Meadows, a gay minister in Memphis. I also mixed in the accent and style of an Anglican priest I knew in Kiddiminster, England in the West Midlands after my wife and I separated.
Something weird and wonderful just happened this week. I guess it is an epiphany. I realize I have POWER. I have a tremendous, original story and the ability to tell it well. That is POWER.
Doin’ Time with my Boss
November 12, 2002
I just spoke with John Bracker, the head of school where I work. He is with us teachers in DC for the Coalition of Essential Schools’ conference. I pulled him aside to inform him about the Homo No Mo Halfway House theater piece. I assumed he already knew that I am gay, but I told him that I will hopefully premiere a theater piece that will most likely be controversial. Amazing man! After I told John all about the piece and its premise and my hopes for it, his response was immediate, "Great, when are you going to do it at school!"
Doin’ Time Home Alone at Xmas Break
December 24, 2002
I’m home alone for Christmas. It’s radical, and a bit weird according to some friends, but I don’t want to be with anyone this year. In fact, I will spend most of the two week winter break at home working on Homo No Mo and developing goals for the year.
Another reason I am alone this year is because I refuse to be the odd, single adult during holiday gatherings. Single adults are often treated like big kids. I am OUT with my parents and siblings, but the peripheral relatives still don’t "know" yet. Of course they all know I’m gay, but we don’t talk about it. I remember when I was married, my wife and I had each other as retreats during family gatherings. This year, I am my own retreat.
Taking Baby New Year by the Horns
January 3, 2003
New Year and my goals. (Stuff the resolutions!) I love setting goals, especially attainable, specific ones. Resolutions never work as well as goals.
Goals for 2003
- I will complete writing and rehearsing the Homo No Mo theater piece by the end of the month.
- I will run at least four dress rehearsals of the piece in front of friends from Hartford
- I will eat less deserts (yeah, right)
- I will premiere Homo No Mo in Memphis, TN at Holy Trinity Community Church. What better place is there? Memphis is the home of Love in Action, the homo no mo halfway house I attended from 1996-1998).
- I will present the piece at the True Colors annual conference in Hartford.
- I will appear on Oprah and Fresh Air with Terry Gross (and I will say, no, to Letterman) Hey I’ve gotta dream a little.
It is Finished! Well, Kinda
January 14, 2003
The play is written...well at least in my head. I have the whole thing outlined on paper and hold the words in my little brain. Lucky me I can swim and write at the same time. Some of my best lines come to me when I am doing laps in the pool. I almost drowned the other day when I came up with a funny line for Chad.
I want the audience to laugh a lot and what better way then a tour of the Homo No Mo Halfway House. I remember when prospective participants with family or friends toured the house. The hopeful inmate scanned the house wide eyed while his loved ones put on brave faces. Through a zany tour of the place (led by the especially zany and deluded Chad) the audience will experience the insane hilarity of the place.
Almost 95% of the script is based on actual events. I recreated the conversations from those around me and recount true incidents I witnessed in the Homo No Mo Halfway House. It is only in retelling these tales that I understand just how bizarre the whole experience was for us in the house and our families. I never set out to trash any ex-Gay movement, but just by stating the facts as they happened, the piece is turning into a stinging indictment against reparative therapy.
Naked Dress Rehearsals
February 5, 2003
Freaking out! Yikes, I will premiere the piece in Memphis on the 16th of this month. I am not ready! I need to rehearse; I hate rehearsing!
The dress rehearsal the other day was a relief. A gaggle of some of my favorite colleagues from the Watkinson School sat and watched and laughed and wept. Wow. Just what I wanted. They also gave me some good pointers. Keep Chad highly physical and work on maintaining his high voice. In other words, I need to get in touch with my inner Chad.
The most feedback I am getting is about Tex’ monolog. It is too long and not funny enough. Cutting is harder than creating.
Karen, our creative arts director at school, gave me helpful pointers about transforming from character to character by using a pause and a deep breath release. She agrees that I can shift from character to character without costume changes or props. Cool, because I hate lugging stuff around.
I smiled and nodded through the most of the feedback, but I felt naked in front of everyone during the rehearsal and afterward. How am I going to do this for an audience of strangers???
Before the Premiere in Memphis!
February 16, 2003
2:00 pm. I am so uptight it is hard to breath. The weather is a mix of snow and rain and these Memphians do not travel in bad weather. I hope people show up tonight for the performance. I need a final rehearsal, but I can’t concentrate for more than five minutes at a time.
My dear friend, Jenness took good care of me this weekend in Memphis. She is a wonderful cheerleader. She and our friend, Edward, AKA Star Queen, will be in the audience along with Tim Meadows and other friendly folks who know me from when I lived here.
After the Premiere
10:30 pm PHEW! It is done, and it was great! I remembered all the lines and got some deep laughs. Folks were moved and thrilled. Afterwards, people gave me their feedback. Most was positive (which is all I think I could have handled tonight. I feel vulnerable after sharing so much of myself.)
Some people were confused about the shift to Rev. Meadows. He is an other worldly sort of character that doesn’t fit at first. I like jarring the audience a bit, but this concern came up more than once during the rehearsals. A little confusion in the audience isn’t a bad thing. Well, I will consider it since it’s come up so much.
Ah, it is done, and it is just beginning. I feel hopeful about this piece. I can’t wait to share it with more folks. I don’t regret my time spent in the ex-gay movement. It may have been essential for my development as a self-affirming gay man. The experience also gave me great material to explore. I somehow feel that the performance piece will be healing for me as well as for the audiences who see it. Now I have to write that damn book! I’ll start tomorrow...or maybe the next day.