UPSTAIRS the Musical to Debut Nationally in New Orleans

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Dramatic work brings to light one of the deadliest crimes against the gay community in U.S. history.

In 1973, an arsonist set fire to the Up Stairs Lounge, a gay bar in New Orleans, claiming 32 victims. 40 years later, Wayne Self, a native of Natchitoches, Louisiana, brings UPSTAIRS, a dramatic musical in remembrance of these victims, to New Orleans for a national premiere.

UPSTAIRS is set to debut June 20-24, 2013, at the Café Istanbul Theatre, a 150-seat venue in the vanguard of New Orleans’ emerging alternative theater scene. UPSTAIRS’ world premiere coincides with the annual New Orleans LGBTQ Pride Celebration as well as the tragedy’s 40th anniversary, in commemoration of which a special performance will be held on Monday, June 24.

In spite of being one of the deadliest crimes against the gay community in U.S. history, the 1973 fire had faded into obscurity—until now. After receiving a letter from one of the victim’s sons, Self wanted to commemorate the tragedy but struggled to find the proper medium. “If I were a poet, I would have written a poem,” Self said. “If I were a painter, I would have painted a picture. If I were rich, I would have built a monument,” he continued. As a playwright and composer, however, Self chose to write a musical that would honor New Orleans’ musical legacy as well as that of the Up Stairs Lounge, which featured regular cabaret performances and a jazz pianist.

Self has been active in the gay community as a GLAAD media spokesman, a Huffington Post blogger, and as a playwright and composer. He received an MFA in Musical Theatre Performance with an emphasis in Composition from Notre Dame de Namur University and is currently a candidate for a MTS from the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California. He first learned of the 1973 tragedy while working as Music Director for the Metropolitan Community Church, a gay-affirming denomination, whose New Orleans congregation lost many of its members to the fire. As his third musical, UPSTAIRS marries musical numbers to plot in an ode both to the fire’s victims and to the progress made in recent years by the gay community.

Viewers in search of light comedy à la “The Sound of Music” might be disappointed by UPSTAIRS’ more serious tone, although as Self says, “It’s not a comedy, though there are some comedic moments. It’s dark, but it’s also not a ‘dark comedy.’” Rather, UPSTAIRS depicts the people present that night at the Up Stairs Lounge in 1973 and the gay community of the ‘70s, while exploring the universal themes of love, guilt, and forgiveness.

Tickets are available for $35 at http://upstairsmusical.brownpapertickets.com. UPSTAIRS the Musical will play at Café Istanbul from June 20 to June 24, starting at 8:00 p.m. Thursday, 7:00 p.m. Friday through Saturday, 2:00 p.m. Sunday, and 8:00 p.m. Monday.

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Eric Hess

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