Urbanite Theatre Leverages Stage for Change and Public Health

Todays News

Pictured: From left to right, Brendan Ragan, Rogelio Capote, and Summer Wallace celebrate a sizable donation to CAN Community Health inspired by At the Wake of a Dead Drag Queen. Photo courtesy of Urbanite Theatre,

After the existential crisis faced by every performance art organization over the last two years or so, a theater would be forgiven for tightening its purse strings, focusing all its resources inward and certainly not looking to create any new challenges for itself. But Urbanite Theatre, which has already taken on the challenge of adopting friendlier work conditions and pay for its production teams, loves to challenge itself as much as it does its audience.

The black box theater on Second Street returned to full productions with “At the Wake of a Dead Drag Queen.” The story—timely and relevant in the current wave of anti-LGBTQ sentiment that has some politicians in its legislative grip—follows a pair of drag queens practicing their craft in rural Georgia. Written by Terry Guest, the story draws from his uncle’s life, a man who was gay, dabbled in drag and eventually died of AIDS. But despite the heavy nature of the content—the play’s protagonist and narrator dies of AIDS—Ragan and Urbanite managed to find a play that addresses the grave themes with humor and heart.

“With production often taking 9-10 months, it’s really hard to find plays that are timely and challenging while still being entertaining,” says Ragan. The search is endless for plays that fit the Urbanite bill, and both Ragan and co-founder Summer Wallace walk a difficult line in finding plays whose themes can achieve one of their stated goals to be cultural ambassadors for marginalized populations. “We’re not like Saturday Night Live where we can take on the hot topic of the week,” says Ragan, “we have to look at the present and also be a little forward-thinking.”

That forward-thinking yielded a production that ostensibly accomplished everything Urbanite has set out to do—they sold out their shows, they challenged their audiences, they used their stage to advocate for marginalized populations. But at the end of “At the Wake of a Dead Drag Queen,” Urbanite added another checkbox to their to-do list: support for a nonprofit organization.

“[Director] Damian Lockhart actually had the idea of connecting this production with some nonprofit organizations in town,” says Ragan, “so all credit goes to him.” In honor of the play’s themes around HIV/AIDS and disparities in access to healthcare, the team decided to take their mission a step further by enlisting CAN Community Heath’s advocacy team to speak at the close of several showings. CAN advocates for and treats those living with HIV, AIDS, and other sexually transmitted diseases. The theater adapted the traditional tipping practice of drag clubs—in which a hat is passed around to collect tips for performers—as it looked to raise money for CAN’s Patient Assistance Fund.

On Monday, Ragan tallied up the cash donated by audience members and wrote a check to CAN Community Health for $3000, delivering it to the public health organization’s chief communication’s officer, Rogelio Capote. “I mean, this is exactly what you want to happen,” says Ragan, “you want to share a really powerful, humanizing story with people and inspire them to act. I don’t think there’s any better endorsement that your art is working.”

Urbanite Theatre, www.urbanitetheatre.com

Pictured: From left to right, Brendan Ragan, Rogelio Capote, and Summer Wallace celebrate a sizable donation to CAN Community Health inspired by At the Wake of a Dead Drag Queen. Photo courtesy of Urbanite Theatre,

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