Queer playwrights perform to raise funds for new center

by Robin Huiras

An intimate dome-ceilinged room supporting a raised wooden stage and rows of folding chairs was the setting for a group of queer playwrights reading and acting out their work to about 100 viewers Saturday evening.
The first “Creating a Scene” event at the Playwrights’ Center — a hub for playwrights and play writing in Minneapolis and around the nation — allowed seven Twin Cities artists to display their work in an effort to raise money and bring attention to the theater and the Schochet Center for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Studies at the University.
The Schochet Center for GLBT studies is a newly formed entity at the University. It aims to combine academic study and community action to sustain change and improve knowledge about the lives of gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual people.
“The hope of the center is to raise awareness of what the Schochet Center at the University is doing and bring attention to the Playwrights’ Center,” said Polly Carl, development director of the Playwrights’ Center and University Ph.D. student.
The theater offered standing room only and gathered about $2,000 from the event. The donations gathered will be divided equally between the two centers. Most people in the audience were enthusiastic, excited and appreciative about the performance.
“I don’t think people should limit themselves. New experiences are always good,” said Julie Gabrielski, a University student who attended the performance. “It is interesting to see how others perceive things — you get new views.”
The performance itself embodied the goal of the Schochet Center: to expand GLBT knowledge through community action.
Steven Schochet, a 1959 University graduate, bequeathed a $500,000 endowment toward the establishment of a GLBT studies center. He said that while he attended the University, he received discriminatory treatment from administrators for being gay.
“Through my own inappropriate behavior I came to the attention of the campus police,” Schochet said. At that time, a disciplinary dean monitored University students who had received police attention. Schochet said the dean was quite angry when he decided to remain at the University until graduation.
Schochet added that he wanted to do all he could to ensure no one else at the University would ever receive the same treatment he had. For that reason, he decided to give the school the endowment to create a center focusing on GLBT academics, community and history.
“The long-range goal is to make things specific to gay and lesbians unnecessary,” Schochet said. “Right now the goal is to be supportive.”
The agreement for the creation of the endowment fund was signed in 1996. However, the center is still mostly a vision. Although $500,000 is promised to the center, it doesn’t receive the money until Schochet dies. Until then, the center must rely on interest from the fund.
The University has set up a rule, said Susan Raffo, executive administrator of the Schochet Center, which stipulates that interest money from an endowment fund cannot be touched until the base reaches $100,000. To make this money, fund-raisers must be held, like the performance at the Playwrights’ Center.
Despite tight funding, the center is becoming more and more concrete by building on what’s already in existence, Raffo said.
“The center really imagines itself being firmly rooted in the University, but also a bridge,” Raffo said. “We’re looking at all of the things that have happened here before to build on them.”
Raffo added that the center has a future with the endowment, while other GLBT programs do not have such a large insurance fund.