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Spotlight: LGBTQ entertainer addresses "adult live performance" bill

Robert Crane is Producing Artistic Director of White Elephant Theatre Company. He's opening a new "home-base" for his storied troupe - the theater space opens in June.
Nicole Darden Creston
Robert Crane is Producing Artistic Director of White Elephant Theatre Company. He's opening a new "home-base" for his storied troupe - the theater space opens in June.

A new measure in Florida targets what’s being called “adult live performance,” but Central Florida performers of all stripes are wondering what exactly that means.

Supporters say the measure prevents children from seeing inappropriate material, but opponents say it’s actually aimed at curtailing “drag shows.” It took shape after the DeSantis administration filed a December complaint against the Plaza Live in Orlando and a Miami hotel for hosting a “Drag Queen Christmas” event, saying minors could attend and that attendance was problematic.

Robert Crane heads up the White Elephant Theatre Company in Orlando. He says a fundamental misunderstanding of drag undergirds the bill, and its vague language could have a chilling effect across the LGBTQ and arts communities.

Robert Crane:
One of the things that we're the most concerned about in both the theatrical and the LGBTQ community, is the fact that the wording is very vague and could easily promote unnecessary violence or actions towards any type of theater that would involve a drag performer.

Nicole Darden Creston:
Now, you have a new theater that you're opening up, and there may be some drag planned - the theater world and the drag world, the Venn diagram overlap there is quite large.

Robert Crane:
It is quite large.

Nicole Darden Creston:
So do you feel like your business might be in danger?

Robert Crane:
I don't believe it will be in danger. But I do believe that those of us who own theaters or theatrical companies, at this point due to the decision made by the state legislature will have to take additional steps to ensure that we meet the criteria that they have apparently put in place, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Because I will share with you - I mean, this is why the vagueness of the language worries everyone - we respect all of our drag performers in the entertainment industry. Now, there are those who do something that is perhaps more on the edge of a burlesque. And in those instances, that would not be something that I feel would be appropriate for a child. But what we as theatre companies and owners and entertainers need to do is take that next step and maybe begin that process by providing age restriction notifications to ensure that does not take place. It is not our objective, to bring children into a world of drag. We're just there to entertain. And that's all that they've ever done. We as members of the theatrical community, as well as the LGBTQ+ community may have to change the way we think in terms of our publicity and marketing. And if that means that, you know, we take the same route, for instance, that the Dr. Phillips Center and the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre have done to include some type of an age listing for ticket sales to ensure that the public is aware of that, you know, we can certainly do that, if that's what they really need. However, I do think that anything that your children see is probably the parents’ choice. But we as an entertainment-based community, we're not going anywhere. So they can say whatever they want, but the show will go on.

Nicole Darden Creston:
You mentioned burlesque, I would imagine that something like that would be marked as such. It would have some sort of “adults only” indication.

Robert Crane:
It would, yes. Keep in mind too, that that type of performance, that I'm aware of, never takes place in a public venue anyway. So the concept of the bill in that matter is just simply redundant.

Nicole Darden Creston:
Let's dig more into the vagueness of the language that you mentioned earlier. You mentioned that you feel that there may be some danger involved. Can you elaborate on that a bit?

Robert Crane:
Well, certainly. I think that everyone on our side of the “tracks” knows that this really has nothing to do with drag, just the same as it didn't have anything to do with a water fountain or a bus. It's all about politics and prejudice and bigotry. Unfortunately, our leadership at the top here in the state of Florida has decided that this is another key to his [Republican Governor Ron DeSantis’s] success by playing to the right-wing conservatives, who obviously have either very little understanding or experience - or they have a fear - about exactly what drag is.

Nicole Darden Creston:
If you were going to describe to someone who's never seen drag what it is, how would you do that?

Robert Crane:
It's a guy in a dress entertaining you Which is terribly ironic, because now does this mean that no longer can we watch “Some Like It Hot?” No longer can there be another production of La Cage aux Folles, which is a very funny show? It's odd that they would have such objection about this, but Mom and Dad certainly don't mind taking their kid to Hooters. I myself have been known to wear a dress on occasion, for a good cause. You're kind of like a fantasy character.

Nicole Darden Creston:
There's also a bill that is up for approval by the state House mandating that people use the bathroom that is related to their sex at birth. Is there going to be any change to your establishment because of those requirements?

Robert Crane:
No, there will not. I mean, realistically, let's face it, women need more time in the facility than men do. And if one is full, if she wants to use the men’s room because she needs to, she has my blessing.

Nicole Darden Creston:
Do you think that this is going to affect theater overall in Florida?

Robert Crane:
Well, I certainly hope not. I think that once the cloud has passed, and as usual, the public begins to forget about those kinds of things, we will continue to thrive. I don't think it's going to affect those who truly love the art of the theater. I don't think it's going to affect those who love the art of female impersonation. And I think that when all is said and done, it's probably just a big waste of time.

Nicole Darden Creston:
What about the impact to the LGBTQ+ community?

Robert Crane:
Well, we continue to struggle for our rights, specifically here in Florida. We've made such strides over the last 25 years, and myself being a 66-year-old homosexual who has survived somehow all of the threats and violence that were tossed my way. I'm thrilled to see that but we didn't disappear before and we're not going to disappear now. A female impersonator or drag queen is nothing more than a character who wears a costume, who entertains. We do not have a secret society to abduct the minds of children and lead them in a way that their parents wouldn't have them to. Quite frankly, if they don't want to come to a drag show, they don't have to.

Nicole came to Central Florida to attend Rollins College and started working for Orlando’s ABC News Radio affiliate shortly after graduation. She joined WMFE in 2010. As a field reporter, news anchor and radio show host in the City Beautiful, she has covered everything from local arts to national elections, from extraordinary hurricanes to historic space flights, from the people and procedures of Florida’s justice system to the changing face of the state’s economy.
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