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Prof. DeFrantz stages reading of new piece

Although Assistant Professor Thomas DeFrantz is on leave from his academic duties this fall, researching and writing about dance history, he's returning to MIT this weekend for a reading of a first draft of his latest "theatrical exploration" titled Queer Theory! A Musical Travesty, a satire with original songs by various collaborators.

Theater Offensive, a resident company at Boston Center for the Arts whose mission is to present the diverse realities of gay and lesbian lives, will present the reading (without music) as part of its works in progress series -- "Plays at Work" -- on Thursday, Dec. 14 and Saturday, Dec. 16 at 8pm in Kresge Little Theater.

The show, says Theater Offensive, pokes fun at the academic idea of a 'queer body' that is theorized beyond all recognition, traveling across time and geography to discover queer people running the gamut of American history and in all of its various cultures.

Mr. DeFrantz, better known at MIT as a dancer than a playwright, said he has developed projects like this before -- inAm I Blues, an exploration of the Delta blues, and That Gospel Feeling, an exploration of African-American gospel music traditions -- but notes that those works were more along the lines of musical revues.

"Queer Theory is more like a play, with extended dialogue and scenes and musical sequences bound around an idea of exploring what makes a body or a person 'queer,'" he said.

"I'm always thrilled to be back in creative situations, to explore ideas and impulses through their natural progressions towards the ends they suggest," said Mr. DeFrantz, who hopes to move the project along with Theater Offensive, perhaps next summer.

"For me, this play explores marginalized spaces that I've always been drawn to, or by default, placed into. People of color have long had a mystique derived around their anatomy," he said, noting that while the 'black body' is actually an area of inquiry in some branches of the academy, the 'white body' is not.

Now that 'queer bodies' have hit the academic landscape, Mr. DeFrantz has been struck by the similarities of academic rhetoric around racialized bodies and sexualized bodies. "This project plays with the similarities and the dangers of repeating hegemonic academic structures," he said.

Theater Offensive, named best theater company in the Boston Phoenix's Best of Boston Reader's Poll, will also present a concert reading of Daniel Alexander Jones's new play Bel Canto on Friday, Dec. 15 at 8pm in Kresge Little Theater. Featuring acclaimed New York performance artist Aleta Hayes, Bel Canto depicts the story of a young man's struggle to negotiate between the magical world of opera and the hard-edged jazz-like reality around him. Mr. Jones is artist-in-residence this year at Theater Offensive. General admission tickets to all shows are $5.

On Sunday, Dec. 17, Mr. Jones will conduct a free day-long playwriting workshop titled "Holiday Bake-Off," in which participants are given a list of ingredients and instructions with which to concoct a 10-minute "fully baked" play. The workshop takes place from 10:30am-5pm in Kresge Little Theater. Call 542-4214 to preregister by December 15.

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A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 13, 2000.

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