I got a call today from Dwight Eubanks (Real Housewives of Atlanta). He was calling to tell me that the feature story I did with "Rolling Out" magazine was on newsstands. Here's the story:
Craig Stewart wants to save lives through art. In 2002, Stewart decided to write a play that focused on the lives of black gay men in order to raise consciousness about the high numbers of HIV/AIDS infections within the black community. Titled A Day In The Life, the play sold out during its opening weekend and Tyler Perry commended Stewart on his efforts to tell such a gripping story. However, Perry was hesitant about helping to take the play to a wider audience. Stewart discusses his trials and tribulations as a playwright and reveals the real reason Perry would not support his play. –a.r.
What is the basis of your debut play?
... A Day In The Life was born out of a relationship I had with someone who found out he was HIV positive two months after we met. I had never been that close to the disease. I began to educate myself on the disease and I eventually wrote the play, which is about six gay male characters that represent all of the personalities in gay life. They come together in a focus group and each character has a moment and they flash back to a day in their life. Tyler Perry came to a rehearsal of the show, which sold out during Black Gay Pride weekend. After the show, Tyler came backstage and said that he wanted to help. He invited me to his home and gave me $1,000. We talked about the show and he said he couldn’t get it off his mind and that it was brilliant.
Were you ever able to work with Tyler Perry?
Two months later, I was living on Peachtree Street and the money was running out. I called Tyler and we finally spoke again. We had a 45-minute conversation about why he was not going to help me. I [wondered] why [he] wouldn’t want other people to get what he got out of the show. He said, 'I think that the show says that it's OK to be gay and I don’t think it’s right to be gay.' I [told him] that the dominant theme of the show is self-acceptance. He said the issues surrounding his sexuality were the result of him being molested as a child. Tyler said, 'I don’t know a man who has never been with another man.’ I do not believe that’s the case, but that’s what [Tyler] said. He said he believes God put him here to make people laugh, and for him to get in the way and assist me would be wrong. I thought Tyler’s support of the play could have slowed the HIV numbers down and sparked discussions. But he didn’t want to attach himself to a gay play because he didn’t want people to think that he was gay.
What was your next step after that conversation with Tyler Perry?
After that conversation, I had financial hardship and I didn’t want to do the play again. But I did it again at Center Stage and it flopped. I slipped into a depression until I started a personalized greeting card business. I’ve done cards for Brandy and Keshia Knight Pulliam. I eventually met Kelsey Stringer, who is the widow of the late NFL player Korey Stringer. I became friends with her and she later asked if I could do my show for $50,000. I was reluctant [to take the money] until I saw a show off-Broadway and was inspired. In January of 2007, she gave me the first check. I did 13 shows and everything fell into place. It was huge. I want to do the show again and I am now looking for corporate sponsorship.
So what can people expect from you in the upcoming months?
I want to take this show on a national tour. I started a blog called adayinthelifeplay.blogspot.com. It has given me a way to speak with an audience. This stage play has become my mission because I think about young guys who come from small towns and who fall prey to just sex. I will open the play in January 2011. It’s not just about gay people; it’s about the choices that we all make.
Follow me on Twitter: @therealcstewart