What happened at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village on June 28, 1969—when police raided a gay bar and the patrons fought back—was the original queer occupation. That’s part of the idea of The Theater Offensive’s 99% Stone, a street theater production that weaves together the story of the spontaneous Stonewall Uprising and today’s Occupy movement.
The play, written by Letta Neely, tells the story of a woman, a “diehard activist” named Della, who was there for the original Stonewall Uprising, which is regarded as the defining event of the start of the gay rights movement. Della visits an Occupy protest and meets a photographer, Melodious. “And as she takes pictures of [Della] it becomes unraveled that she was part of the original rebellion,” says Neely. Della shares her story, and the play shifts between the Occupied present to flashbacks of Stonewall.
The play started out focusing on Stonewall, but as the Occupy movement surfaced last year an obvious connection emerged, says Neely.
“Change takes a lot of time. But you can feel it, and you need to acknowledge things that happened during the Stonewall time, that era—that there is an ability for all of us to be in the same place and not hurt each other and actually talk and have that connection.”
Neely researched the Stonewall Uprising by studying the kind of language protestors would have used during that time period (there were different names for sexual activities or sexual parts, for example), and researched what kind of people lived in that neighborhood and what the neighborhood looked like, all of which influenced the script and the production.
Melissa Li composed and wrote the musical’s three original songs. She found inspiration for them, she says, by looking at the list of songs that were playing on the jukebox the night of the uprising: Diana Ross & The Supremes, The Isley Brothers, The Temptations.
“I listened to a lot of music from that time period, studied it, and tried to imitate or reinvent that style of music.”
The small cast and short performance time (under 30 minutes) means that 99% Stone can pop up in all sorts of venues, Li says. It’s also a workshop production, so audience members can offer critique and comments following the show.
Laura Godtfredsen was at a club a few blocks away from the Stonewall Inn when the riots broke out. At the time of the Uprising she was married and had children, and as a transgender woman, she didn’t feel comfortable risking her family’s safety and did not get directly involved with the riots.
“I was married and I lived in fear. The people involved in the uprising, they had to be out, they had no choice. To them, it was do or die.”
She elaborated further: “For those transgendered women who participated in the riots, they were already out; there was no hiding. And that made them stronger in their determination to resist the police, because they had less to lose than those who were married with children or who had important jobs. Being in drag made them highly visible, unlike gay men who could deny they were gay.”
While Stonewall is often cited as the beginning of the gay rights movement, Godtfredsen points out that it was just that—the beginning.
“Things didn’t get better after Stonewall,” she says. “They might have gotten better in parts of New York or other parts of the country. It wasn’t until the ‘80s that things started to really change, and even then I would only go to certain places.”
There’s still a lot of work to be done today, Godtfredsen says, and the only way the gay rights movement, or the Occupy movement, or any rights campaign is going to progress further is when people demand it.
“No one ever gave anyone rights, ever. From the beginning of this republic, no one ever gave anyone the right to vote, to speak, to write. They took it. They went and took it. And that’s the only way this is going to happen.”
NEIGHBORHOOD PRIDE TOUR
PRESENTED BY THE THEATER OFFENSIVE
THU 6.7.12-THU 6.21.12
TIMES VARY/ALL AGES/FREE