Volume 74, Number 13 | July 28 - August 03 , 2004

Theater


A place of our own

Wings Theater continues to be inspired by founder Jeffery Corrick

By Jerry Tallmer

Courtesy of Wings Theatre

In the 2002 production of “Tango Masculino” at Wings Theatre, with Johary Ramos as a sexually awakened Jorge and Ivan Davila as Rosendo, the conflicted anti-hero, Clint Jeffries, aka Jeffery Corrick, staged a performance that defied straight society’s gender-normative definitions of butch male behavior.

If one recent sunny morning you happened to find yourself in Riverbank State Park, across Riverside Drive and facing the Hudson atop the sewage plant at 145 Street, you might have observed a large man, resembling a fullback sitting on a bench and reading his way through a stack of manuscripts.

His name is Jeffery Corrick and he’s the founder and artistic director of the Wings Theatre, a gay venue, loosely speaking, at 154 Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. Corrick was reading scripts that were possibilities for the upcoming season.

“It’s the only way I can get a little sun,” Corrick said a couple of days later in a coffee shop downtown. “I live across the street from Riverbank. That afternoon I went through five scripts, and found one I liked. We get roughly 300 sent us a year. I personally read around 50. The rest are read by our five readers, who are also directors.”

Of some 150 works that have been presented at Wings since Corrick started it in 1986, it is “only a guess, but maybe 60 or 65 were gay plays.”

What makes a play a “gay” play?

“If they have major gay characters or themes,” Corrick said with a smile before tacking on playwright Robert Patrick’s definition: “Plays that only sleep with plays of the same gender.”

It was with a double-bill of one-act plays by Patrick—“Bread Alone” and “The Hostages”—that the company, 18 years ago, first, well, spread its Wings.

By the way, why is Wings called Wings?

“It’s a little embarrassing,” said Corrick, who from 1978 to 1984 had run a Midwest touring company called the Hutchinson Repertory Theater, named for a Kansas town. “There was a lot of leftover Hutchinson Repertory stationery, with some wings printed on one side. So the name ‘Wings’ was not an artistic decision. It was a very practical decision.”

It was never his intention to open a gay theater.

“When I came to New York I just wanted to do new plays by American playwrights. But because I’m gay, we did a lot of gay plays” — including some by Corrick himself.

“In the early years, the audiences were often confused. Some came expecting gay plays; some came expecting straight stuff, and got offended. Elderly folk who came to see something sweet and light suddenly found themselves facing things like ‘The Splatter-Walk Musical,’ a takeoff on slice-and-dice films. We also got a young outer-borough crowd who weren’t prepared for gay material.

“There was such confusion that we started splitting the season into series — a gay series, a children’s series, a main-stage series. Over the years the pattern changed in various ways — the children’s series has long since gone by the wayside, and we now have a musicals series — but the gay plays always remained. However, we are not officially a gay theater.”

If a journalist may ask a vulgar question: Do you make your actors take a litmus test?

Corrick laughed and said: “No, in fact I generally don’t know until a long time after… ‘Oh, he’s straight’… Everybody else seems to know. I just don’t. Actors occasionally turn us down. Not so much now, but back in the 80s there were gay actors who were afraid to appear in gay plays. Straight actors didn’t have that problem, and I haven’t encountered it in nearly a decade.

“In terms of identity and marketing,” Corrick said, “it’s really made life easier in some ways. I suppose some funders are put off, but for others it’s a plus.”

The Wings subscription base “tends to be male, white, upper class, and somewhat older.” But audiences vary. “When we recently did ‘Banjee,’ a play about Latin hustlers, the audience was 80 percent Latin. When we did ‘Tango Masculino,’ two years ago, the audience was at least 50 percent female.”

Corrick himself writes at least one Wings show every season, such as “Tango Masculino,” brought forth under the not so very pseudo pseudonym of Clint Jefferies, was one of these. Set in the Buenos Aires underworld with its lunfardo subculture, it told of how the tango was originally danced exclusively by men.

“It came to me the way most things do: one night I saw on television some grainy old film of men dancing with men, and it fascinated me, so I did some research. ‘Tango Masculino’ turned out to be the most popular show we’ve ever done. It was [limited to] a five-week Equity-approved engagement, and we were turning away 20 or 30 paying customers a night.”

Jeffery Corrick was born in Portsmouth, Virginia, November 29, 1956. The locale should give it away — his father was in the Navy. The future playwright grew up in Kansas and got his B.F.A. in directing from the United States International University in San Diego.

He’s been with Nelson Rosado, his partner, for 18 years, who works for the Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.

Two other plays by Corrick are last year’s “Nile Blue” and this year’s “African Nights.” He directs but doesn’t act in these pieces—and hasn’t since college.

“Nile Blue” was based on a tomb in Egypt from 2000 B.C. that contained two men facing one another as spouses. “Just surfing the Net, I found it.”

“African Nights” takes place in the 1920s, and its central character is Great Britain’s Prince George, later the Duke of Kent, younger brother to the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII. “George was a bisexual morphine addict, but unlike Edward VIII, who didn’t do the right thing by his family, George got off morphine, got married, had children, ‘did the right thing.’ In research I came across a royal vacation enclave at the time, a place in Kenya called Happy Valley, so I set it there.”

Corrick launched Wings in 1986 at what had been the American Renaissance Theater (and is today the Greenwich Street Theater), a tiny spot, less than 70 seats, at the junction of Greenwich and Charlton.

In 1990 a lease was lost and he moved his Wings — “built a theater from scratch” — to the Federal Archives Building, the old Post Office on Christopher west of Hudson St. Corrick’s by the river uptown, by the river downtown. Think of his venue as Happy Valley.

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