by MADALYN JOHNSON, Asst. A&E Editor
LGBTQ+ advocacy is a big part of what makes New York City one of the most diverse and celebrated cities in the United States. Manhattan College being found on that city, students and faculty stress the value of acceptance and making everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, feel part of the Jasper community.
The Music and Theater Department of the college has emphasized this idea of acceptance and allowing students to freely express who they are through the craft of performing arts. Clubs and organizations part of this department like Scatterbomb and MC Players associate their job as performers, to diversify their shows and express all types of characters, with coming to terms about sexuality.
Jenn Bueti is a junior and is double majoring in adolescent education and English, she is also a theater minor. A long participant and member of Scatterbomb, Bueti feels broadening the theater community to represent and welcome all types of people is crucial.
“I think any theater company or production is very inclusive because the whole point of acting is you need diversity and you need other people’s opinions and perspectives on things and so that’s the same with sexual orientation too,” said Bueti.
Through acting, Bueti explained the theater clubs at Manhattan College are determined to reach out to all types of students and just like a student joining a new club and connecting with an entirely different group of people, the thought of coming out to others can as well be uncomforting and intimidating.
“Players try to just reach different people who feel they normally wouldn’t do this kind of thing and know that like theater and improv is scary sometimes and coming to terms to being in the community can be scary and we’re all just going through it together. It’s like a saying, ‘theater is experimental’. In every sense of the term, people should feel free to come and try to express themselves and find out how with that platform.”
Regarding the resources available for LGBTQ+ students on campus that represent a Lasallian value the school constantly prides themselves on, acceptance, Bueti is pleased to see new centers become installed but wants to see Manhattan College open their horizons and progressively have greater LGBTQ+ representation in terms of organizations provided on campus.
“I think lately we have been trying to do that like with the women and gender center, the multicultural center but those are so pushed off into Kelly like we don’t have a space here on main campus. That’s saying get more representation on campus but the question is how? I think what we’ve been doing so far is people that are trying to make a space at the table for those people from that community is on the rise lately.”
Bueti’s dedication to the performing arts and being a part of the theater company and improvisational group at Manhattan College has allowed her to learn not only how to better perform as an actor, but why trying new things can help someone determine who they are sexually and overall as a person.
“For me, I’m involved in a lot of different programs besides players and scatterbomb, and those have helped me shaped other parts of my identity too rather than just sexual orientation. So if they’re not even comfortable doing those two things, try something, put yourself out there, meet somebody, and you’ll have a connection and knowing you aren’t alone in what you’re thinking is very important.”
James Caldwell (JRC), director of Manhattan College Players, can also relate to various gender definitions and sexualities being diversified and demonstrated in theater, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
“As a gay person, I never once had a fear of expressing who I am. That’s never been once an issue in my professional, theatrical life and I know in other roams it would be,” said JRC.
JRC believes theater can be a safe environment for actors to simply be themselves despite their being a history of gender based discrimination in the theater community.
“Theater has always been most accepting place for everyone but we know that historically that’s not true. We know that women were not allowed to perform for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years. I think in modern times, in our times, it’s always been a place for anyone who thinks they’re on the outside of the mainstream.”
Growing up in the midwest, JRC went to Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois to major in musical theater performance. He then finished his undergraduate degree at C.W. Post of Long Island University where he received a BFA in acting training and after earned an MFA in playwriting at Columbia University. Through engaging in theater, JRC explained he’s always felt comfortable being himself and expressing his sexuality even after being raised in an Amish community in a small town of North Indiana.
“I grew up in the midwest in the 90s and I started going to college around late 90s, early 2000s. Even there, in the midwest, which is traditionally thought as more of a conservative area, in the theater department at the big school I went to I finally felt safe,” JRC shared. “I finally felt like ‘oh my gosh, know who I am and I can express that freely’. Whether it’s the little school I went to in Illinois or the undergrad I went to out on Long Island or Columbia, I always felt free to be myself.”
As for sexuality being implemented in the performing arts, JRC argues that sexual identity plays a critical role in discovering what a student can showcase through their acting but doesn’t generally sum up what the purpose of theater is and why it is performed.
“A person’s identity when participating in theater is obviously important because it determines in many ways what they are able to express through acting, through writing, through design. However as people gather to make theater, the particulars of someone’s identity don’t really matter, it’s not something we really talk about. Not because we’re afraid to but our goal here is to put on a good play.”
Gabby Kasper is a senior who is double majoring in English and philosophy who also greatly agrees with the fact that theater was a major component in helping her feel confident about her sexuality.
“I was out before I came to college but I do think that my experiences in theater groups in high school were a big reason why I was able to feel comfortable with my sexuality,” Kasper shared.
Kasper’s view on theater being a platform where people of different sexualities can express themselves and feel happy with who they are is that even though the craft can help students, more acceptance and understanding needs to come from Manhattan College as a whole.
“I think it is super imporant that we don’t see the acceptance of queer people as something siloed to the theater or to the LGBTQ+ club. This is work that we all need to be doing on campus, we all need to be willing to have these conversations,” Kasper said. “I also really think that it’s wrong to think that theater is a completely safe space for all queer people, there is still a lot of work to be done inside all theatrical communities as well as in the world at large.”
The idea of theater changing people’s perceptions about people in the LGBTQ+ community Kasper feels negatively about for the performing arts and artistic expression should not contribute to the change that allows people who classify themselves with different gender identities to be truly accepted.
“If anything they are just going to see queer people as like a novelty and a source of entertainment, ignoring the actual human behind the performance. I don’t mean to sound pessimistic because I do believe that there is a lot that the theater can do in terms of the fight for acceptance, but I think that this is work that must be done primarily outside of the theater so that when people enter the theater they are doing so with a truly accepting mind.”
Megan Lawlor is a Secondary/Special Education major also minoring in theater and feels more optimistic about the idea of LGBTQ+ representation in theater.
“By engaging with stories about people different than ourselves, we get to see the world from another perspective and gain a deeper understanding of each other. For people who identify as LGBTQ+, we get to see the representation of ourselves onstage which can deeply impact how we view ourselves. And cisgender heterosexuals get the chance to see a different portrayal of the LGBTQ+ community that might not fit into their idea of what it is, making them reexamine their beliefs,” said Lawlor.
Lawlor is another member of MC Players who found theater to be a gateway to being open about her sexual orientation to other students on campus notwithstanding having trouble being open about it at home. Through Players, Lawlor describes that she embraced who she was in an atmosphere where some members were queer themselves and openly accepting of anyone who identified themselves as so.
“I hadn’t come out as bisexual to many people back home but I felt like I was ready to come into my own as a bisexual woman,” Lawlor said. “It was actually my friends I met through Players that I came out to first. I knew that they were all open-minded and would accept me just the same as if I were straight. I have met many of my queer friends on campus by doing productions with Players.”
In addition to Manhattan College’s theater program warmly welcoming its members for who they are sexualy, Lawlor, among other MC students of the LGBTQ+ community, believes there is still room for achievement.
“I think that one of the biggest things that Manhattan College needs to work on to show more support for the LGBTQ+ community is to take an active effort in promoting LGBTQ+ acceptance on campus. While the atmosphere is fairly open towards LGBTQ+ individuals, many people do not feel welcomed here. I think the efforts of the LGBT+ club on campus have been very well received this year with their talk about LGBTQ+ individuals and the church. I’d like to see more things like that in the future.”