In honor of our 20th anniversary, we are reflecting on some of our most popular and pivotal shows from the last two decades. This week, we asked AFT Artistic Associate Scott Duff to reflect on his experience as a cast member of AFT’s very first show, DREAM BOY. Read on to learn more and stay tuned as we share AFT history every week throughout our 20th Anniversary campaign!
In the summer of 1996, About Face Theatre presented our fledgling play, DREAM BOY (also remounted in 1998.) The play was an adaptation of the book of the same name by Jim Grimsley who would become a long-time partner for About Face through NTARP (National Theater Artists in Residence Program). Grimsley also helped to develop the New Works festival that would support the creation of shows including PULP. AFT co-founders Eric Rosen and Kyle Hall combined the Northwestern University (and Chicago) tradition of adapting literature for the stage with their desire to tell more nuanced and complex stories from the LGBT community.
The show played for 7 weeks at the Eclipse Theatre in Bucktown (which burned down shortly after the run), a tiny 40 seat theatre that cast member and AFT Artist Associate Scott Duff recalls didn’t even have a stage left entrance. Audiences reacted to the work as if “they’d never seen anything like that before,” explains Duff. And frankly, they hadn’t. About Face was the first theatre company to state outright the intent to tell gay stories right in the mission statement.
DREAM BOY received critical acclaim (which Duff remembers taking to Kinkos to have blown up and put on foam core to display in the windows of the tiny performance space.) With a wave of support from the LGBT press and community as well as the greater theater community, AFT took off and had a theatre in the Jane Addams Hull House within nine months.
“It was awesome. It felt like we were at the beginning of something really special. It felt scary and exciting and it just struck a chord. It was like the perfect storm. It was right before Ellen. LGBT issues were coming to the forefront. Visibility was a huge thing. Things were still crazy from the AIDS crisis and that really galvanized the community. And I think it was because of the AIDS crisis that people in Chicago wanted to see more than just the ‘naked plays.'” – Scott Duff
DREAM BOY was ambitious, gutsy and a bold step to represent serious and relevant LGBT issues on stage. It solidified the company’s unique voice in the Chicago theater community – a voice we’ve expanded, challenged and stood by the importance of now for 20 years. In honor of this milestone anniversary, we will be presenting 4 retrospective plays in our OUT FRONT series, including a reading of DREAM BOY! Join us this fall and help us to continue bringing you this groundbreaking work by helping us reach our goal of raising $25,000 by August 31st in support of our 20th season!