Saturday, August 21, 2004

Gay Shakespeare roils town

SHELBURNE - For a summer project, 16-year-old Colleen Rauch came up with the idea of updating Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," with two women playing the lovers.

She and Jesse Nichols and Jenna Kuklinski, all three students at Mohawk Trail Regional High School, wrote and directed "Queer Side Story," performed this week in Memorial Theater, a historic venue on the top floor of Town Hall.

Rauch said the project had lessons that well reflected prevailing thought in the county - that the rights of everyone have to be respected. She said she found out differently, however, in the course of preparing the production.

"I didn't think there was a lot of homophobia around, but there is," she said yesterday, after the play finished its three-performance run.

The play had a cast of 19, with 23 teen-agers in all playing roles, on or behind the stage. At the beginning of summer they showed up to participate, learning of the project by word of mouth and through the Franklin County Youth Council and its Summer Theater Experimental Project.

Not all those who started on the project remained with it.

Rauch said that in three cases, a project member was plucked by a parent from the production.
"Their parents were not cool with the theme of the play," she said.

"These parents were very much not OK with homosexuality and were against gay marriage," said Rauch, who was unsuccessful in getting the three teen-agers to be allowed to stay.

She declined to identify the parents.

Along with having the two leads be female, "Queer Side Story" differs from "Romeo and Juliet" in that the chief "bad guy" is portrayed as homophobic and transgendered at the same time.

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