Tony-Winning Torch Song Trilogy Producer John Glines Dies at 84

Obituaries   Tony-Winning Torch Song Trilogy Producer John Glines Dies at 84
 
Mr. Glines was the first person to thank a same-sex partner in an acceptance speech at a major awards show.
John Glines
John Glines Facebook/@John Glines

John Glines, a Tony Award-winning producer who, with his theatre company The Glines, helped foster such landmark queer-themed works as Torch Song Trilogy and As Is, died August 8 in Bangkok, Thailand, at the age of 84. His death, due to complications from a surgery for diverticulitis and long-term emphysema, was confirmed to Playbill by Steve Carpenter, Vice President of The Glines.

After graduating from the Yale School of Drama, Mr. Glines, born October 11, 1933, began his career in children’s programming, writing for Captain Kangaroo (he would later write for Sesame Street as well).

Estelle Getty and Harvey Fierstein in Torch Song Trilogy.
Estelle Getty and Harvey Fierstein in Torch Song Trilogy.

With Barry Laine and Jerry Tobin, Mr. Glines co-founded The Glines, a non-profit theatre company dedicated to the development of works exploring the gay experience, in 1976. Mr. Glines chose to use his own moniker for the company to echo his insistence that everyone who took part use their real names. He told Playbill in a 1985 interview, “We wanted something that was not politically oriented…nine years ago, playwrights and actors didn’t use their own names; a gay play meant something pornographic. I thought by using my own name, it would be a forerunner—it would force others to do the same.”

The Glines produced the 1981 world premiere of Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy at the Richard Allen Center, following individual presentations of the three one-acts at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club. The play transferred to the Actors Playhouse before heading to Broadway in June 1982.

When the Broadway production won the Tony Award for Best Play in 1983, Mr. Glines became the first person to acknowledge a same-sex partner—Lawrence Lane, who also served as a producer and Managing Director of The Glines—on a major awards show. Fierstein, who also won that evening as both playwright and performer, would go on to do the same the following year during his Best Book acceptance speech for La Cage aux Folles.

As he prepares for a new publication of Torch Song and a fall Broadway revival, Fierstein reflects on Mr. Glines and Lane's commitment to producing what was then a four-hour piece. "If it seems like an easy thing to do, it is only because John made it so," Fierstein says. "Beyond getting the play on, John would not rest until he moved an openly gay play out of the theatre closet of Off-Broadway to Broadway itself. His vision, his determination, his money from Sesame Street, changed the world and reshaped the current landscape."

Harvey Fierstein, Betty Lee Hunt, John Glines, and Lawrence Lane
Harvey Fierstein, Betty Lee Hunt, John Glines, and Lawrence Lane accepting the 1983 Tony Award for Torch Song Trilogy

Richie Jackson, a producer of the upcoming Torch Song revival, recalls meeting Mr. Glines when pitching a black box student production at NYU to him and Lane, "simply because they wanted to support a young gay theatre student attempting to produce gay theatre.

"John was a fierce activist, and his weapon of choice was art," says Jackson. "He understood that there was nothing more powerful than the written word, and he presented playwrights like Harvey Fierstein and Jane Chambers to dispel stereotyping and to bolster all of us in how we felt about ourselves."

After their success with Torch Song Trilogy, Mr. Glines and Lane were subsequently nominated in 1985 for producing William M. Hoffman’s As Is—which they originally produced through The Glines with Circle Repertory Company. Their 1993 production of Whoop-Dee-Doo, a revue tackling various components of the gay rights movement through a camp lens, won a Drama Desk Award for Best Musical Revue.

Mr. Glines also presented his own writing with the company, including the plays On Tina Tuna Walk, In Her Own Words (A Biography of Jane Chambers), Body and Soul, and Men of Manhattan. His additional works include Butterflies and Tigers, based on true stories from the Cultural Revolution of China and inspired by a trip he had taken to China and Tibet.

Throughout the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, The Glines received more and more works depicting living with HIV/AIDS; when As Is opened in 1985, Mr. Glines said he’d read three to four scripts exploring the subject a week that year. As the crisis progressed, the company felt the responsibility to present lighter works as well, such as Whoop-Dee-Doo.

John Glines_Stamp_Out_Aids_HR

"People having just visited dying friends in the hospital didn't want to go see a play about friends dying in the hospital. They needed an escape—something to take their minds away from the horrors they were experiencing in their real life," explains Carpenter. "John Glines once again had his pulse on the gay community and gave them what they needed."

Carpenter says it was Mr. Glines' request that The Glines close its doors upon his death.

Mr. Glines' activism extended beyond fostering gay works; in 1986, he formed Stamp Out AIDS, which sold sets of stamps to benefit multiple AIDS organizations in the U.S. The initiative ultimately served as a catalyst for the formation of Broadway Cares. When the latter merged with Equity Fights AIDS in 1992, Mr. Glines served on the Board of Trustees until his move to Thailand.

Mr. Glines is survived by his husband, Chaowarat Chiewvej, a former Buddhist monk. The two met during Mr. Glines' early travels in Thailand and were wed in Manhattan June 29, 2014 (the day of that year's Pride march). A memorial service celebrating his life is expected to be held later this summer in New York City.

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