Boston Director Joey Frangieh Wants You to Run this Sunday for 'The Gay Agenda'

by Steve Duffy

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday October 27, 2021

Road races aren't that uncommon this time of the season, but come this Sunday, expect a first for Boston — a LGBTQ+ 5K road race starting in the Boston Common. Called "Road of Rainbows," it is (according to its release) "the first of its kind for the LGBTQ+ community but it also aims to break down the barriers between athletics and the arts as its fundraising goal is to support the arts community."

The race is a collaboration between the Boston Theater Company (BTC) and the Artist Athletic Association (AAA). The race can be seen as an outgrowth of BTC's production of "Finish Line: A Documentary Play About the 2013 Boston Marathon," which took place at the Shubert Theatre in 2017. "Road of Rainbows'' will benefit the play "The Gay Agenda," BTC's newest piece which hosted virtual previews last September that offers an inside look at what it is like to identify as LGBTQ+ in today's world, using words taken directly from interviews. For more on the race, follow this link. In addition to the race, there will be entertainment, headlined by Penny Tentiary.

The man behind Boston Theater Company's numerous projects is its producing artistic director Joey Frangieh (He/Him/His), who made history in 2017 as the youngest director ever to stage a play at Boston's historic Shubert Theatre. He has also worked on Broadway four times, most recently as the assistant projection designer for the Tony Nominated play "The Children" and "Saint Joan" (programmer), both shows were with Manhattan Theater Club. He is also a runner, having run the Boston Marathon in 2017 and 2018. But he's no stranger to carbs, admitting a strong love for cupcakes.

EDGE spoke with Frangieh recently about why he likes to run, his company's mission, and just what "The Gay Agenda" is.

EDGE: Please tell us about yourself.

Joey Frangieh: I'm the artistic director of Boston Theater Company. I'm a Boston based artist at heart. I grew up in Boston. I'm 100% Lebanese. Both of my parents were born and raised in Lebanon. I'm a very passionate Liberal. I believe very strongly in immigration rights and in equal rights. I love Boston and all that it has to offer.

EDGE: What is the LGBTQ life like in Lebanon?

Joey Frangieh: On paper, it is legal. They've decriminalized it exclusively so that they can get aid from other countries, but it's not widely accepted. It's not criminalized, but it is very frowned upon. People do not speak about it. You can't run around waving your Pride flag around. They did have a pride parade in Beirut once, but then the next year, they had to cancel it due to some very serious and significant security concerns and it's been canceled since.

I've spent a lot of time in Lebanon and a lot of my friends and contacts who are queer still live there. It's not the easiest lifestyle for them. They look at the US and they think it's a better lifestyle here and it is, but there's still a long way to go.

EDGE: The three pillars of the Boston Theater Company (BTC) is comprised of — Artistic, Education, and Athletic — how do you see these three uniting together?

Joey Frangieh: We're grounded in a commitment that theater is a uniting force. When I think about the arts, education, and athletics, I think about teamwork. I think about coming together to accomplish a unified goal. I think about training our voices, our bodies, and our minds. If someone were to ask me to describe an artist, I would say they must have a lot of dedication. They must have a lot of endurance, a lot of perseverance. As I start to describe what I think an artist means to me, I think that's exactly how I would describe an athlete as well.

I think that the similarities between the two are extreme and very strong. We do live in a society where they're very separated, especially in grade school when you have to choose either athletics or arts. It's still a very common choice that I hear from a lot of people and you shouldn't have to choose between the two.

EDGE: This is how the idea for Road of Rainbows came about?

Joey Frangieh: Yes, certainly. We were working on "Finish Line," a documentary play about the survivors from the Boston Marathon bombing. It introduced us into the world of athletics. We met with a lot of athletes. In our next play that we're currently working on, "The Gay Agenda," we started meeting a lot of queer folks and speaking with them about their experiences. When we realized that, in addition to arts and athletics being separated, that a lot of queer people felt ostracized and felt not included in the world of athletics.

That really was the impetus to start something that is more inclusive. So, we went back, and we spoke to a lot of queer folks about athletics and why they don't fit in. The one thing we learned was that when you sign up for an athletic event, vast majority of them make you identify as male or female — you have to run as a male or female, and for many queer folks, that does not work. Those two boxes do not represent them. When we started this race, we had to call the company that is creating the registrations and we had to figure out how to disable that as a feature. I think we were the first people ever to do that. We don't want male or female. So instead, we wanted to add pronouns. We just want people to run as they are. Through all these conversations, working on "Finish Line," and working on "The Gay Agenda," it was really the impetus and inspiration to start Road of Rainbows.

EDGE: How do you ensure Road of Rainbows is an inclusive event?

Joey Frangieh: That's a great question! In order to help us ensure that it is, we created a group of counselors. The counselors are a group of folks who have oversight, veto, and decision-making power. We meet as a group and talk about the different things that each one of us has experienced so that it's not one- or two-people's experiences — it's a group of experiences. Through these conversations, we've been able to identify that we don't want to have gender sign-ups or a tiered ticket system, which makes it more financially equitable. Let's also offer free tickets and have ASL interpreters. Let's make sure it's ADA accessible. We've been able to help ensure that it is an inclusive event for all.

EDGE: What is it about running that you love?

Joey Frangieh: I love eating after the run. I like a great big piece of cake, pizza, or a bagel. To be totally honest with you, that's what really inspired me to run. I also love that it's a really nice community. The other day, someone said to me, "You've run two marathons." I said, "there was a lot of walking involved." I don't think I'd ever say I walked or ran two marathons, but I have completed two marathons.

EDGE: Tell us about your documentary play "The Gay Agenda."

Joey Frangieh: "The Gay Agenda" is a documentary play about the LGBTQ+ community. It's a Boston Theater Company documentary play where every word from the script is verbatim taken from an interview or from somebody's story. We sat down and we interviewed folks and used those interviews to create the script. The goal of TGA is to really highlight our differences and our similarities and to help encourage folks to be more empathetic and to understand more about what the queer community is.

So much of the queer community are white, CIS, wealthy, and in-shape men, and we're really on a mission to showcase the whole spectrum of the community. Our goal is to showcase the whole spectrum of the LGBTQ community.

EDGE: You made history as the youngest person to direct ("Finish Line: A Documentary Play" about the 2013 Boston Marathon) at the Shubert Theatre. What was that experience like?

Joey Frangieh: I am always reminded when I work on a theatrical production or now our very first athletic event. What I love about the world of theatre and athletics is there is a team. As a director, the most exciting part of working is when I walk in on opening night and I open the playbill and I can read all the names that have come together to create this one piece of art. So, yes, that was a great honor, but I am more inspired by the team that I had around me creating this really extraordinary and awesome idea.

EDGE: I read you love cupcakes. What's your favorite flavor?

Joey Frangieh: I think I'm going to be super basic and say a vanilla cupcake with a ton of rainbow sprinkles. It has to have either French vanilla or vanilla bean frosting — like a lot of frosting and rainbow sprinkles on top!

EDGE: What's next for the Boston Theatre Company?

Joey Frangieh: After we recover from doing the 5k, we are moving forward with "The Gay Agenda." We are really excited about that and we are rebuilding our education program.

For more on The Boston Theater Company, visit its website.