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Taking A Page From The Past In ‘Dear ONE

Diversionary Theatre’s newest Teen-Versionary production takes place during SD Pride with outdoor performances of Joshua Irving Gershick’s 2012 play set in midcentury queer America.

The cast of

Credit: Allison Goetzman

Above: The cast of "Dear ONE" relax during a rehearsal at St. Paul's Episcopal Church. Performances take place on Saturday, July 17, 2021 at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.

When Skyler Sullivan started developing Teen-Versionary at Diversionary Theatre in 2017, the plan was simple. "Which was to create a brave and safe space for LGBTQ+ teens — so that would be 13 to 19 — a place where they could come and feel good about themselves, and also work on a piece of queer theater," Sullivan said.

Each year, the program welcomes teenagers of all experience levels into a two-week long intensive summer theatrical acting program, working on a relevant new play.


How to attend:

'Dear ONE' at Pride: Saturday, July 17, 2021 at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Free, but reservations recommended. 2728 Sixth Ave., Hillcrest.

Spirit of Stonewall Rally: Friday, July 16 at 6 p.m. at the Hillcrest Pride Flag.

For more San Diego Pride events, check the schedule here.

This year's program culminates in two free performances on Saturday, July 17, 2021 at 1 and 4 p.m. in the outdoor courtyard at St. Paul's Cathedral. The play is "Dear ONE: Love And Longing In Midcentury Queer America" by Joshua Irving Gershick.

Gershick, a trans playwright, recently told Broadway World that he wrote the play in a single month in the fall of 2012, after the ONE Archives Foundation requested a performance piece using newly discovered texts in the archive.

The new discoveries were letters sent in by readers to ONE Magazine. The LA-based magazine was dedicated to sharing stories, news, reviews, fiction and letters, and was published monthly between 1953 and 1967.

"It was the first openly gay and lesbian periodical in the United States," Sullivan said. "These letters kind of range from people who are looking for love and friendship, to people who need to vent anger."

"Dear ONE" is classified as nonfiction, pulling together 36 of the letters as brief monologues. The epistolary format offers the smallest glimpse into each letter writer's life and suggestions of their characters, and the letters come from all across the globe, over the span of the publication's 14-year run.

There are common threads, though.

"One of the main themes that just keeps popping up for me is loneliness. At this time there were not a whole lot of places to openly go meet or connect with other people, and when this magazine came out it really provided a lifeline for the LGBTQ community, where they could start to hear stories about people who are dealing with issues that they were dealing with," Sullivan said. "Some of these themes, coming out of COVID, are perfectly timed because we all now have a different sense of what it means to be alone."

Plus, the playwright included six responses from the magazine's editor, read directly after the letter. The editor is played by a single person, one of the "elders" in the cast — Diversionary's own Frankie Alicea-Ford.

Many of the letters express anger, and some seek specific advice. In one, Sullivan said, the writer asks if "it's right for a homosexual to be loved."

In another, a mother describes how she is opening up her home to support more gay youth like her son — clumsily yet genuinely trying to describe a role she didn't yet have a name for: allyship.

"Some of these letters sound like they could have been written right now. When you look at the date stamp on it, it's in the '50s," Sullivan said. "Some of them are almost universal in the way that they talk about love or hate."

In the cast of 15, 12 are teens and three are adults, or "elders" as Sullivan describes them. They hope this may foster curiosity, dialogue and understanding among the intergenerational cast.

"A lot of times, when people think about LGBTQ history, it starts with Stonewall which was 1969. But there was so much activism going on before that period. And this helps to outline some of that within our history of the LGBTQ community," Sullivan said.

The two performances on Saturday are Diversionary's theatrical contributions to San Diego Pride 2021, but the company's visionary leader will also be honored on Friday evening at the Spirit of Stonewall Rally.

Photo credit: Courtesy of San Diego Pride

Diversionary Theatre executive artistic director Matt Morrow in an undated photo. Morrow will be honored at the Spirit of Stonewall Rally on July 16, 2021.

San Diego Pride will present the first annual Larry T. Baza Arts and Culture Award to Matt Morrow, Diversionary Theatre's executive artistic director. The award is named in honor of the late Baza, an artist, advocate and activist who had worked with San Diego Pride for decades. Baza died in February due to COVID.

"[Baza] is a titan in the art world, and he really set us on a path to incorporate art and advocacy hand-in-hand, and he instilled that into this organization really, truly as our first lesson," said Fernando López, executive director of San Diego Pride.

RELATED: San Diego Pride: Hybrid Events, Full-Strength Heart

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