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May 30th, 2017

Vermont Pride Theater puts on Cyrano de Bergerac tale with a twist

From left to right:  Kieran Verret (U-32), Gabriella Atkinson (Sharon Academy), Kira Dellhagen, (Randolph UHS), Joshua Huffman (RUHS), Altan Cross and Orlando Whitcomb-Worden (U-32) rehearse their lines for the upcoming staged reading of “M or F?” at Chandler Music Hall in Randolph.

From left to right: Kieran Verret (U-32), Gabriella Atkinson (Sharon Academy), Kira Dellhagen, (Randolph UHS), Joshua Huffman (RUHS), Altan Cross and Orlando Whitcomb-Worden (U-32) rehearse their lines for the upcoming staged reading of “M or F?” at Chandler Music Hall in Randolph.

By Aaron Retherford

When the topic of homosexuality is approached in theater, oftentimes serious themes of bullying or HIV permeate throughout the emotional performances. Vermont Pride Theater at Chandler in Randolph is about to put on a performance with a more light-hearted approach.

On Saturday, Jan. 24, Chandler Music Hall will host a staged reading of “M or F?” at 7 p.m.

The story, written by Chris Tebbetts of Hinesburg, Vermont and Lisa Papademetriou of Northampton, Massachusetts, is a modern day telling of the Cyrano de Bergerac tale. But there’s a twist. The heroine, Frannie, is the character with the fear of speaking to the object of her affection. The hero, Frannie’s gay best friend Marcus, is her muse and voice through online chatting. Will the object of Frannie’s affections fall in love with “M” (Marcus) or “F” (Frannie)?

“What I like about this story is it talks about all these issues like it’s normal and like it’s part of high school life,” the show’s director, Cher Laston, said. “These kids are comfortable with who they are. They’re exploring all of the growing up issues that every young teen does. It just has that little extra flavor that it’s focused. It brings to light LGBT issues in a really positive way. But they’re not abnormal. There’s no bullying. They talk about insensitivities, but they don’t make them the focus of the story.

“It’s sort of an ‘every teen’ play. Any young person reading the book is going to see themselves in one of the characters.”

There are five adults in the cast, and the rest are students from area high schools. The majority of students come from Randolph Union High School, three attend U-32, and the remainder go to Sharon Academy in northern Windsor County.

Because the bulk of the cast are high school students, money raised by the performance will be split between the three schools to be used by LGBT clubs. Tickets are $12 for adults and $6 for students.

Laston’s first experience with the Vermont Pride Theater was last summer when she was asked to direct a staged reading of “October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard”, which she described as the highlight of her directing career. Laston agreed to direct this performance without seeing any sort of script and said it’s been a whirlwind. During a six-week writing process, the script underwent major edits from playwright Gene Heinrich, and two auditions were held because initially only two people showed up to audition for parts in the 17-member cast.

“It was just really fun, the whole process of watching the script unfold and casting the show as we went,” Laston said.

Saturday night’s performance will be used as a workshop in hopes of determining what works and what doesn’t. The script will continue to evolve with the goal of it becoming published and turned into a full-blown play. There will also be a post-performance audience talkback in which Tebbetts will take part.

So why take a risk and watch a staged reading?

Laston said the reason why people should come out for the performance isn’t just for the story, although that’s a good enough reason. Attendees will see a play in its infancy. The cast will only have had seven rehearsals and the script needed to be reworked twice during the process.

“This is the pure essence of what theatre is all about: taking safe risks, creating something new, sharing those gifts with an audience with the sincere hope that minds will be expanded, and hearts will be touched,” Laston said. “We create and suffer our creations into being because we live to tell stories of real people about real issues.”

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