In conjunction with World AIDS Day, Peter Mortensen conceived and directed a unique performance called "Seance: Signs of Life From Another Room."
The show, presented by The Gay Arts Center, will take place in the Montage Cabaret located above La Cage night club, 801 S. 2nd St. Performances are Friday, Nov. 28 and Saturday, Nov. 29 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday Nov. 30 at 6 p.m. Tickets cost $15 plus service charge and can be purchased at the door or through Brown Paper Tickets.
Money raised through these performances will benefit the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center, providing a venue for the work of gay artists.
The production is a series of poems, prose pieces, a one-act play and songs by James S. Holmes, Essex Hemphill, Steven Grossman, Philip Black, Peter Allen and more.
The show will feature a variety of talent from Milwaukee and beyond, including Peter Zehren (FACT LGBT Festival-Baruch PAC, N.Y.), Michael Keiley (Carte Blanche Studios, World’s Stage), Erico Ortiz (Inspiration Studios), Martin McNamee (Skylight, Theatrical Tendencies), Tom Welcenbach (Off the Wall Theatre) and pianist Samuel McClain (KIC Band, Eddie Butts Band).
The actors will serve as "mediums" – hence the word "Seance" in the show’s title – and will "channel" (perform) the characters and ideas documented in the work of writers who passed away from AIDS.
However, the show is conceived in recognition of artists who documented gay culture before AIDS. Many of these writers later became known as "AIDS writers" but for a decade prior were redefining a new gay identity through art.
"I conceived the piece based on material I thought needed to be heard. These are really great pieces that I was familiar with but realized had fallen off the radar because most of these writers, who were very young when they wrote, succumbed to the epidemic," says Mortensen.
Mortensen metaphorically sees this work that was written before the epidemic as the "other room," a space in time before the epidemic but after the 1969 Stonewall riots – considered to be the beginning of the gay liberation movement.
"During this time, people who were gay started to stand up and say ‘yes I am,’ and ‘I know people who are’ and it’s not just those people that Life Magazine does a pictorial on in New York and San Francisco. It’s people in Two Shoes, Montana. It’s people in small towns, in big towns, everywhere," says Mortensen. "And all of a sudden there was a self-proclaimed identity instead of a foisted identity and it created an energy that inspired a lot of writers to really get in there and start documenting through poetry, novels and theater."
Mortensen has a background in theater and dance. He performed both on stage as an actor and behind the scenes in design, costuming and much more, including dancing with the Milwaukee Ballet Company during its first season.
This is Mortensen's first directing endeavor in about a decade. He put out a call for talent in September, held auditions and put together the ad-hoc group.
"The actors in this show are all busy with other projects, but they are doing this because the material spoke to them," Mortensen says. "They have been really generous to make themselves available as much as possible despite constrained schedules. They're really going above and beyond to make this happen."
Mortensen made the decision to have the performers hold the copy in their hands during their performance to symbolize the accessibility and availability of this work today.
"I’m hoping people will seek out these writers and want to read more of their work after the show because it’s not just the poetry or novels that need to be recollected. There was a time when disease was the farthest thing from their minds and it was about building a new culture," says Mortensen.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.