On Stage

Pray the Gay Away

A musical with a mission


What: Pray the Gay Away

Where: Lincoln Theatre, 712 S. First St., Mount Vernon


WHEN: Nov. 8-24

Info: http://www.lincolntheatre.org or www.ptgashow.com

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

When the curtains rise on the Theater Arts Guild’s world premiere of Conrad Askland’s Pray the Gay Away Fri., Nov. 8 at the Lincoln Theatre, audience members will find themselves witnessing a fight for human rights in Minnetonka, Minnesota in the 1980s. There, two boys subjected to the controversial practice of gay conversion therapy find themselves in the middle of a battle between church leaders, a youth pride LGBTQ support group, and their local community. Askland, the former music director of Cirque du Soleil and Rock of Ages, says the “serious musical comedy” was a long time coming.

Cascadia Weekly: How did you come up with the idea to write a musical about gay conversion therapy?

Conrad Askland: Back in 2015, the first states were starting to ban the practice of gay conversion therapy for adolescents. A friend of mine mentioned that his parents had put him through this type of therapy and told me about his experience. It was fascinating to me how people could support this kind of therapy, so I started researching it right away. I was really blown away how upside down this world was and felt immediately that I had to put this on the stage.

CW: What are the statistics for how often “praying the gay away” actually works?

CA: As with everything, it depends where you get your information. There are some who claim the success rate is 85 percent. That claim is not supported by independent research. When Exodus International, an ex-gay support group, closed their doors a few years ago, they issued an apology for the harm and pain they caused the LGBTQ+ community, and also stated that in their experience the effective success rate of gay conversion therapy is zero percent. About 750,000 have gone through conversion therapy in the U.S. alone, and about 350,000 of those have been adolescents.

CW: The play takes place in the 1980s. Same-sex marriage is now legal, and people have more rights than they used to regarding who they love. That said, what do you think the similarities are between now and then when it comes to accepting people for who they are?

CA: The reason I am doing this production is that what you are saying should be true. We should be on the “other side” of this issue. The truth is, gay conversion therapy is still being widely practiced in the United States, and the Supreme Court is currently deciding whether the Civil Rights Act applies to the LGBTQ+ community. I personally do not see this as just an issue of gay rights, I see it as an issue of basic human rights, which the LGBTQ+ community should be fully a part of. This divide, this dehumanization, is part of the citizens of the United States defining what our culture is and what we want to stand for.

CW: There’s a cast of more than 40 actors and singers, not to mention an orchestra. What does it take to pull off a show of that size?

CA: Everything we have! We’ve been extremely fortunate that our cast is entirely focused not just on the show itself but also on the mission of bringing discussions into the community on the topics of human rights, the dehumanization of the LGBTQ+ community, and how different beliefs of the faith community interact with those topics. I’ve taken two years off of work to finish this project and it’s taken every waking second and every ounce of energy I have.

CW: It sounds like the cast and crew are being affected by the subject matter to the extent that it’s changing their lives. Do you think that will carry over to the audience?

CA: The cast has spent a lot of time learning about the topics raised in our production and we’ve had workshops with PFLAG and members of the faith community to fully round out their understanding of the topics we are bringing to the stage.

As for what audiences will think, I’ve been told by everyone who has seen the show content that this show will touch a lot of hearts and be a catalyst for change. I’m always aware that no one knows what an audience reaction will be until the actual opening night.

CW: Do you think people will be laughing or crying?

Both. Everyone who has seen the content has been surprised that such a dark and painful subject had comedy that made them laugh. Everyone has also had the experience of being moved to tears in a more intense way than they had anticipated. So, I think the best overall description of people that have seen the content is “unexpectedly hilarious and emotionally devastating.”

CW: The production has support from Skagit PFLAG, PFLAG Washington State, and local ministers. Do you anticipate any blowback?

CA: We’ve experienced two types of pushback. The first is when people read Pray the Gay Away that they think it’s an anti-gay rally. We have a lot of information on our website and have worked closely with PFLAG so people realize that is not the case. The second pushback is from people who hold a religious belief that homosexuality is “intrinsically sinful” and are offended we might question that belief. To that pushback I simply say, “Here is our production. Audiences will reach their own conclusions.”

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