"Lesbians Won't Show Up!" Margery Kreitman on Finding Community in Comedy and the Classifieds
Lesbian actor and playwright seeks theater for good, clean collaboration. Send production history please.
A well-worded personal ad in the back pages of a newspaper was once the way for queer folks to find love. It was the Tinder of the nineties. On the quest for a girlfriend, Margery Kreitman wrote ad after ad only to encounter a never-ending stream of bad dates, ranging from a self-declared emotional iceberg to a woman scarred from an affair with her psychotherapist.
Stinging with the rejection of a recent breakup, the now acclaimed actor and playwright decided to merge her two passions into her first solo performance, The Phenomenal Dread of Intimacy. Equipped with nothing but a microphone and the electric pulse of a crowd of strangers at 848 Divisadero, Kreitman transformed her private pain into a collective catharsis. “I just remember I got up there and people laughed a lot...and I had a good time, even though I was probably nervous about it, but as soon as they started laughing and really enjoying it...I was just hooked.”
Over her thirty year career Kreitman’s deadpan comedy has taken her from coast to coast. Her plays and solo shows have appeared at Theatre Rhinoceros, Exit Theatre, Fringe Festivals, Thick House Theater, Z Below, The Marsh, United Solo Festival, Stonewall Repertory Theater, Brava, NOHSpace, Jon Sims, The Phoenix Theater, Noh Space, CounterPulse, StageWerx, The Marsh, Magic Theatre, Tides Theater, Venue 9 (Climate), SAFEhouseARTS, Bindlestiff, The Solo Mio Festival, ODC, Shelton Theater, Royce Gallery, New Conservatory Theater, 848 Divisadero and The Plush Room. To date, 3Girls Theatre has presented six of her solo shows in the Salon Series, and her serio-comic monologue Kicking Facebook was a finalist for the 2015 3GT Festival Prize.
On and offstage, Kreitman's irreverence and incisive observations make her a clever miner of the comedy within everyday life. In Kicking Facebook, which tells the story of her love/hate relationship with social media, Kreitman says, "I live my life online and vicariously, posting photos of birds to my 789 Facebook friends as if I were a bird watcher in the wild." When it comes to hunting material for her work, Kreitman truly is as clever as a bird of prey. During a month-long meditation retreat, Kreitman compiled secret notes in between eating meditations (aka lunch) and dharma discussions. From the scribbles within her hidden notebooks emerged a semi-autobiographical solo show, Retreat: The Battle Within. Retreat places frank observations about the inside of a silent meditation retreat alongside her awareness of her own neuroses. Kreitman’s exploration of her psychological scars is also seen in her earlier work, Home Plate. Kreitman plays her ten year-old self pitching in the 1956 World Series alongside her hero, Don Larsen, while using her mother’s newly reupholstered velvet chair as her catcher. “Home Plate is about family and growing up but it's really about being a child in the family, and this sense of being alone. And I think that doesn't go away... I just have as a lifelong trigger, scar, wound, whatever you want to call it, that probably gets written into my work.” Kreitman received two Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (BATCC) Dramalogue awards in 1999 for Home Plate: Best Writing and Best Performance.
For Kreitman, comedy is a “tool of survival” as well as a catalyst of personal and communal self-awareness. She recalls being ignited by trailblazing queer performers such as Lisa Kron, Marga Gomez, and the San Francisco Gay Men’s Theater Collective (GMTC) during a 1977 performance of Crimes Against Nature. “[The GMTC] was really revelatory because they did all these pieces and a lot of them were little solo pieces of their own lives and their sexuality. And I think it took me a long time to feel like I could totally be out, and there was a lot of push and pull and finally when [the GMTC was openly out]. I felt like there was a breakthrough within the community.” The GMTC paved the way for celebrated writers such as Tony Kushner, Terrence McNally, and Larry Kramer whose plays illuminated queer narratives previously hidden by the 1927 Padlock Law. The law prohibited New York theaters from producing explicitly gay work. By 1967, the Padlock Law — which referred to an actual padlock that would be hung on the offending theater’s door — was taken off the books by the New York legislature. The emergence of gay writers along with new civil liberties for queer folks seemed to suggest an overwhelming victory for the queer playwrights of America, or at least gay men playwrights.
Gay liberation inside and outside theaters swept the country, but queer women still faced difficulties trying to get a foot in the door. While Theatre Rhino in San Francisco and the WOW Café Theater in New York were among the few companies that created work for and by queer women, they were the exception. Kreitman’s first comedic play, Please Wait for the Beep, received groundbreaking success in theaters on both coasts. As she continued to write plays, Kreitman felt that her experience navigating the theatre world was "extremely demeaning and frustrating... I was getting produced somewhat in gay venues (and that was great), but I could see how much gay men really dominated the field— from Broadway to the littlest tiny theater that you could name.”
Kreitman recalls encountering pushback from one artistic director who refused to let her produce queer women's theater at his gay venue, insisting that "lesbians won’t show up." Queer playwright Diana Son encountered the same problem at NYC's Public Theater, where the marketing team predicted that her groundbreaking show Stop Kiss wouldn’t sell tickets. History proved the naysayers wrong: queer audiences --women and men alike-- turned out to pack houses for GMTC, the response to Stop Kiss was overwhelming, and Kreitman’s performances consistently sold out. Evidently, queer women did show up to the theater.
