Over the weekend, I saw the newly-released documentary Play in the Gray at the Brattle Theatre as part of the Boston LGBT Film Festival. First-time filmmaker Kaitlin Meelia spent several years filming the members of the Boston-based drag and cabaret inspired theatre troupe All the Kings Men (ATKM), and beautifully combined many years worth of footage into a stunning documentary.
I have been a fan of ATKM for many years, have known some of the members personally, and have photographed them for my own work as well as for their press materials. I walked into the theatre excited to see them on the big screen, but I wasn't expecting to be as moved as I was by the documentary. The film does an excellent job capturing their full story, both on stage and off. I was struck by the intense amount of emotion with which they live their lives, emotion which they intelligently and artfully pour into their work. Even as an artist whose work deals with gender and someone with my own personal struggles to live within a gray area, as the film's title implies about ATKM, I sometimes forget how challenging, moving, and ultimately rewarding it can be to wholeheartedly embrace who you are despite the lack of understanding within the world at large. Art is such a powerful tool for social change and challenging and exploring and re-shaping traditional ideas of gender issues and identity.
On stage, ATKM is a great variety of things: as a troupe, they offer so many different talents and types of performance that it's impossible to describe what they do in a simple tagline, word, or phrase (and not so coincidentally, the same can be said about the ambiguity and fluidity of gender expressions present in their work and their lives). They are incredible performers who make you laugh, cry, and think. After hearing more about their personal stories and their absolute passion for and commitment to making their mark on the world through their performance, I walked out of the theatre with tears in my eyes.
I would absolutely recommend this film to anyone. Do everything you can to see it and help this wonderful filmmaker and amazing performance troupe rise to the top, where they rightfully belong. They are having another Boston screening on June 3rd at the Stuart Street Playhouse. More info can be found at Play in the Gray and on the ATKM website.
Below is information about the film from Play in the Gray's website:
Play in the Gray is a penetrating, and at times vulnerably raw, portrait of the work, art, and emotional lives of the members of All the Kings Men.
All the Kings Men is a drag and cabaret inspired theater troupe based out of Boston. The troupe intrigues— on stage they perform as old ladies or appear to be women dressed as men or men dressed as women. Their electrifying, award-winning show makes audiences laugh while also questioning themselves and the world. Behind the scenes, Katie, Maria, Julee, Karin, Jill and Leighsa, the members of All the Kings Men, practice hard, spend long hours on the road, and struggle to “make it”—they want All the Kings Men to be a household name.
Personally, they struggle to discover who they are, who they want to be, and who they are afraid of being. Play in the Gray travels with the troupe members as they visit their hometowns, have difficult conversations with family, work their day jobs, maintain relationships, and share their stories of personal struggle and identity.The troupe members challenge the notion of what it means to “be a man” or “be a woman”, shedding light on what happens when the answer is not that easy.
On its face, Play in the Gray is a simple dismantling of the “man-woman” binary that pervades popular culture. But this film is more than just an exploration of gender theory. Play in the Gray is a tiny, yet profoundly intimate, glimpse into the human experience. This film is about the complications of loving, being loved, getting hurt, suffering disappointment, questing for approval and being courageous.