A forgotten yet award-winning playwright, Cal Yeomans was one of the founders of gay theater whose work was fueled by gay liberation and extinguished by the AIDS epidemic. Schanke's examination of his life and legacy allows a rare exploration into this pivotal moment of gay American history.
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Robert A. Schanke is Professor Emeritus of Theatre at Central College, USA. His Shattered Applause: The Lives of Eva Le Gallienne was a finalist for both the Lambda Literary Award and the Barnard Hewitt Award for theatre research, and his "That Furious Lesbian": The Story of Mercedes de Acosta won the ForeWord magazine Book of the Year award in the best gay and lesbian nonfiction category. He co-edited Passing Performances: Queer Readings of Leading Players in American Theater History, Staging Desire: Queer Readings of American Theater History , and The Gay and Lesbian Theatrical Legacy . He is a Fellow of the Mid-America Theatre Conference. In 2003 he was elected into the National Theatre Conference, and in 2005 he was elected into membership of the College of Fellows of the American Theatre. He received the 2013 Career Achievement in Educational Theatre Award from the Association for Theatre in Higher Education.Review:
"Queer Theatre and the Legacy of Cal Yeomans is a well-researched biography that explores the life and times of the often forgotten award-winning playwright. This book is not only a biography of a playwright but a history of theatre and GLBT as a whole during the significant period between the Stonewall riots and the AIDS epidemic. A documentary history, yet also a biography, this work draws the reader in and would be a valuable addition to any GLBT or theatre collection." - GLBTRT Newsletter
"An absorbing gay history - psychological, social, sexual, and cultural - expertly informed by Schanke's knowledge of the theatre . . . [He] has used Cal's plays, journals, and letters, plus the interviews he conducted with Cal's friends, and put them together in unobtrusive, readable prose - and got it right. This book is not just about gay theatre and gay liberation, but also about gay childhood in the small-town South and gay adulthood in cities at a time when liberation turned to horror. It's an amazing story." - Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide
"Schanke takes evident delight in recovering the life and work of Cal Yeomans, a now-nearly forgotten pioneer in the gay theatre movement of the Post-Stonewall era . . . Through meticulous research and patient reconstruction of Yeoman's life and work, Schanke has written an academic 'page turner' that restores this early maverick of Post-Stonewall theatre to his proper prominence. Simultaneously, however, Schanke situates Yeomans within the larger contexts of his cultural moment, demonstrating how his plays reflect and resist the various discursive trajectories of gay life during the second half of the twentieth century; in this sense, the book performs a valuable double duty, operating as both biography and social history." - Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism
"The book succeeds on many levels, but most directly as a result of Yeomans's papers and most admirably in Schanke's incisive scholarship . . . Interviews with scores of Yeomans's friends and co-workers, and, most significantly, his own incisive analysis, permit Schanke to define Yeomans's achievement and the meaning of his life within the broader cultural evolution of gay culture in America. Schanke unspools Yeomans's life and times in engaging and intimate prose, illuminating that extraordinary era in the process. For those interested in LGBT theatre and its history, or in the personalities of a still too little-known era, this book is a page turner . . . The recovered accomplishments of Yeomans strengthen our common understanding of a complex, rapidly changing period in which gay artists and writers challenged American society to reconsider its values and its means of expressing them . . . In short, Schanke's book is an essential volume in the on-going and as-yet incomplete reconstruction of the LGBT foundation of contemporary American theatre." - Theatre History Studies
"Schanke . . . scrupulously details [Yeomans'] tumultuous life and career, never hesitating to elaborate for the sake of balance and fairness . . . [and] goes to great lengths to give us a genuine feel for Yeomans' personality, without stooping to adoration or character assassination . . . His unapologetic approach fundamentally challenged the attitude and expression of the Queer American Theatre of his contemporaries. Robert Schanke's biography is an engrossing, melancholy, though ultimately optimistic text that suggests a compelling, alternative way of gauging a writer's success." - Lambda Literary Review
"Schanke weaves the threads of this complex and conflicted life to give a fascinating portrait of Yeomans in the context of his times." - Lavendar Magazine
"Schanke's fascinating, meticulously researched, well written biography of Cal Yeomans gives us the life of a small-town Southern gay man who lived through the early years of gay liberation and the heyday of radical queer theatre. Yeomans was a complex, sometimes difficult man and a controversial playwright even among his peers. This book is a must-read not just for students of gay theatre, but for anyone interested in the history of gay men in America." - John M. Clum, Professor of Theater Studies and English, Duke University, USA
"Robert Schanke's Queer Theatre and the Legacy of Cal Yeomans tells the fascinating, long overlooked story of a pioneer in sexually explicit gay male theatre. Yeomans came of age in the conservative American South of the 1950s, a white, gay man from a religious background who continually found and remade his own community to survive his life. Schanke describes how Yeomans frequented sexual subcultures on both coasts, searching for pleasure and peace as he suffered an often debilitating bipolar disorder. The cast of characters here reads like a 'who's who' of early gay American theatre and literature, including novelist Andrew Holleran and gay playwrights Lanford Wilson, Doric Wilson, Robert Patrick, and Robert Chesley. Yeomans was never as popular as his contemporaries because of his frank attention to sexual detail. His plays required full male nudity and sometimes graphic sexual practices, which were performed live rather than simulated. When Yeomans worked with Ellen Stewart at LaMama in the 1970s, she scolded him for writing plays she found too crass and crude. But he persisted, intent on grounding his representations of gay male experience in the sexual practices that made their lives revolutionary. Yeomans's career ended prematurely when the AIDS crisis began in the early '80s, as sexually explicit material became too taboo to handle in the theatre or in real life. He died of HIV/AIDS in 2001, at 63-years-old. Schanke's book is a recovery project, a gesture that remains necessary for all the gay men of the theatre whose stories have yet to be unearthed and shared. Yeomans' important life-story deserves to be told. Schanke does him justice, crafting a narrative that pulls you along from its hopeful beginning to its sad end, and giving the reader a vivid taste of the power of Yeomans's plays along the way." - Jill Dolan, Director, Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies, Annan Professor in English, Professor, Theatre Program, Princeton University, USA
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