By Mikkel Hyldebrandt
Photo: Tyler Ogburn Photography
The View Upstairs – playing now at Out Front Theatre Company – follows a young, aspiring fashion designer Wes (performed by Kyle Larkins) finds himself taken back in time to 1973 at the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans. Here he encounters fun, crazy characters; each with their own story and lesson for Wes to learn. Peach had the opportunity to talk to Kyle Larkins and Byron Wigfall who play the two leading characters in The View Upstairs.
Tell us a little about The View Upstairs
Byron Wigfall: The View Upstairs is a musical about the liveliness and vibrancy of the people who called The Upstairs Lounge home, in New Orleans, 1973. It follows Wes, a semi-instafamous Z-list celeb, from the future back in time to meet the queers that used to frequent the bar he’s just bought.
Kyle Larkins: The twist to this show is that it takes us into the same bar of the first LGBTQ+ massacre in American history. A bit of a heavy premise, however, this show serves as a testament to those who have passed in the event rather than the fire itself. It’s about the patrons of the bar and what they have to teach us about how much has changed over the past 45 years in LGBTQ+ history. For the better and for the worse.
Why do you think it is essential to have theater that is specifically for the LGBTQ community?
KL: Having a theatre that specializes in LGBTQ+ pieces is pretty profound if you think about it. Many would worry that it may be too to focused on one community; however, I feel like there’s so much to tell (or should I say share?). Out Front Theatre has become a great source for LGBTQ+ artists, playwrights, composers, actors (the list goes on) to band together and inform audiences about topics they may not have been previously informed of, much like the Upstairs Lounge Fire.
BW: Taking into account the history of attempted and successful erasure of the queer community in the media it’s necessary to have a place that is dedicated to queer stories. Where community members can feel safe around others that share their experiences.
What are some of the biggest strengths of the musical genre?
BW: I think music really rests at the core of emotion and singing for me is definitely a very vulnerable craft. I think by combining music, singing and acting you can’t help but connect to the story being told.
KL: It’s like an Easter egg hunt of little details like in each dance step, or an emotion that moves a singer from singing the melody into a riff, or even a plot twist that leaves a character so shocked that the building orchestrations from a live band could be the only remedy for their situation.
What can the audience expect of The View UpStairs? What can they learn?
KL: This show has a lot of heart for every individual that’s within our community; so, I’d have to say the importance of inclusiveness. (And lots of alcohol; I mean, it is set in a bar.) From drag queens to religious figures, to mothers, or even to those who suffer in the closet, The View Upstairs really respects what it’s like to be any person in this world. The show takes its time to let us see how these people approach life, rather than have them explain it to you. So, in its way, it’s a learning experience for everyone about everyone. Myself included.
BW: If The View Upstairs had a subheader, it’d say, “the story of glitter and ruin.” It’s really fun, with dancing and drag and awesome music, but also very thought-provoking. If the audience takes anything away from this show, I want it to be hope for the future. We’ve already come so far in our visibility as a community in just the differences in how the country responded to The Upstairs Lounge in 1973 versus Pulse in 2016. We have to continue to fight as a community, tell our stories and remain visible.
Tell us a little bit about the cast of the musical
BW: The cast of The View Upstairs is one of the most talented musical casts I’ve had the opportunity to work with. We had to get pretty close as characters because we’re on stage with each other for most of the show, so there’s a lot of interaction that we needed to find a basis for, but it kinda happened naturally, and I’ve really enjoyed working with everyone.
KL: Well, first off, I have one of the best co-stars ever, Byron Wigfall. He’s such a talented performer and is so dedicated to his craft. The minute we found out we were cast, three months ago, we found each other on social media and started discussing the details. We’re that ridiculous, ha. Secondly, our cast is so amazing and comprised of people of all ages, races, sexual orientations, and genders; making some real informative bonding moments backstage. To be honest, there’s a lot of random factoids passed around that I find interesting. For instance, I now know what skin care regimens really work, where the best Pho in town is, and I’ve even glimpsed into the world of building furniture.
This is the Southeastern premiere of The View UpStairs. Why is it important to tell this story in today’s world?
KL: Our show is set in New Orleans, 1973; leading our show to cast an ironic shadow over the hate that the LGBTQ+ community faced 45 years ago in this specific region. With that in mind, there’s definitely a sense of pride in being a part of the progress for equal rights in Southern history, theatrically speaking. It’s truly intriguing to think about because this is a show that would’ve been deemed a crime to act or even be associated with in that era, which makes me (as a millennial) really appreciate the rights that I was born with. It gives me hope for every community struggling to have their voices heard and rights re-established.
BW: It’s important because, although it’s gotten better, a lot of what was happening in 1973 is still happening now. Peoples’ entire identities are being swept under the rug, their humanity being lessened by law. People need to be reminded that there are people behind these decisions, people that are being affected. So, once again, we have to continue to tell our stories and push who were are to the forefront, always.
What drew you to this production?
BW: I actually didn’t know about the production at all until I was invited to audition. But once I was enlightened to this piece of queer history that I’d been ignorant to for so long, I couldn’t help myself, and I dove in. And I made it part of my mission to pass the story on.
KL: I remember when I was first informed about Out Front Theatre’s fall season. I saw “The View Upstairs” listed and was like, “… Has anyone even heard of this?” So, I did what any curious actor would do; I found the album on iTunes to silently judge. The minute I heard Some Kind Of Paradise I remember thinking to myself, “I NEED to do this show. Like, for the sake of my creative soul.” (I’m an actor; I’m allowed to be dramatic.)
The View Upstairs plays November 1-10 at Out Front Theatre Company. Tickets through their website at outfronttheatre.com.