7 Stages Theatre: 40 Years of Opening Dialogues and Starting Conversations
by Noah Chen
When they founded 7 Stages Theatre in 1979, Del Hamilton and Faye Allen had a mission to bring challenging, thoughtful and political performances to the stage. Now celebrating 40 years of productions, the theater has been home to numerous artists and voices dedicated to spreading awareness of all manner of social issues.
In 2014, Hamilton, who was artistic director, passed the reins to Heidi Howard, who had been education director and production manager. The theater’s mission remained unchanged.
“The mission is focusing on social, political and spiritual content in contemporary culture,” says Howard. “For 40 years, we have held on to that mission.” Her time as educational director, however, gave her insight into how to expand it.
“What happens around our work is vital conversation,” Howard says. “Vital conversation is what has been driving not only my work as education director, but my programming as an artistic leader.”
She is quick to point out that 7 Stages talks about some hard topics: “Let’s talk about LGBTQ issues; let’s talk about racism; let’s do a show that brings these issues up. But what do we do when the curtain comes down? If we’re talking about some real stuff, we want to talk about it and connect in the community.” To further the conversation, Howard launched a new program, The Art of Activism. For every show the theater produces, it provides a free brunch at which community members can talk about the themes of the production.
“When we get together as artists and community members, and we share food together, we start digging deep and talking about the real things. [We are] addressing things with vulnerability and compassion, and looking at ways to really bring about change,” Howard says.
An example of the theater’s controversial programming is Angry Fags, which had its world premiere at 7 Stages in 2013 but has been revised and updated for an upcoming production scheduled to open on March 28. Self-identified gay man Topher Payne wrote the play in 2012 and felt it needed to be “updated for the Trump era.”
7 Stages was an “easy choice of venue,” says Payne. “Their absolute lack of fear in sparking a conversation can be very inspiring for a writer. Because they’re not afraid of pushing on some sore spots for people for the sake of opening a dialogue, it makes you a little bolder as an artist.”
The play centers around two platonic gay male friends who become domestic terrorists after a homophobic hate crime affects a friend of theirs. It polarized its audiences and netted what Payne calls “some of the best and worst reviews” of his life.