By Mikkel Hyldebrandt
Photo: Jordana Dale Photography
A Southern Fairytale written by and starring Ty Autry is about the challenges facing a young, gay man growing up in a deeply religious environment in the South. Peach talked to Ty Autry about the process of writing the play, which is partly based on actual events, and about being the solo performer in a play that is both personal and transformative.
First off, tell us a little bit about your background.
Well, I’m a southern boy who grew up in the 229 area and moved up to Atlanta to get my degree in Electrical Engineering from Georgia Tech. After I graduated from Georgia Tech, I started pursuing my acting career professionally through an apprenticeship at Georgia Ensemble Theatre while also performing and choreographing throughout the entire city. The most recent production I was in here in Atlanta was The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told at Out Front Theatre Company and, after that run, I left to study in New York at Atlantic Acting School where I am now on faculty. I’ve only been professionally performing since 2015 and looking back at how far I’ve come; it is quite incredible to witness your personal growth but also the growth of a theatre community I hold very dear to my heart. It feels very full circle to come back and perform a solo-show that I’ve written in a city and state I will always call home.
Tell us a little bit about the background for writing A Southern Fairytale?
Tough. Straight out the gate, I want to say that writing a show; a solo-show is one of the hardest things I have set out to do. A Southern Fairytale came about after my mentor Alex Bond passed away; she told me to write down my story and share it with the world. She had an incredible knack for turning personal stories into plays and enabled me to do the same. I’ve been writing, editing, and performing A Southern Fairytale for a little over a year now. If you ask my partner, he would tell you that I don’t settle for anything less than the ideal state of a piece. Every little bit of feedback I have gotten has been taken to heart and used to craft and refine the show into what it is today. This play is based on a true story. My true story of what it was like growing up in the Deep South as a gay Christian. I believe that is what makes it partly so difficult; you mix in fiction with the truth to craft something beautiful while still doing justice as an actor playing it as though someone else wrote it.
This isn’t the first time you’re performing this play – Where did it premier first?
The show had its first performance in New York through the NYSummerfest held at the Hudson Guild Theatre. After that performance, I completely rewrote the script and took that version to Dublin, Ireland through the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival (IDGTF), and now I’m bringing an updated version of that script to Atlanta! Do I expect more updates after the performance here in Atlanta? Yes. Will I stop making edits to the script? Eventually.
A Southern Fairytale has been very well-received everywhere it’s been. Are there any award nominations?
As of right now, we have been nominated for one award: The Doric Wilson award for starting intercultural dialogue. Which I think is one of the highest accolades it could have gotten so far because my mission is to strike up a conversation around our faith and queer community. Shining a light on southern, queer, Christian culture and bringing to stage the power of words over people.
The coming of age and coming out dramedy is based on real events. How do you relate to this personally?
Oof, that is a deep question, and we might need to sit down over a bottle of wine for that tale… My journey was full of many ups and downs while I was coming out in high school. I came out three different times, went to therapy, moved across the state multiple times, I was bullied, excommunicated from a church, and my dad asked if he could perform an exorcism to see if that would help. My mom and I like to joke that I had an incredibly hard time in high school to have a very fulfilling time in college and well beyond that. When you see the show, I would say, take it as fiction. There is truth in the story, we know these stories because we have been through it, we know someone who has gone through it, and people are still going through these same trials today. This is a story of hope, and I personally relate to that because I look back on my past and know it has shaped me into the person I am today, and I wouldn’t change that.
An interfaith panel will follow the play in Atlanta – what kind of conversation do you hope the play sparks?
I hope to show that no matter what your past included, you can take it and use it to be a better person. I’m not trying to convince people to become a faith-oriented individual. I just want to share that you can be Christian or Muslim or Jewish or whatever and still be living your truth as a queer individual. We don’t have to hide our faith in the shadows or behind closed doors. We can live it loud and proud. But, to do that, you have to heal, and I’m hoping some conversations around healing can happen that night.
Tell us about the production of this solo performer show?
This show has seen the support of dozens upon dozens of individuals who helped fund the initial round of producing to help get us off the ground and to Ireland. To all of them, THANK YOU! Right beside me, this whole adventure has been David Carson, who has been directing the show since the start. I don’t know what I would do without him. There is also another local to Georgia working on the show behind the scenes, and that is the ever so talented Ashton Pickering who is going to Pace University and is my production stage manager. She makes sure I hit all my goals, have the right paperwork, and is my technical mastermind as we go from venue to venue. Last, but not least, by any means, is my partner Cameron. He acts as producer, wizard, stage manager, marketing guru, travel buddy, and is my rock when I want to have a good cry at times. I’m only as good as the team surrounding my work, and I’m proud of this group who have rallied behind me.
How does A Southern Fairytale fit into the LGBTQ narrative of today?
This story comes after the AIDS epidemic and is told from a place that is still hurting. A generation born with the ability to come out in high school but has seen consequences from those actions. The fight isn’t over by any means, and I believe A Southern Fairytale not only is trying to build a bridge between the faith and queer community, but it is also shining a light on the marginalized. We are in a time where we are challenging our way of thinking about ingrained beliefs, and I want to continue to challenge those beliefs.
The play touches on some sensitive topics like extreme religious beliefs, conversion therapy, and mental abuse. Should it come with a trigger warning for those who have experienced similar trauma, or will the less dramatic parts outweigh the trauma?
You won’t see Alex Belmont go through the trauma of his past. It is a reflection piece with an older, more mature, stable Alex talking about his past and how he was able to survive and thrive in a part of the world that wanted to see his queer identity disappear completely. For those afraid of the trauma talked about on stage, don’t be. I’ve done my best to tell a hard story in a gentle, loving way that supports those in need of healing. You are going to laugh, cry, get mad, and laugh some more when you see this show.
It’s a one-night-only event – any chance of extending the show?
Yes! If we sell enough tickets up front, we have another date lined up to do a second performance. So, buy those tickets please, because we are getting closer to a sold-out house! K, thx, bye.
A Southern Fairytale is playing at Out Front Theatre on June 19. Get more information and ticket at outfronttheatre.com.