Unity Fest kicks off LCCT’s 53rd season
By Zak Hansen
Las Cruces Bulletin
It’s been a big couple years for love and marriage in the Mesilla Valley.
In August 2013, Doña Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins and his office began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, drawing national media attention to Las Cruces and furthering the push for marriage equality in the United States – even NPR picked up the story in a piece titled “How A County Clerk Ignited the Gay Marriage Debate in N.M.”
Following Ellins’ decision, same-sex couples throughout Doña Ana County lined up to tie the knot, and in June 2015, couples in every county across America were granted that same right as the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision calling bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.
According to PFLAG Las Cruces President Carrie Hamblen – whose marriage to her partner Char Ullman made her, very literally, the face of the changes in Las Cruces – said “The impact our County Clerk had on our area and the remainder of the state with issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on August 21, 2013, was incredible. His actions really forced the hand of the rest of the state to move forward on marriage equality. By doing so, hundreds of LBGTQ couples could feel a little more secure and safe in their relationships in New Mexico.
“With the Supreme Court decision in June, the implications on samesex couples already married are really seen in having access to the 1,138 federal benefits granted to opposite sex couples. It’s really about time.”
That’s a lot to celebrate, and starting at 5 p.m. this Friday, Aug. 14, three Las Cruces organizations are banding together for an evening of celebration, when Main Street Downtown comes alive for Unity Fest: A Celebration of Theatre, Equality and Community.
Unity Fest marks the collaborative efforts of Project Mainstreet, a group of volunteers dedicated to promoting the continued revitalization of Downtown Las Cruces through community events, PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) Las Cruces, which promotes the health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, their family and friends though support, education and advocacy in southern New Mexico and beyond, and the Las Cruces Community Theatre, whose new production of the musical comedy “My Big Gay Italian Wedding” marks the centerpiece of the evening.
This celebration began, Hamblen said, with a conversation about LCCT’s upcoming production.
“PFLAG Las Cruces became involved when I was having a conversation with Janet Beatty- Payne, the President of the Las Cruces Community Theater Board of Directors, about PFLAG sponsoring the opening night of My Big Gay Italian Wedding,” she said. “PFLAG Las Cruces has wanted to do more things in the community, especially with partnerships, and sponsoring the opening night of the play and using it as a fundraiser for our group was a perfect fit. Then, Janet suggested a street festival and we took it and ran with it.
“I think Unity Fest really encapsulates multiple factors in our community who have been brought together because of this one particular play,” she continued. “Once the conversation started, it really seemed like a no-brainer to have this festival. It also is another example of how different areas of our community can come together to have a celebration.”
Or, in the words of Beatty- Payne, “Love wins, so we decided to throw a street party!”
“We are proud to be producing ‘My Big Gay Italian Wedding’ and feel the show is the perfect kick-off production for our 53rd season.”
“My Big Gay Italian Wedding,” written by Anthony J. Wilkinson, first premiered off-Broadway in 2003 at New York City’s Actor’s Playhouse. Heavily satirizing the current controversy surrounding gay marriage, the play centers on Anthony Pinnuziato, a gay Italian- American from a large and chaotic family, who is preparing to marry his boyfriend, Andrew Polinski. Of course, nothing goes as planned: the family all chips in to “help” – especially his overbearing mother, who is withholding her blessing unless the ceremony is performed by a priest – and Anthony’s ex-boyfriend drops in with all intentions of breaking up the happy couple.
The LCCT production of “My Big Gay Italian Wedding” features a mix of talented newcomers and familiar faces to the local theater scene including Karen Buersdell, Robert Bustamante, Vanessa Dabovich, Joel Fisk, Autumn Gieb, Nicholas Holguin, Miranda Lukens, Christian J. Mc-Morrow, Anna Perez- Wright, Isac Quezada, Teddy Aspen Sanchez, Amy Whipple, Joshua Rex Vanderhoof and Robert Young, and is directed by Monte Wright.
While “My Big Gay Italian Wedding” is the night’s main event, Unity Fest has lots more in store for attendees, including live entertainment and music, food from The Green Chile Paddy Wagon, The Greenhaus and other local favorites, information and merchandise booths, drinks from High Desert Brewing Co. and Amaro Winery, artisan vendors and more.
Attendees of Unity Fest will also participate in the national moment of silence in partnership with the Spirit of ’45 event, celebrating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II at the southern end of Main Street at the same time, which features a dinner and dance, music from Big Band on the Rio Grande and a tribute to the Greatest Generation.
PFLAG has bought out tickets to the opening night performance of “My Big Gay Italian Wedding,” and is selling tickets to the performance and Unity Fest for $20, with proceeds going to PFLAG Las Cruces. These tickets are available at Spirit Winds Gift Source and Coffee Bar, 2260 S. Locust St. Admission to Unity Fest alone is $5 at the gate.
The full run of “My Big Gay Italian Wedding” runs Aug. 15-30, with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $14 adults, $13 students, seniors and active-duty military and $11 children younger than 7. To reserve seats, call 523-1200.
For more information on Project Mainstreet and their upcoming events, visit www.projectmainstreetlc. org. For more information on PFLAG Las Cruces, visit www.facebook.com/ PFLAG.lascruces. For more on the Las Cruces Community Theatre and its upcoming productions, visit http://lcctnm. org.
Zak Hansen can be reached at zak@lascrucesbulletin. com.