For those of you who don't know, I am the Artistic Director of Gay Play Day, an annual festival of LGBTQ theatre here in Toronto. Some think that a festival geared specifically towards LGBTQ playwrights isn't necessary in this day and age but I adamantly disagree. Part of what drives a festival like Gay Play Day is the fact that our youths are still killing themselves because of bullying and homophobia. As long as teenagers continue to commit suicide due to lack of acceptance by their peers and as long as there are countries in the world where same-sex relationships are illegal and punishable by imprisonment or death, then the LGBTQ community must continue to tell our stories.
Rob Salerno's First Day Back is an important piece of theatre, one which I believe should be part of the high school curriculum as required watching.
Part of the magic of theatre is when we, the audience, allow ourselves to suspend our disbelief and be transported into the world that the theatre makers have created for us. From the moment I sat down for the opening night performance of First Day Back, I felt like I was back in high school. I was suddenly a fourteen year old "minor niner" again, crushing on my art teacher (Salerno) who stood at his desk, waiting for the rest of the "students" to arrive.
Salerno plays several characters in this solo piece, which is a reaction to the recent wave of suicides of LGBTQ youths that continue to happen across this great country of ours. It's a thought-provoking yet entertaining piece of theatre that explores bullying and homophobia in our nation's high schools, and not just from the LGBTQ perspective.
The play is well-directed by Steven Gallagher as a piece of immersive theatre, where the different characters in the performance end up standing either in front of or behind you and sometimes actually sit in the empty chair right next to you. (Don't let this scare you. The play doesn't require audience participation.) It's a theatrical device that allows the audience to feel more involved in what each character is saying and/or feeling. And these kids (each played by Salerno) have a lot to say.
You would think that things would be better for today's LGBTQ youth, what with same-sex marriage being legalized, countless celebrities coming out publicly and mainstream television shows featuring a myriad of LGBTQ characters. We keep saying "It gets better!" but are things that much better than when we were in high school? It's easy to become complacent as an LGBTQ individual living in a cosmopolitan city like Toronto. Although we have taken many strides towards acceptance and equality, there are still kids out there killing themselves because they're different.
If I were to grade this piece of theatre, I'd give Mr. Salerno an A minus for his presentation because I feel there should always be room for improvement. Readers, I highly recommend this show.
First Day Back plays at the Storefront Theatre until June 27. Ticket info at tenfootpole.ca