Kreitman’s frustration with lack of representation for queer women and the thinly veiled misogyny of male artistic directors propelled her to create space for the bold, hungry, and curious queer women and non-binary writers. In 2013, Kreitman worked with 3GT Executive Artistic Director AJ Baker to launch the Company's pioneering LezWrites! program, and queer women thronged to see the primarily comedic pieces written and performed by their own. “I could see that there was such an audience for it," Kreitman notes. “People would come up to me and say, ‘Thank you for creating places for lesbian work.’ People are hungry, and it’s not just the Gay and Lesbian Film Festival where people could go and see themselves...live theatre has a whole different feel. You’re in communion with each other in a live space. There’s nothing that compares to that.”
After seven years helming LezWrites!, Kreitman was ready to turn over the reins and refocus on her own work. With her blessing, in 2019 3GT reimagined the program as LezWritesBTQ, expressly including bisexual, trans, queer, and gender non-conforming writers. Award-winning queer solo performer Tina D’Elia, already a LezWrites! favorite, was named the inaugural 3GT Kreitman Fellow and appointed Program Director of LezWritesBTQ. Under D'Elia's leadership, LezWritesBTQ continues the tradition of playing to sold-out houses at the likes of Brava Cabaret and the Phoenix.
LezWritesBTQ performers and audiences may not be writing those classified ads anymore, but they're still motivated by the desire to connect that Kreitman explores with such sensitivity and humor in her work. Performances, like romantic dates, can pass by in a blur. Yet every once in a while, the possibility of being radically and wholly seen emerges. As bell hooks writes, “queer not as being about who you’re having sex with (that can be a dimension of it); but queer as being about the self that is at odds with everything around it and has to invent and create and find a place to speak and to thrive and to live.”
MARGERY KREITMAN is a 3Girls Theatre Legacy Playwright and the founding director of the Company's LezWritesBTQ Program. A celebrated solo performer/monologist, Kreitman is the author of Please Wait For The Beep (Cable Car Award nominee), produced in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York City, Picture Me (Jane Chambers’ Playwriting Award), produced by Theater Rhino in SF, Digitally Yours ( sketch comedy revue, created and performed with Karen Hirst) produced by Theater Rhino and The New Conservatory Theater. She also wrote the full-length comedy, Sax and the Single Dyke, co-produced by Sarah Heartburn Productions and Theater Rhino.
Kreitman's solo piece, Kicking Facebook, was a finalist for the 2015 3GT Festival Prize and has been performed at the Marsh, SF, The Exit SF Fringe Festival, The Phoenix Theater, the Solo Mio Festival at the Douglas Morrison Theater in Hayward, CA and the United Solo Festival in NYC. Margery’s other solo works include Home Plate (Dean Goodman Choice Awards), Thirty Years Later, Phenomenal Dread of Intimacy, Mug Shots, Payday at Pukalani (A Maui Fringe Festival winner), Bouncing, A Singular Story, The Boot, Soul Stone, and Retreat. She's performed her pieces at many Bay Area venues including The Marsh, The Exit, CounterPulse, StageWerx, Berkeley Marsh, The New Conservatory Theater, Noh Space, Magic Theater, Theater Rhino, Venue 9, The Garage, The O’Hanlon Center, The Plush Room, The Tides Theater and The Thick House. Her short stories have appeared in various journals including Pisgah, Rockhurst Review, Gargoyle, Dos Passos Review, and Clackamas. Her work also appears in the book, Scenes and Monologues for Young Actors, published by Smith and Kraus.
Kreitman has taught acting, improvisation and playwriting and was a faculty member at ACT’S Young Conservatory, The Academy of Art University, and many Bay Area public and private schools. She also taught acting for seniors at the San Bruno Senor Center and with them created a short screenplay about alcohol abuse and the elderly. It was made into a film starring members of the acting class and aired on cable TV. Kreitman was also the creator and director of Positive Spirit and Visible Proof, two writing and performance groups for HIV positive young adults, as well as the creator and was the producer of LGBT Writes! 2014 – 2019. With 3Girls Theatre, she created the LezWrites! program in 2013 for lesbian writers to develop and perform short, funny, personal narratives about their lives.
HANNAH MEYER, 3GT's Marketing Associate, is a director and dramaturg of new work with a background in marketing and public relations. In the Bay Area, she has worked with Magic Theatre, Playwrights Foundation, and SF Playhouse. Outside of theatre, Hannah is a writer whose essays, poetry, and satire have appeared in Points in Case, The Well Mannered Grump, The Baram House, Muses, The Haven and elsewhere. Her essay which explores the politics of comedy in Rachel Bloom’s banned song, “Period Sex,” will be published later this year with Taylor & Francis. Hannah is passionate about the intersections between art, activism, and scholarship. She is overjoyed to be working with 3GT and supporting the work of queer and female-identifying artists!