Megan Whilden talks OLLI, LGBTQ issues, and the Berkshires

Megan Whilden
Megan Whilden

Tuesday August 16, Noon to 2pm
First Congressional Church of Williamstown
(It’s also a potluck so bring something to share.)

When Megan Whilden was the  Cultural Director for the city of Pittsfield, she did way more than just keep folks entertained. She brought communities together over important issues of the day — and always made sure that all communities were included. She always involved the LGBT community in everything she did, and she still does. For example, she created Out in the Berkshires, a weekend of queer culture and entertainment, and she still moderates the Facebook page Out in the Berkshires.

Now Megan is the Executive Director of OLLI, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Berkshire Community College, where the range of topics for the courses is as varied as the minds of the seniors who attend. She never forgets that diversity is the key to the strength of our communities.

Always a witty and engaging speaker, she will talk about her hopes for the community we share and OLLI’s role in it. OLLI provides educational, social and volunteer opportunities designed especially by and for people fifty years old and better in the greater Berkshires.

See POSTER BOY While It’s Still in Williamstown

I wouldn’t recommend you buy tickets to a show just because it had LGBTQ content. But I have no problem urging you to see Poster Boy, which runs through Sunday, August 7 at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. It is a stirring, nuanced, complex theatre piece – with great music and uniquely defined characters — that searches for explanations for a tragedy, finds no simple answers, but leaves you with a lot of new information to think about as you wonder what the full story was and what it means to your own life.

The musical play is based on the suicide of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers University freshman who jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge in 2010 after his roommate secretly videoed him having a sexual encounter with another man in their dorm room. The roommate watched the video live with friends from another room.

Like most people, I believed that Tyler was a deeply closeted kid who killed himself because he was outed. Everyone I know thought that was the story, too. But as the play tells us, that wasn’t his story at all.

The tale is told through the eyes of members of an online gay chat room that Tyler had visited often since he was a young teenager. Discovering that the nice kid they knew as “cit2mo” was the same young man whose suicide everyone had read about in the papers, they knew from their interaction with him that the simple explanation – the outing of a closet case – wasn’t it at all. They search for a better explanation, and through their search reveal to us and to one another the complexity of who they are as individuals and what finding community through the chat room provided them with.

I don’t want to tell you more about the story. I hope you will find it out by seeing the show. I will tell you that the performances are wonderful, with deftly revealed characterization, terrific singing voices, and the level of complexity you find in real life. The set does nothing more than re-create the feel of a dorm room, which is exactly what it should do, while also being able to capture the feel of people conversing with one another in cyberspace. I haven’t seen lighting play such a prominent and powerful role since Berkshire Theatre Group’s “Tommy” oh so many years ago now.

If you have the time – and can afford the $63 for the ticket – I hope you will go and that you’ll be moved by the show as much as my husband, Howard, and I were. There are still some tickets available. You can get them online at wtfestival.org or through the box office at 413-597-3400.

Incidentally, after connecting with WTF when 14 Rainbow Seniors attended their amazing community production “Orpheus in the Berkshires,” the theatre was kind enough to invite me to join the Poster Boy’s creators in a Lawn Talk before the Sunday show, where I had the chance to tell audience members about the reason we have Rainbow Seniors and how to find us.

The pictures shown here are from a rehearsal (photo credit: Daniel Rader) and from the opening night party, which I deftly crashed.

 

 

 

 

Rainbow Seniors thrill to “Orpheus in the Berkshires,” part of Williamstown Theatre Fest

Getting out and about with Orpheus and his drag queen Sirens
by Ed Sedarbaum

Fourteen members of Rainbow Seniors sat entranced last Sunday as we watched the Williamstown Theatre Festival’s community production of Orpheus in the Berkshires. Added to the thrill of watching a brilliant production of a great musical play was seeing one of our own, Danny Trotter, singing and dancing his heart out in the show along with our personal friends, this writer’s barber, and scads of talented local children.

The word massive usually connotes something solid and unmoving. Yet while this production was massive indeed, it was as light as the breezes and as fluid as a stream, as close to 100 performers drifted in and out and around the huge public space of Greylock Works (the old Cariddi Mill) in North Adams.

The theme of the show was also very local – the heroin epidemic that has been growing here in North County – the product of brainstorming sessions over last winter and spring with community members and organizations.

Obie-winning playwright Lucy Thurber reimagined the Orpheus and Eurydice myth so that the young people of a town much like North Adams are cast into the grip of Hades by taking “ambrosia,” a drug meant for the gods that is deadly to humans. They are rescued by Orpheus (a young woman in this production), who descends into the underworld to win the favor of Hades with her beautiful singing voice, so that he will let her bring the young people back to the arms of their grieving families and friends.

The directing was masterfully helmed by WTF associate artistic director Laura Savia, who always kept the audience’s attention focused on the characters’ movements, even as dozens and dozens of other cast members silently drifted into place for their own massive entrances. The discipline of the performers was amazing to see – especially given how many young children were in the cast. As amazing as everyone’s singing and dancing and acting chops.

The director told us after the show that one bit of business – the Sirens being portrayed by drag queens — actually came from a suggestion made by one of our members when she visited Rainbow Seniors this winter. It’s nice to know we had a hand in the production in addition to Danny’s great singing and dancing. Laura expressed the hope that even more of us will join in on the creation of next year’s production.