Giving Shakespeare an update has become something of a theme in town this year. The latest example: Stonewall Youth's annual drag show, which this year is based on the classic plot of "Romeo and Juliet" and "West Side Story."
But this production — part musical, part drag show — is not by any stretch a typical Shakespeare adaptation.
“It’s so fun,” said Sarah Adams, who is directing the show. “It’s such a campy piece of theater. It has some great messages and a sophomoric sense of humor.”
The dialogue is all original, written by Adams and the youth, and the music includes both original pieces by Kimya Dawson and TV Teens and pre-recorded pop by the likes of Beyonce, Queen and Lady Gaga.
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The rival gangs — inspired by Jets and Sharks in “West Side” — are the Drag Kings and the Drag Queens, and the setting is during the first two days of the Stonewall riots, which marked the beginning of the gay rights movement.
Stonewall Youth is named for that historic uprising, which happened in 1969 at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, N.Y.
“It was great for the kids to uncover what the event was really like,” Adams said. She pointed out that many of those involved in the riots were youth, some of them homeless. “It’s a really powerful history for the kids to explore.”
While the play is light and campy, it does take a look at the difficulties gays and lesbians faced in the ’60s, when gay bars were routinely raided and cross-dressing was illegal. “It was really an unsafe climate to be gay,” the director said.
“We think of drag queens today as being these hyper-made-up people who have spent four hours getting ready,” she added. “At that time, they were called ‘flame queens’ because they had to be able to get dressed in a flash so they could take their female clothes off before they got back on the train.”
“It’s a pretty powerful program,” said Colleen Dixon, Stonewall’s executive director. “It goes so much beyond being a drag show.”
The annual event, which is the one big public program the organization does each year, started out as a drag show but in the past few years it has evolved into a night of original theater.
“The kids created their own characters and selected songs that were interesting to them,” said Adams, who has put on a number of avant-garde variety shows and is making her directorial debut with this production.
“They helped me develop the script through improvisation and brainstorming,” she said. “Sometimes, I was taking down exactly what would come out of the improvisation.”
Stonewall Youth focuses on providing support for youths who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual. It aims to promote social justice and to encourage youth to examine and work against oppression.
“A lot of what we do is support groups behind closed doors,” Dixon said. “This is one of the only events that Stonewall Youth holds that the community can participate in. The community can show up and see what youth empowerment looks like on the stage.”
And show up they do: The event usually comes close to filling Capitol Theater. Tickets are available only at the door, and the line to purchase them is long.
“People who don’t get a lot of support in their lives are getting up on the stage in front of 700 people,” Dixon said. “They’re getting support; they’re getting applause. That’s really a good thing.”
'Queer Side Story'
What: Stonewall Youth, the organization that works to empower gay, lesbian, bisexual, transexual and questioning youth, presents its annual drag show, which this year is a full-length musical including original music by Kimya Dawson and TV Teens.
When: 7 p.m. Saturday. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Capitol Theater, 206 Fifth Ave. S.E., Olympia
Tickets: $10-$25 sliding scale, $5 for youths
More information: 360-705-2738 or www.stonewall youth.org