By Miryam Gordon, SGN A&E Writer
Seattle Pride was graced this year by the inclusion of a special Grand Marshall: San Francisco's favorite Gay writer Armistead Maupin. The irreverent and frank Maupin gave an intimate talk on Saturday to lucky patrons at the Seattle Public Library (focusing on his brand new book Mary Ann in Autumn) and a keynote speech to the throngs at Seattle Center after the Pride Parade made it way there, Sunday afternoon.
Maupin reported to SGN (prior to arriving), 'When the invitation came to participate in Seattle Pride I jumped at the opportunity. I'm happy I'm speaking at both places because the library appearance can be more intimate and leisurely. Pride will be more festive and it's too different types of speaking talking to a large crowd in a park and in an auditorium and I enjoy both types.'
Maupin spoke about the 35 year span of writing his now eight-book opus Tales of the City, the brand-spanking-new musical based on it that opened in June at American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco to huge box office and at least three extensions in the run, and a bit about the current look of politics and California's Prop 8 ban on Gay marriage.
You might not know that one of Maupin's characters, Mona Ramsey, moved to Seattle for a few chapters, at one point. Maupin's been here a number of times and has great affection for the city. He said, 'I have wandered all over the place in literary fashion, sometimes to places I know quite well. Some of the places I've written about in Tales have been places I went on vacation.
'I wanted to be able to call myself a Lesbian, so I went to the Island of Lesbos. I ended up living in a little village called Molyvos which is the family seat of the Dukakis family, and this was before five years before we hired Olympia Dukakis as Mrs. Madrigal. I didn't know at the time (that I would have a connection with the Dukakis family).'
Asked if he could see writing about living in Seattle, he chuckled, 'I'd never want to fake it about Seattle because I'd get called on it immediately.'
Maupin is clearly thrilled about the success of his new musical even though he said he's 'only a sort of senior advisor.' The people behind the musical are book writer Jeff Whitty, the Tony Award-winning book writer for Avenue Q, and music and lyrics by Jason Sellards (AKA Jake Shears) and John Garden (JJ) of the disco and glam rock-inspired pop group Scissor Sisters. Jason Moore (Avenue Q and Shrek) directed.
He said, 'It was very bold of A.C.T. to take it on. It's a $2.5 million production! But the public is really turning out. We've had a lot of people seeing the show two and three times now and there's a high percentage of out-of-town audience members. It makes for a very good feeling in the audience. It's almost interactive. I've seen the finished production nine times now, but I've been watching it develop in workshops for the past five years.'
Musicals are particularly difficult to get right and usually take a number of years to fully ripen. Maupin agreed, 'You don't know what you got until you see it in front of an audience, so there are a lot of incarnations. The creators are amazing guys who know how to throw things out and put things in and not be too vain. It's been an impressive thing to watch. The show runs a little under three hours and it was 40 minutes longer than that during previews. They had to perform a kind of surgery on it to make it shorter.'
And were there some great songs that got cut? He said, 'I could probably sing some ballads I really loved, but they weren't moving the story forward and they had to go. Some were replaced by even better songs.'
Of course there are hopes and possibilities for the musical to play elsewhere, but Maupin said, 'I have a private fantasy that it could go to the West End in London because I think they would get it. I have no idea what's coming up next, but the success might be very encouraging for people who want to produce it elsewhere. The story has worked as a miniseries and a book, and it's universally true, about a bunch of people who are trying to find love and security and home.'
The musical focuses on the era of Maupin's first two books in the series, the pre-AIDS time of 1976 and '77. The big focus was singer and 'orange juice queen' Anita Bryant's anti-Gay screed from Florida. Maupin chose to come out in response to that, as did many others, and he said, 'The sad thing is that a lot of GLBT people don't take action until someone says something ugly about them and then we rise to our own defense. Much like young people today are responding to hate groups like the National Organization for Marriage.
'My husband (Christopher Turner) and I were among the 18,000 couples who were legally married (in California) before Prop 8 banned marriage. They can't take that away from us. We file taxes as a couple. We can't file on the federal level. But the rest of the GLBT people in California have that right taken away. It infuriates me that I have to pay (federal) taxes and I'm not allowed the same rights as my straight brother and sister.
'Half the money given to Prop 8 was from the Mormon Church, which is one of the last institutions that should be passing judgment on marital institutions. The side in support of marriage equality was far too timid and should have been quite clear on a personal level (about) what it meant to millions of Californians.'
Maupin is clear that he is not a huge fan of Democrats over Republicans, necessarily. 'I don't look at any party of being our savior. If it had been up to elected people to make progress we wouldn't have made any at all.'
But he does, of course, feel strongly about the way Republicans have used homophobia to gain political advantage. 'Republicans have a real dilemma on their hands because they've used homophobia to get elected and they're not going to be able to do that much longer. The American public is less and less willing to demonize Gay people. There are still a few pockets in the south where they can play on suspicion and hatred, but most people have openly Gay people as family and friends these days and that's made all the difference.'
And he's glad to see a positive focus in the 'It Gets Better' campaign, started by Dan Savage. 'Dan Savage was brilliant, insofar as he appealed to our better instincts, pointing out our responsibility to lend a hand to young people who are suffering.
'For some reason we have to keep delivering this to every generation. I find that terribly frustrating. There's a song in the musical based on my own coming out letter to my own parents and essentially (the character) says that you're the ones who made me the way I am, so thank you because it's the light and joy of my life. That's my way of saying it gets better - 35 years ago.'