A Movement on a Dance Floor

"the dance floor, the hospital room, and the kitchen table" at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater March 25 and 26

Jen Davis (right), Hannah Cornish and Owen Ever (left) mix it up on the dance floor. Photo by Joseph Amodei

Australian politician, Jay Weatherill, once said, “You don’t get unity by ignoring the questions that have to be faced.” Lyam Gabel’s newest production, the dance floor, the hospital room, and the kitchen table is asking the tough questions to unite the LGBTQIA+ community.

the dance floor, the hospital room, and the kitchen table is an immersive media project, an archive of queer care that stitches together stories from COVID-19 and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Three queer researchers (played by Hannah Cornish, Jen Davis, and Owen Ever) slip between the present and the past, becoming, interacting with, and learning from a chorus of voices from a critical moment in the queer liberation movement. The script draws from interviews with caretakers, activists, organizers, and long-term survivors, and a companion app will allow the audience to access and add to the archive of queer care used in the performance.

The show’s creator, Lyam Gabel, is a director, performance maker, community organizer, a queer history archivist and identifies as he/they.

Gabel said, “I was slated to tour with a show called ‘Alleged Lesbian Activities’ when the pandemic shut everything down. I started wondering about HIV/AIDS and how these older LGBTQ people dealt with it. I thought, ‘they survived the 80s, we could survive this moment.’”

Gabel’s own self-discovery began when 45 was elected. “I was reading ‘We both Laughed in Pleasure; The Selected Diaries of Lou Sullivan,’ a transgender man who identified as gay and I began my own gender exploration.”

The author and diarist Lou Graydon Sullivan wrote the first guidebook for Female-to-Male persons and died of complications of AIDS at thirty-nine in 1991.

“I began seeing the similarities and the differences between HIV/AIDS and COVID. They aren’t the same, but in both cases, we had to learn to care for one another.”

Ben Pryor, senior producer at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, said, “We’ve been following the development of Lyam’s work since they were in graduate school at CMU [Carnegie Mellon University] and saw a previous iteration of their work in 2019. the dance floor, the hospital room, and the kitchen table addresses the visibility of queer histories, looking at the HIV/AIDs epidemic and bringing to light the histories of queer trans people previously unseen. This fully aligns with the Kelly Strayhorn’s mission, which is rooted in the liberation of Black and queer people. This piece showcases queer history in a brighter light. All of our works are rooted in social justice and creative experimentation.”

Pryor added, “We hope this work will also inspire audiences towards the liberation of Black and queer people through celebrating who they are.”  

Gabel said, “I heard these amazing stories about queer care. We are learning that the queer world is complicated and vast. It’s multifaceted. But we’ve always been here.”

The Kelly-Strayhorn Theater and Chatham University’s Immersive Media Program are co-presenters of the dance floor, the hospital room, and the kitchen table. The show will run Friday and Saturday March 25-26 at 8:00 PM with an additional Saturday afternoon show as 2:00 PM at Chatham University’s Eddy Theatre, Woodland Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15232. For more details please visit Kelly-Strayhorn.org

Michael Buzzelli is a stand-up comedian and sit-down author. As a comedian, he has performed all around the country, most notably, the Ice House, the Comedy Store and the Improv in Los Angeles. As a writer, Michael Buzzelli has been published in a variety of websites, magazines and newspapers. He is a theater and arts critic for 'Burgh Vivant,’ Pittsburgh's online cultural talk magazine. He is also a Moth Grand Slam storyteller and actor. His books, "Below Average Genius," a collection of essays culled from his weekly humor column in the Observer-Reporter, and his romantic comedy,  “All I Want for Christmas," are on sale at Amazon.com. He is working on a LGBTQ romantic comedy called, “Why I Hate My Friends.” You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter. (He / Him / His)