BU prof takes former student’s award-winning play with LGBTQ+ themes to Winnipeg Fringe

A man in glasses and baseball hat, with a beard.
Steven Elliott Jackson, playwright of The Seat Next to the King

When Brandon University professor Dale Lakevold attended an on-campus reading of The Seat Next to the King four years ago, he felt right away that the play should be given a full production for Manitoba audiences.

Steven Jackson’s play explores the politics of being gay in the 1960s and will be given that full production at this year’s Winnipeg Fringe Festival, where it opens this Friday, July 21.

Jackson, a former drama student at BU, first had his play produced at the Toronto Fringe Festival in 2017. It sold out every show, while receiving an award for Best New Play and being selected as a Patrons Pick. It went on to be published in 2018 by Scirocco Drama, one of the pre-eminent publishers of drama in Canada.

In the play, Jackson takes two public figures from American history – both gay men living in Washington, DC, at the same time in the early 1960s – and imagines a moment when they might have met as gay men.

The two men are Bayard Rustin, who was a mentor and friend to Martin Luther King Jr. and the man who organized the celebrated March on Washington, and Walter Jenkins, who was a close friend and top aide of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Both men also happened to be on opposite sides of the “color divide.”

The play that ensues, is “a thoughtful, unsettling play about gay politics,” according to Toronto critic Lynn Slotkin in The Slotkin Report.

Megan Mooney, in the online theatre site Mooney on Theatre, says, “The Seat Next to the King holds up a mirror to our world and makes us realize that while we’ve come far with regard to race and sexuality, we’ve still got so far to go.”

“This is a special play that dramatizes the personal struggle of two individuals fighting to be who they truly are at a momentous time in history,” Lakevold said. “Bayard and Walter’s struggle to advocate for equality rights continues in the present day.”

The show is co-directed by Simon Miron and Kara Joseph, both from Winnipeg.

Miron is a francophone Métis, who identifies as two-spirited. He will direct major productions for the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre and Manitoba Opera in the coming season. His direction of Li Cur: Louis Riel’s Heart of the North will be the first full-scale Indigenous-led opera on a main stage in Canada.

Joseph is a young Black artist, who has been a member of the innovative One Trunk Theatre and a manager at Creative Manitoba.

Richie Diggs, a member of the Emerging Artists program at the Manitoba Opera last year and originally from Liberia, will play the role of Bayard Rustin. Philippe Larouche, who is himself gay, recently performed in the Radio-Canada movie El Toro and has danced with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. He performs the role of Walter Jenkins.

Jackson, originally from Minto, Manitoba, now lives as a playwright and producer out of Toronto. He is the author of 20 plays with productions across Canada and parts of the US.

The Seat Next to the King at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival comes with warnings for language, sexual content, siren sound, and nudity. Its production has been supported by the BU Department of English, Drama, & Creative Writing, the BU Office of the Provost and Vice-President (Academic), the BU Rowe Fund, the BU Faculty of Arts, Knox United Church in Brandon, and the Brandon University Research Committee (BURC). 

See https://www.stevenelliottjackson.ca/the-seat-next-to-the-king for tickets and show times.


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