BARE: A Pop Opera – In Concert: Bare-bones budget but not a bare-bones sound. Interview with Fernando Gonzales, artistic director of Truth Be Told, Philadelphia

Fernando Gonzales, Philadelphia theater artist and co-director of Truth Be Told Productions, made his regional directing debut with The Shape of Things at the Ritz Theatre, NJ. As a director, he shaped plays, musicals, and operas, including The Secret Garden, Andre’s Mother, and Fidelio. As a singer and actor, he also appeared in Much Ado about Nothing, The Last Five Years, The Secret Garden, Rent, A Little Night Music, Marguerite, Grease, Barnum, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Anything Goes, The Pajama Game, Ragtime, and Legally Blonde. Gonzales also made a name for himself in many other musicals, plays, and operas in Colorado, Illinois, and Oklahoma.

Gonzales earned a degree in Opera Performance from Colorado State University and a Master’s in Opera Performance and Pedagogy from Chicago College of Performing Arts. After receiving his MBA from the University of Maryland, Gonzales began using the other side of his brain in the finance and banking world with PNC Bank in Philadelphia, where he lives today.

Fernando Gonzales, Truth Be Told Artistic Director

Fernando Gonzales, Truth Be Told Artistic Director

Henrik Eger: You have quite an interesting background in theater.

Fernando Gonzales: My interest in the arts is mostly by accident. I was an army brat who, after moving around a bit, was forced into a choir class in 7th grade because the Spanish class I wanted was full. Thus began my artistic journey. Fast-forward to college, where a decision had to be made about a major. I chose to pursue opera performance and went on to graduate school. After becoming a bit burned out in the opera world, I left the stage and went on to receive an MBA.

Realizing something was missing from my life, I knocked on the door of a local theater in 2004 to see if they needed any help with their shows. Coming from an opera background, I had no idea what I was getting into. The rest is history. I’ve been onstage or offstage in some capacity with shows ever since. I started Truth Be Told to fill a void I saw in the local scene that didn’t seem to be telling the hard truths of life for the LGBT community.

Eger: You co-founded Truth Be Told Productions with Carlos Diaz in 2014. Tell us about your mission and the plays you have produced so far.

Gonzales: Carlos and I began TBT with a focus on LGBT themes that are largely unexplored. Opening with BENT, we found that few people had heard the stories of the Holocaust from the perspective of the gay community. The show was well-received, and this season we focus on the coming-of-age stories that are very timely with a high incidence of LGBT teen suicide. Each of our seasons will have an underlying theme.

[Next will be] Bert V. Royal’s Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead. [An “unauthorized parody,” the play imagines characters from the popular comic strip Peanuts as teenagers. Drug use, suicide, eating disorders, teen violence, rebellion, sexual relations, and identity are among the issues covered in this drama.]

Eger: Your latest offering, BARE, a pop opera by Jon Hartmere, Jr. and Damon Intrabartolo, centers on two gay high school students and their struggles at their Catholic boarding school where the close-minded priest tells the young gay student that he will only be fine if he denies his natural feelings. Tell us more about this rock musical.

Gonzales: This musical is a coming-of-age story of five high school seniors. Knowing that their stay in this insular world is drawing to a close, each of them questions where they are in their lives and what the future holds. Answers are sought in the church confessional and in less formal venues, including a stage, a rave, and a well-locked dorm room. The story zooms in on the love relationship between two boys: Peter, a socially awkward loner, and Jason, the golden boy popular jock. Throughout the story, we see the struggles, trials, and tribulations they go through to keep their relationship alive and hidden. We observe how their love affects their friends and the people around them.

The coming out story is quite personal for everyone, and both characters have a very different experience and perspective as they trudge through their relationship and their senior year in high school. Both of them, as well as all of the other students, struggle to reconcile their faiths and realities, leading to some very real consequences.

Jared Rosenberg as Peter dancing with Cody Lee Miller as Jason. Photo by Fernando Gonzales

Jared Rosenberg as Peter dancing with Cody Lee Miller as Jason. Photo by Fernando Gonzales

Eger: Why did you choose BARE?

Gonzales: This show has a cult following and amazing music. Bringing this show to life for the first time in Philly in many years is important at a time when suicide is at the forefront of the community with initiatives like It Gets Better and the Trevor Project. Telling this story is haunting and impactful and, hopefully, we can help move the conversation along for a few of our patrons. We have had a very strong opening weekend [and are still going strong].

Eger: Before Truth Be Told came into existence, there were a few gay theater companies in Philadelphia in the past. Two are presenting quite a few plays to this day: Mauckingbird Productions and Quince Productions. You are now the third operating LGBT theater company in Philadelphia that offers regular programs. How would you describe the demographics of your audience?

Gonzales: Our demographic is largely the same as that of Mauckingbird and Quince. There is certainly not a saturation of raw theater in this city with LGBT themes. These stories are all around us every day, and we can all stand to expose reality to the [public] in an attempt to create beautiful art while allowing for truth to be told.

Eger: What are your plans for the upcoming season?

Gonzales: We look to focus more on the stories of middle-aged LGBT people and their families, both chosen and biological. More details to come.

Eger: I was impressed by your direction of BARE, the cast, and the work of Robert Stoop, Musical Director for Cabrini College, who created a sound that made me sit up and listen. You may have had a bare-bones budget but not a bare-bones sound. On the contrary, going by the comments from the audience, you moved a number of people with your production. Thank you, one and all, and a happy Pride Day.

BARE presented at the Luna Theater, 620 South 8th Street, June 5-13, 2015, truthbetoldphilly.com.

 

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About the author

Henrik Eger

HENRIK EGER, editor of Drama Around the Globe. Bilingual playwright, author of Metronome Ticking. Born and raised in Germany. Ph.D. in English, University of Illinois, Chicago. German translator of Martin Luther King, Jr’s Nobel Peace Prize mail. Producer-director: Multilingual Shakespeare, London. Retired professor of English and Communication who taught in six countries on three continents, including four universities and one college in the U.S. Author of four college text books. Longtime Philadelphia theatre correspondent for AAJT, the world’s largest Jewish theatre website. Articles published in Classical Voice, Los Angeles; Kayhan International, Tehran, Iran; Indian Express, Mumbai, India; The Jewish Forward, New York; Philadelphia Jewish Voice, Phindie, and Broad Street Review, Philadelphia; The Mennonite, Tucson; and New Jersey Stage. Contact: HenrikEger@gmail.com