When Skyler Sullivan ’97 got to Diversionary Theatre in San Diego, the country’s third-oldest LGBT theater, he had a vision for creating a performance troupe for older adults. But getting it off the ground was going to be expensive, and Diversionary didn’t have the funds.
Instead Sullivan, education associate at Diversionary, created the Silver Squad, a two-hour monthly drop-in class for seniors, with each class focused on a different skill: acting, storytelling, movement, improv, playwriting. Between four and 15 people show up in any given month.
Two years later, armed with grant money and a following of LGBT seniors and their allies, Sullivan finally launched The Stonewall Salon, an ensemble that will use performance and storytelling to share their personal experiences. Over one weekend, 22 people signed up, and now there’s a waiting list.
“I recognize maybe a third [of the participants] from acting class, and two-thirds I don’t know,” Sullivan said. “I think [the program’s popularity] ties into what’s happening in the theater at the moment,” he said, adding that his husband and Diversionary’s executive artistic director, Matt Morrow, has “done a great job of taking the programming up a notch and engaging the whole community.”
The Stonewall Salon, named for the Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village and the eponymous 1969 uprising that ushered in the gay rights movement, serves and honors the generation that lived through that moment in LGBT history. It’s open to people 50 and up; most of the current crew are between 50 and 70 years old, Sullivan said.
Salon performers will start developing the show in mid-January, with performance dates in early March. The performances will be mostly based on text written by the participants and developed with help from Diversionary staff, and will be a blend of poignant stories and pure comedy.
The older adults who get involved in Diversionary’s lifelong learning programs don’t necessarily have a lot – or any – theater experience. But producing a polished, professional show is secondary to The Stonewall Salon’s mission, according to Sullivan.
“The biggest outcome is getting a diverse group of people together and working together in an ensemble, especially a group of people who aren’t used to being on stage,” he said.
Sullivan, an actor and teaching artist who’s developed curricula, also works with high school students. Each group has its own challenges, he said. Young people are undergoing a “constant state of change,” whereas older performers can have issues with mobility or memorizing lines.
But older adults tend to be more secure in who they are and can be less concerned with what others think, and both ages bring “wonderful energy” to their work.
“I find I can use the same lesson plan, almost exactly, with them both,” Sullivan said.
For 32 years, Diversionary has been giving voice to the LGBT community through the artists and works they’ve presented. Sullivan said it’s important to give the members of that community a platform to share their own personal stories, and that’s what The Stonewall Salon looks to do.
“I love working with this age because they come into it with such experience and emotional maturity,” Sullivan said. “I really enjoy what they bring to the table.”
For more information, visit diversionary.org.