“A Southern Fairytale” is a one-person show about a gay man in the deep South, created by Ty Autry. It’s the premiere play of Out Front Theatre’s return to live performances, with shows on July 30 and 31. The playwright and actor joined “City Lights” producer Summer Evans via Zoom to talk about the trying times of his past that inspired the play, and the experiences he’s had with sharing this personal narrative with his family and the queer community.
“Growing up in the deep South as a gay man was very interesting because, for many, many years, I wasn’t out. So it was all a secret. I lived a double life. I had the life of a 4.0 student who did sports, who also performed, who volunteered, who also held down a job. And on the flip side, I was this queer kid coming into my own while pushing against, pretty much, almost every ideal, it felt like at the time. Because I grew up in a very conservative, religious part of the South, any mention of homosexuality was not allowed…. For many years, I didn’t even know what a gay man was.”
Autry recounted the special indignities that came with growing up Southern, Christian, and queer, saying, “I went to a therapist who attempted to change my behavior patterns and how I related to people, which is a version of conversion therapy. I was ex-communicated from a church at sixteen. I was banned from the school that was run by the church because they considered me a bad influence because of my queerness.” He continued, “All of that culminated into some pretty traumatic experiences. But they’ve led to the person I am today and the birth of this show. And also the birth of my point of view as an artist, which is wanting to blend the queer, Southern Christian narrative together.”
Autry felt inspired to write after the 2018 death of his mentor, Alex Bond, under whom he apprenticed at Georgia Ensemble Theatre. “She told me to write it down. She told me to create my own work, because we needed stories like mine to help people heal, through the same trauma or similar traumas that I experienced. So with her passing, I decided to write this play, in memory of her, and everything she taught me before I moved away to New York,” said Autry.
Such a sensitive personal story, though with fictionalized aspects, had to be handled with care. Autry described its reception by his parents, saying, “My dad has not seen it. My mom, who is hands-down one of my best friends… She saw it, and she doesn’t fully approve of it because it’s not the whole truth.”
But the playwright stands by his work, undeterred by the reservations of some family members. “It’s alright that we don’t see eye to eye on it. I think that’s partly what art is about. Not everybody has to agree with it, or support it, or love it. But I do know that this play has an impact on people. It does influence healing, or it influences them to re-evaluate their relationship to faith… If I’m able to do that with people that come into my audience and see the show, then I’m doing my job.”
Autry self-identifies as Christian, retaining the faith of his upbringing. “I like to label it as a relationship with God,” he said. True to Autry’s own instincts, his play’s main character identifies God using they/them pronouns.
Though well-received at its showings in Dublin and New York, “A Southern Fairytale” may have a special resonance in the very area it critiques. “I think the most rambunctious audience I’ve ever had was in Atlanta. Because since it’s a Southern play, a lot of the nuances of the script deal with stereotypes that exist in the South,” said Autry. “In a way, I think because I also look at the South in terms of what hyper-conservative Christianity did to me, there are more Southerners who can relate to that.”
“A Southern Fairytale” is showing July 30 and 31 at 8 p.m., at Out Front Theatre in West Midtown. More information is available at https://outfronttheatre.com/event/a-southern-fairytale/.