Playwright Kathleen Warnock

The fourth annual GayFest!, a festival of LGBT theater, lights up Philadelphia, August 5-23.

Spanning three weeks, three theatres, and with three special events, four mainstage plays, and five “one-night stand” variety performances, GayFest! is set to be the highlight of the summer season in Philadelphia, and the city’s only LGBT theatre festival. The lesbian highlight of the main stage is sure to be the Philadelphia premiere of Some Are People by lesbian playwright and author Kathleen Warnock.

Set during a Provincetown summer, Tommy (aka the drag queen Miss Fitt) and his lesbian landlady have their lives transformed by a young woman who drifts into town like so many “summer people.”

LOTL caught up with the playwright Kathleen Warnock and the lead Amber Orion.

Kathleen, Some Are People sounds fascinating and atmospheric. What was the inspiration for the play?

It actually started as a 10-minute piece, written for a 24-hour festival at Wings Theater in NYC. This is the kind of fun and masochistic event theatre folk put themselves through where you draw the names of your actors and directors out of a hat, have certain words or phrases you have to use, and…go.

You go home, write the play, bring it in the next morning, and they rehearse it all day and you do it that night. So I wrote a piece called “Off Season,” set in Provincetown, in part because one of my words was “sand.” I got an actress I’d worked with before (Karen Stanion), so I wrote to her strengths.

The play went off well, and I felt like I could do more with it. I talked with Karen a bit, and after trying different things, realized that “Off Season” is the LAST scene of the play, and once I worked out what had taken place before, was able to write the whole thing as a long one-act. Karen Station stayed in the mix when we did it in New York City and in Dublin, Ireland.

What is it about Provincetown that you find intriguing and dramatic? 

Provincetown really is the End of Land…that is, a tiny finger of a sandbar out in the Atlantic, surrounded on three sides by water…where artists and queers and wash ashore have congregated for centuries. The light is beautiful, the people are fierce (and kind), and while it can be hard to make a living, you can invent the life you want for yourself. I sometimes call it the Best of Small Town America (with drag queens).

Which playwright has influenced you the most and how would you describe your style?

So many…and I’m constantly being influenced by new plays. While my theatrical voice is quite different from hers, my friend and mentor Tina Howe has taught me the value of writing with an open heart and being honest with emotions you might prefer not to own, like anger and shame.

She’s also taught me a lot about structure and the rhythm of a play. Other folks whose work inspires me/influences me include Lucy Thurber, the Five Lesbian Brothers (Lisa Kron, Moe Angeles, Babs Davy, Peg Healy & Dominique Dibbell), and especially the earlier work of Beth Henley.

Are you any of the characters in the play?

All of them, of course. However, Karen Stanion really was the inspiration for Lydia; a wonderful drag karaoke hostess named Dana Denzel at Governor Bradford in Ptown put me on the path to the character Miss Fitt, and Anna has certain qualities of my own wife, who is not a tattoo artist or massage therapist, though I tried very hard to get her to go to massage school.

I mostly know your work as an editor of erotica. Are Some Are People sexy?  

Why write the damn play if it’s not? Actually, I love seeing real intimacy on stage…whether it’s moments where people are barely touching, or when they are in full-body contact. Especially when that intimacy leads to moments of grace and comfort. There’s a strong chance you will see women kissing when you go to one of my plays.

Amber, describe your character in Some Are People.

I play Anna, a lesbian tattoo artist/massage therapist/bouncer. She owns a house in Provincetown and rents a room to her friend Tommy (who is known in drag as Miss Fitt), as well as to “summer people” who are there only for the season.

What drew you to the role and what is it you like about Anna?

I was attracted to Anna’s perseverance. She not only survived a devastating accident, but she also thrived by finding something positive in it and used that to move forward with her life. I admire people who don’t give up when their world gets turned upside down.

What do you share in common with her?

I feel I share Anna’s ability to read people. Like her, I am a good observer and tend to notice things other people don’t. That, combined with a fair amount of intuition, really helps me as an actor!

Why is it important that we continue to have LGBT theatre festivals such as GayFest?

It’s important because, quite simply, our stories need to be told. I’ve always felt that the biggest threat to our community is invisibility. That’s where ignorance is born.

Theatre is a wonderful way to communicate our realities because with it we can show so many dimensions at once, and in a way that can be touching, or funny, entertaining, thought-provoking. It has the power to connect with others (inside the community as well as outside of it) in a way that simply talking often lacks. Show and tell is nowhere near as engrossing without the “show.”