I was very excited that a gay theater in London, Homo Promo, was going to produce a live stream performance of my solo play, Immediate Family. Peter Scott-Pressland, artistic director of the theater, had responded to the pandemic by coming up with the very fine idea of live streaming a whole series of gay plays.
I was thrilled to have English theater people doing the work because I find the acting standard in that country very high. I mean, theater has been a part of their national identity since at least Shakespeare’s time, they devote a lot of attention and money to the art — and it shows.
I wrote Immediate Family in 1983. It is the story of Virginia at the bedside of her comatose wife, Rose. Despite the fact that they’ve been together for 27 years, Virginia has no legal say over Rose’s medical treatment. She doesn’t even have the right to stay past official visiting hours.
This is my play about the right of gay people to marry, which remained out of reach for us until 2015.
This live stream production was directed by Peter. Lucie Spense as Virginia, gave an absolutely fearless performance. I mean, this actress jumped in with both feet. The transformation of my vaguely Midwestern postal worker Virginia into a working-class English butch, was complete, without a false note.
It’s not easy for me to surrender to a performance of one of my own plays. Normally I’ve got a stream of criticism flowing through my head: “Oh, I like how she said that line … Damn, she should be angrier by this point …Gee, I never thought of it that way before, but that’s an interesting interpretation…”
In fact, I remember only one other performance of my own work when I was just there, on the edge of my seat, experiencing life happening in front of me. There is no greater reward for a playwright than to see your words come to full-blooded life through the power of another person’s acting. To be swept up into someone one else’s vision of my vision…. I can’t thank Peter and Lucie enough.
The truth is, even though my greatest desire is that other people produce my plays — deep down inside, I’m shocked and surprised when they actually do it. I mean, I just made the whole thing up! Don’t they realize that? Why should anybody care about it at all?
How thrilling to know that my words can inspire others to bring a world to life. The world that Peter and Lucie create is so vibrant. I am humbled by their faith in my words.
Back in 1983, when I first performed Immediate Family, I really didn’t know if anyone would buy me as a serious playwright and actress. This was my first venture into drama. Up until then, everything I wrote was basically comic. There were serious moments, but only moments. I was very worried that people would scoff at me: “Come on, Terry, you make me laugh, but you can’t pull off the heavy stuff. Stick to what you know!”
And in fact, on that first night at the National Women’s Theater Festival in Santa Cruz, I really missed the audience’s chuckling, chortling, giggling, and guffawing. It had always assured me that I was on the right path, that the audience and I were on this journey together. Then at the curtain call, I simply could not see the audience because the lights were in my eyes. I had no idea how they felt.
It was a small theater, so there was no huge wave of applause. And then I went backstage to await people coming into my dressing room to tell me yay or nay — and nobody came. I knew I had a big fat disaster on my hands. Finally, a good friend came backstage. She told me that the play was a huge hit and I’d received a standing ovation. That unexpected news stopped my downward plunge and lifted me up to the heights.
After performing Immediate Family many times, I came to understand that most people didn’t really want to meet the actress after the show. They wanted to stay with Virginia and savor the ending. So I stopped expecting visitors to my dressing room.
Starting from such doubt, such uncertainty, Immediate Family has become my most performed play. It has been translated into Dutch, French, Flemish, Spanish, and Hebrew. It was broadcast on Dutch prime time network TV. As a solo actress, I have taken it all over the world. And now, it has burst into life in London. What a treat!
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Stream the Homo Promo production of IMMEDIATE FAMILY.