“The Pride” is an Olivier Award-winning play written by Alexi Kaye Campbell, originally produced in London in 2008.
The story alternates between two time periods in London: the sexually repressed era of 1958 and the modern, hopeful time of 2008. Neal Bledsoe and Augustus Prew star as Philip and Oliver, two men grappling with identity and sexuality in these different time periods, all while dreaming of an easy life.
In 1958, they are unable to speak openly about being gay due to ultraconservative social norms. In 2008, they are a contemporary gay couple going through a downturn in their relationship right before the annual Pride parade.
The show is now playing at The Wallis through July 9 in a production directed by Michael Arden and starring Neal Bledsoe, Jessica Collins, Augustus Prew and Matthew Wilkas.
When actor Prew first saw “The Pride” in 2013, it was around the same time he came out as gay.
“This play for me is very important in my life,” Prew said on The Frame. “When I came out, when I figured out I was gay, I was about 24. And this play presented itself to me sort of through magic. It just sort of came at this very consequential time in my life. And it was able to explain concepts that I hadn't grasped in my own head yet.”
Prew was in a relationship with a woman for six years before he came out. After seeing the play, he gave his parents a copy of the script so they could understand what he was going through.
“This was a play that affected me deeply, personally, because I saw it,” said Prew. “And I bought the script and I cherished it and I gave it to people who I felt needed it. So to be able to give that back in the purest way, you know, to actually be [the character] Oliver, is an honor.”
When Prew and Bledsoe stopped by The Frame, they talked about the different connotations of the word “pride” in each time period:
AP: In terms of what “the pride” means in the 50s, I think it's just listening to one's gut and trusting it, I think. “Listening to who one is from the core of one's being,” is a line that Oliver says. ... What became apparent when we started rehearsing the play was that these characters are inventing these concepts for themselves. The idea of being gay or sort of queer theory or of having a pride in being gay was totally a foreign non-existent concept. So Oliver's revelations [in 1958] are incredibly profound for the time. And he's essentially thinking through sort of abstract theories and concepts that wouldn't exist for another thirty, forty years.
NB: It's an internalized pride at first. ... A discovery within themselves. … What's so remarkable about the Pride Festival, the parade, is that it's an outward celebration showing the world that internal confidence within themselves. What I thought was so remarkable even this year was when we were doing this show ... the Pride parade in West Hollywood became ... a political action march which … seemed, almost an evolution - a third evolution - from where we were in these two timelines of the play.
The core issues of the play revolve around identity, sexuality and gay rights. Though it highlights the change that has taken places over the last several years, it also acknowledges that more change is still needed for minorities of all backgrounds:
AP: I would argue that things have gone backwards a little bit, unfortunately. I think the play is more relevant now than it was five years ago if I'm being really honest, which is terrifying. … The LGBTQA community is under attack. I don't see much end in sight. I'm happy that it seems to have galvanized the resistance as it's now being called and it seems to have politicized my generation in a way that I think wasn't prevalent at the time, so that's good. But I think there's been a sort of right wing backlash against ideas of tolerance and liberalism and I think that's a dangerous thing.
NB: One of the really remarkable things about when this play was written is that it was written in 2008 but it really seems like a pre-recession play. And it seems like it's both the time before Obama and the time before the recession. … So this play for me, especially in the 2008 storyline, represents the hope, the inevitability of so many of these things we thought would come true. And in a way, like you say, it is more powerful, it is more important to tell this story now than it perhaps was in 2008 when all those things did seem inevitable. Because it reminds us why we fight, why we have to keep telling these stories.
In the 1958 timeline, Bledsoe's character Philip hides his sexuality because he wants to live an “easy life.” In real life, Bledsoe is an actor and sports journalist, and he recalls a recent news story that reminded him about the importance of wanting to be a part of “The Pride”:
NB: There was a football player that came out of the closet who had spent five years with the Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots. And the whole reason he became a football player in the first place was because he was trying to hide his homosexuality. He was trying to hide underneath this masculine skin. And after he got out of the NFL, he was suicidal, he was taking pills. And to the point where everybody was worried about him. ... One of the team physicians was, like, I'm worried about you. And he was the first person that he came out to. And when I think about that story and I think about all the men, all the people that are still hiding beneath these skins that are thinking that they can't love, that they can't reach out. As a human being, I feel compelled to help that story be told, and hopefully I'm doing a faithful job of it.
The characters in 1958 mirror the characters in 2008, creating a dream-like experience of reflection, emotion and pain. Prew and Bledsoe discuss how director Michael Arden's “actor-based approach” to directing helped them, as actors, to find authenticity within their characters:
NB: I think Michael's process was one of the most generous that I've been a part of. And one of my favorite things is in the day that we rehearsed the very traumatic scene 5, the end of the first act, he had Augustus and I do a movement improv with one another and drape ourselves over each other, lean into one another, in a way that allowed us to just even physically trust each other. So it didn't feel like a performance, it just felt like a continuation of that exercise. And slowly but surely and very organically it started to feel like we were building these characters and finding these people.
AP: It's interesting for me playing this role. I see so much of myself in Oliver. I lent a lot of myself to Oliver. … Usually when I take on a role … I like the idea of transformation, I like to sort of hide, I suppose, behind a mask. I like to disappear into a role. … But I felt that didn't serve the play. I didn't think it served my relationship to the play either so part of the process for me was stripping away artifice, I suppose. And Michael is fantastic at that. … And we had a sort of a really lovely group of people that were very open with each other. We were able to experiment and try things. We blocked the scenes about five different ways until we settled on what worked.
Both actors approached the play from their own different experiences:
NB: I think that I have to be perhaps a bit more sensitive as the face of straight, white, male privilege representing a group of people that I am not myself a part of. And I think that that there's a special amount of care that I try to go into to representing that story. And to exploring that story. Especially just playing it onstage and trying to be as faithful to it as I can. But I think that there's a universality to the experience that I can identify with, certainly.
AP: When I found out that there was a production in LA I thought, Wow, this is the universe, this is fate whispering in my ear. And I sort of felt like these things that this play had taught me, that had been so important in my life and so useful to me, I felt like I was in a position to sort of give that back now. And I sort of... I had a pride for the person that I was, to quote Oliver.
To listen to John Horn's interview with Augustus Prew and Neal Bledsoe, click on the player above.