On a sweltering, summer night in 1969, a routine police raid of the Stonewall Inn in New York City became a pivotal night in LGBTQ history and helped spark a movement.
Illinois State University’s School of Theatre and Dance will bring to life the days before the Stonewall riots—and smash the myths surrounding it—with the play Hit the Wall. Performances open February 14, and take place at 7:30 p.m. on February 14 and 18-22, and at 2 p.m. on February 15, 16, and 22 in Westhoff Theatre. Tickets are $12 for the general public, and $10 for students and seniors.
Tickets are available online and at the Illinois State University Center for the Performing Arts Box Office, 400 W. Beaufort St., Normal, or by calling (309) 438-2535. Free performance parking is available in the School Street Parking Deck in spots 250 and above, at 400 W. Beaufort St., Normal.
Illinois State is celebrating the production with a special LGBTQA Alumni Network-led reception on February 22. The reception will take place at 5 p.m. in the Center for the Visual Arts, room 110. Tickets for the 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. February 22 performances of Hit the Wall are available for purchase through the Alumni Engagement office at $8 per ticket. Space is limited, register here. The reception is $15 per ticket and will feature heavy hors d’oeuvres, the play’s director David Prete, representatives from the LGBTQA Network, and a talk back with actors.
Penned by Ike Holter, the production follows the narrative of 10 people touched by the conflict that culminated in the Stonewall uprising. “We connect with an array of people—a drag queen, a police officer, someone whose estranged sister was in the riots,” said Prete, who also teaches courses in acting and directing at Illinois State. “These different perspectives, and how their lives build toward the event, craft the story.”
Prete noted that Hit the Wall speaks directly to today’s LGBTQ youth. “The play invites them to honor the earlier generation that broke the chains of marginalization and invisibility,” he said. “The rebellion at Stonewall cascades beyond the bounds of that bar and becomes a crucial symbol of resistance.”
Tying the production together will be musicians reminiscent of a punk band of the era. “They operate almost like a Greek chorus, acting as a part of what is happening on stage, and then engaging with the audience as if to say, ‘Can you believe that just happened?’” said Prete, who added a punk-inspired band is fitting for the play. “In many ways, punk music challenged the ideas of gender and oppression.”
A heavy aura weaves through the lighting and scenery. “It was 96 degrees the day of the Stonewall riots. There is an oppressiveness of New York City heat you can’t escape,” said Prete, who grew up in New York City and studied at the New Actors Workshop. “The feeling of oppressive heat grows as the tension builds. We take the audience on a journey.”