Un-silencing our Stories on Stage
When I moved to Boston in 2011 to train at the Boston University School of Theatre, I felt I needed to face myself before I could genuinely face the characters I would play. I un-silenced myself; I came out.
Throughout my early career, I find I keep coming out. Each character I embody is an opportunity to face myself and bring my queer humanity to my art. Each role is an extraordinary challenge that affirms the vital joy of standing in one’s truth—no matter how many years pass since I first came out. This spring, I was honored to play Rudy in Martin Sherman’s Bent for the Umbrella Stage Company in Concord.
Since its first production forty years ago, Bent has remained a landmark of gay theatre for its telling the lesser-told story of persecuted queer people during the Holocaust. It felt an exhilarating responsibility to face myself once again so I could un-silence Rudy and bring his story—and the stories of so many like him—to life. While representation on stage has improved drastically since Sherman wrote Bent, Rudy was the first queer role I would play since 2013. When I was cast in Bent a year ago, I was thrilled. I cherish the chance to help un-silence a story of my people. I am so grateful the Umbrella programmed the play, and I honored that Director Peyton Pugmire had faith in me to help realize it for audiences.
“Through my work on the play, I explored silence in my relationships, my larger communities, and queer history and progress.”
So, I began my process, my coming out to Rudy. Sometimes, I find it more challenging to face a character like myself. It asks for a deeper honesty, a more complete coming out. Through my work on the play, I explored silence in my relationships, my larger communities, and queer history and progress. It was a vibrant, scary, and profoundly engaging process I shared with my company when we crafted our show.
Unfortunately, after the dress rehearsal on March 12, our production had to close prematurely in response to our current global health crisis. Though this silencing of stories not shared weighs heavy on me, I know the work we made contributes—in a small, honorable way—to a long, glorious un-silencing of our queer community.
I hope that when we recover, the theatre companies in Greater Boston program stories and hire artists with inclusivity in mind. I keep faith that I will use my skills, privilege, and my powers as a queer theatre-maker to continue to come out and tell stories out loud and with pride, on stage as in life.
Michael John Ciszewski (He/Him/His) is an actor and creator based in Boston. Beyond Bent, he has recently been seen on stage in Murder On The Orient Express and The Litte Foxes with Lyric Stage Company as well as his debut solo show Everyone Is Dying And So Am I with Open Theatre Project and New York City’s Theatre Row. He also serves as a member of the general management staff of ArtsEmerson. Find him making silly little things on Twitter and Instagram.