Why Dustin Lance Black Wrote a Show About LGBTI Life in Russia

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Dustin Lance Black

The one-night-only event on Monday in NYC stars Sting, Patti LuPone and "Hedwig" star Lena Hall

Sting, Patti LuPone and Hedwig and the Angry Inch's Lena Hall are taking over New York City's Gershwin Theatre on Monday night for Uprising of Love: A Benefit Concert for Global Equality, a one-night-only benefit concert penned by Oscar winner Dustin Lance Black to support the LGBTI-community efforts of United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and the U.N.'s Free & Equal campaign.

"It was easier to keep the world's attention while the Olympics were going on, but the world's attention has turned elsewhere," Black — who co-founded the organization Uprising of Love with Melissa Etheridge and Bruce Cohen ahead of the Sochi Winter Olympics — tells The Hollywood Reporter. "In the U.S. over the past two years, it seems like we're making great gain, and at worst case, we forget about our brothers and sisters abroad. We think it's important that we help them, not just in Russia, but in other countries around the world that are discriminated against for who they are. In order to do that, you have to create spectacle and tell stories."

From producers Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Godspell, Pippin) and Cohen (American Beauty, Milk, Silver Linings Playbook), the 100-minute show also features Kinky Boots' Billy Porter, country singer Chely Wright, Olympic gold medalist Greg Louganis, Bollywood actress and UN Equality Champion Celina Jaitly, and Matt Gould, Griffin Matthews and the casts of Witness Uganda, Once and I Am Harvey Milk. It is directed by Schele Williams and produced by Jayson Raitt, with musical direction by Alex Lacamoire. The night's net proceeds will directly benefit Fueling the Frontlines, a three-year, $20 million campaign for global LGBTI rights led by the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, the only philanthropic organization in the United States solely dedicated to advancing LGBTI rights globally.

The show is being hosted by Jane Lynch, who says of the show, "Hosting this kind of an event is really just moving the festivities along and allowing the reason we are all there to be the star: bringing equality to all people — but in particular, LGBT people — all over the world. It's about love, and there will be a huge uprising at this event!"

THR caught up with Black to learn more about Uprising of Love's larger goals, how to tell a universal story and what to expect at the show: "If you don't catch it on Monday, you will never see it again!"

Why put on this show now?

It began in the leadup to the Sochi Olympics, when myself, Bruce Cohen and Melissa Etheridge helped form Uprising of Love to shine a light on the discriminatory laws that Vladimir Putin put into effect. It was easier to keep the world's attention while the Olympics were going on, but the world's attention has turned elsewhere. In the U.S. over the past two years, it seems like we're making great gain, and at worst case, we forget about our brothers and sisters abroad. We think it's important that we help them, not just in Russia, but in other countries around the world that are discriminated against for who they are. In order to do that, you have to create spectacle and tell stories.

The generosity of these artists, letting us look through their great work and use their work to tell their stories — you'll be seeing and hearing some of the best works of their career. It's not a variety show; they're pieces we've chosen that they've agreed to perform, to tell a singular story.

What makes for a successful story when creating a "spectacle" and raising awareness?

I tell this to my screenwriting students at UCLA: if you want to tell a very universal story, get very specific and personal. Tell the story of one person or a small group of people. The more specific you get, the more universal it becomes. That's what I've done with this show. Using some of the great works of the artists that have agreed to participate, this show tells the story of one person's journey to freedom. It's a true story that took place during the Olympics of one of our early successes at Uprising of Love.

What is the story about?

I don't want to give too much away, but it's about a young person in Russia named Vlad who was in a very dangerous situation just because of who he is. You wouldn't recognize the name. The heartbreaking, tragic revelation that this young person's story is that it's not unique at all; it's happening every day in Russia, and this piece expands beyond Russia to people in Africa, India and South America. But I think what's beautiful about this story is that we can do a lot. It's really a two-prong approach: first, we can get LGBT people who are in countries where their lives are in danger, we can get them to safety; the larger goal is that we can put pressure on the government and begin to change the world, so these people can stay in the places that they call home.

You mentioned that the U.S. has made great strides in these efforts. How can other countries' LGBTI communities learn from that? 

You can dial the clock back to the late '60s and '70s — when we were facing similar discriminatory laws right here at home, when it was a felony or a mental illness to be gay. We can look to what our leadership did then — Del Martin, Phyllis Lyon, Harvey Milk — they all said, "Face your fear, and come out of the closet. Tell your personal story. Let light shine in on who you are." We learned from them that when we are open about who we are, when we share our stories, dispel the myths and the lies — that is the path to freedom for gay and lesbian people.

That's the work we're doing abroad. We're doing the best we can to help our brothers and sisters abroad tell their stories and make their truth known. And one of the most powerful things we can do is make sure that everyone in a country like Russia or Uganda knows that they know someone from this LGBTI community, because once they do, they no longer discriminate against them.

You're also working on a Charles Lindbergh biography adaptation and a gay-rights movement miniseries. How did you find time to pen this show?

I wake up very early and I stay up very late, and I don't go out for lunches! You make time for the things that are important to you, and for things that hit so close to home, it's easy to make time.

For tickets to Monday night's Uprising of Love: A Benefit Concert for Global Equality, click here.

Editor's note: This Q&A has been edited and condensed.

Sept. 15, 9:12 a.m. An earlier version of this story listed Laverne Cox in the cast, but the actress became unable to attend after this story was initially published.

Email: Ashley.Lee@THR.com
Twitter: @cashleelee

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