By Amy Rose Capetta
I discovered the joys of theater in middle school for a sad but simple reason: I was quitting dance. At the age of twelve, I was told by my teacher that I couldn’t continue at an advanced level without losing a significant amount of weight. The issue of body policing in the performing arts comes up in my YA novel Echo After Echo, specifically for the main character, Zara, who is not the waifish ingénue people have come to expect. Fortunately, when I chose to leave dance behind, I fell into theater, and despite being a different body type than many of my fellow actresses, I found roles and fell in love with acting.
My new life of green rooms and backstage bonding brought my first queer friends. It’s no real secret that the theater world, from the professional stages in NYC to the drama clubs in most schools are havens for creative and hardworking LGBTQIAP folks. Before I even knew I was queer, I found my people, and they shared my fervor for story-making, a heady mix of love and ambition that still drives me. We collected, we rehearsed, we constructed sets with questionable structural integrity, we held our hearts outside of our bodies night after night, we threw AMAZING cast parties.
For a long time, that felt like enough.
But as production after production went by, a problem became painfully clear to me: although these stories were being directed and designed and acted by lots of queer people, they were never about us. Part of this was due to the limited canon most theaters worked from, while another was the assumption of straight audiences. I can count the number of canonically LGBTQIAP characters in the dozens and dozens of plays I performed in on one hand. Sometimes we were thrown a few precious scraps of subtext: I relished the Olivia and Viola scenes in Twelfth Night and dreamed of a version where the ladies forgot about Orsino and ruled Illyria together. When I reached college, directors became bolder, inserting queerness into their productions even when it wasn’t in the text. It was almost never in the text. And in the rare cases when it was, things got tragic. Fast. *In a dozen years of constant auditioning, I ran into no joyfully queer comedies, no gorgeous Sapphic verse plays, maybe two gay characters in musicals (seriously??) and definitely no love stories with happy endings.
When I sat down to write a book set in the NYC theater world, I knew the play being performed would be a classical, lauded boy-girl love story. But the real love story would be unfolding between two girls, one an actress and the other a talented young designer. I wanted to push back against the expectation that we’ve been given that truly epic love stories, the ones we should put under the brightest lights and tell time and time again, all look the same. I wanted queer people to see a little bit of themselves, finally onstage.
*I’m now aware that a radical and fantastic queer theater has been alive for a long time, but when I was a teenager it didn’t exist in a way that was accessible to LGBTQIAP young people across the country. I definitely hope that’s changing!
Amy Rose Capetta is the author of Echo After Echo, a queer love story wrapped in a murder mystery and set on Broadway, out from Candlewick on October 10. Her five other forthcoming novels all feature queer protagonists, including two co-written with her girlfriend Cori McCarthy, who she met when they were earning MFAs in writing for children and young adults from VCFA. Amy Rose will be a faculty member for the first-of-its-kind Rainbow Writers Workshop at the Writing Barn in Austin, Texas next spring. You can find her online @amyrosecapetta or on her website amyrosecapetta.com. She lives in the magical land of Vermont.