Remembering Doric Wilson
To the pantheon of LGBT heroes, we must add playwright and activist Doric Wilson who died May 7 at his home in Manhattan at age 72. It is a collective and personal loss. Doric was a friend and role model to me.
DoricÃ¯Â¿Â½s list of accomplishments is long. He was the first playwright in residence at Greenwich VillageÃ¯Â¿Â½s legendary Caffe Cino beginning with his comedy, And He Made A Her in 1961. He would go on to write many popular gay themed plays including Pretty People, Babel Babel Little Tower, Now She Dances! In Absence, Turnabout, The West Street Gang, A Perfect Relationship and Forever.
Both an active participant and keen observer of history, Doric was present on June 28, 1969 at the eruption of the riots at the Stonewall Inn, generally recognized as the beginning of the gay rights movement and is featured in the 2010 documentary film Stonewall Uprising. Previously involved in the civil right and anti war movements, he became active in the Gay Activist Alliance and raised money for LGBT causes as a celebrity guest bartender.
But some of his most significant activism took place in the theater. In 1974, Doric, Billy Blackwell, Peter del Valle and John McSpadden, formed TOSOS (The Other Side of Silence), the first professional LGBT company in the country. The company produced new plays and revivals by Noel Coward, Joe Orton, Terrence McNally and Lanford Wilson. among others.
I had the good fortunate to meet Doric a few years ago when the Association for Theater in Higher Education, an organization with which I have a long time affiliation had the sense to give him a Lifetime Achievement Award. We hung out in the book display afterwards and I told him a little about the work that my theater had done, including directing and producing Some of My Best Friends Are . . . , the first piece of LGBT theater to be done in St. Louis. Ã¯Â¿Â½Missouri, huh?,Ã¯Â¿Â½ he chuckled. And that sealed the deal. We would be friends. The tall, handsome, radical gay activist and playwright had not always lived in New York City, although it seemed tailor made for him. He was born in Los Angeles and raised on his grandfatherÃ¯Â¿Â½s ranch in the Pacific Northwest.
Doric asked me to be on the honorary board of directors of his company, TOSOS and I gave them a little money. Mostly, I would go to their readings or productions when I was in town and pick his brain about LGBT history and his perspective. What I found most thrilling was his clarity about his own identity and disavowal of social acceptance. Last spring at a company dinner in the West Village, when I talked with him about my work on The State of Marriage, a performance piece about same sex marriage, he was blasÃƒÂ©. Ã¯Â¿Â½Well, of course they shouldnÃ¯Â¿Â½t be telling us what to do but who cares what they think, anyway? Who needs marriage?Ã¯Â¿Â½
It was this utter unapologetic stance that kept me coming back for more. I knew I was in the presence of an iconoclastic thinker. And whether I agreed with everything he had to say or not, I wanted to hear it.
The last time I saw Doric was this winter, following Jill JohnstonÃ¯Â¿Â½s memorial service at Judson Church. I rushed over to attend a staged reading of his early play, The West Side Gang. He was delighted with the reading and regaled us afterwards with stories of how the original production had been staged in a gay bar.
In 2001, Doric resurrected his historic company TOSOS with directors Mark Finley and Barry Childs. In time, lesbian playwright Kathleen Warnock would join this artistic team to present staged readings as well as full productions of LGBT work. He was very proud of them, saying to me, Ã¯Â¿Â½ArenÃ¯Â¿Â½t they smart? ArenÃ¯Â¿Â½t they really something?Ã¯Â¿Â½
In poor health in recent years, he must have known how important a talented and committed succession team would be. I, for one, am impressed that he put a lesbian at the helm, and a very talented one.
I rsvped to Doric last week to say I was in New York and would be at the latest TOSOS staged reading. When I didnÃ¯Â¿Â½t hear back from him, I decided to go anyway Saturday night. It was puzzling not to see him and Kathleen Warnock told me they learned he had died when he didnÃ¯Â¿Â½t show up.
I feel a deep depth of gratitude for his courage and mentorship to a whole generation of young artists. And I am very sad. I had seen The Normal Heart the night before and was eager to get his take on the production and on Larry KramerÃ¯Â¿Â½s role in the early days of the AIDS epidemic. Doric would have had a front row seat to those days. And he would have been happy to pull up an opinion.
R.I.P Doric Wilson
Joan Lipkin is the Artistic Director of That Uppity Theatre Company. Her work is most recently featured in the new anthology, Out & Allied.