Alison Bechdel was pulling into Princeton, N.J., when I spoke to her Tuesday morning. She’d risen at 4 a.m. to get to a previously scheduled speaking engagement from Charleston, S.C., where the cast and creators of the musical Fun Home had put on two very special performances the night before.
“It was an amazing logistical feat,” she told me. “I don’t know how, but they got all the actors, [the show’s creators] Lisa [Kron] and Jeanine [Tesori], the musical director, everyone was there—and in a couple of hours they put together this performance.” Since the Public Theater’s production of Fun Home closed in January, that meant the participants traveled from all over the country, some fresh from auditions, to be there.
The cast and crew assembled in South Carolina to support the College of Charleston, after the institution’s budget was cut as punishment for the sin of assigning Bechdel’s graphic memoir Fun Home to incoming freshmen. “It was an educational event for the theater department, not just a performance. We were talking about how the play got constructed, how Lisa and Jeanine adapted it. I got up and talked about my book and read little passages. That was really cool. I’d never gotten to do stuff with the cast.”
The song “Changing My Major to Joan,” in which college-age Alison sings about her first sexual experience with a woman, was particularly well-received. “The audience so wanted to see that, especially the students who are having this very difficult time with their college.”
Earlier in the spring, another school had invited Bechdel to come down to discuss the controversy, but she had passed. “I found the whole thing upsetting and annoying,” she said, “and I didn’t feel like I wanted to expend a lot of energy addressing it.” But this felt more productive: “It seemed like a great opportunity to be with everyone and to put on a show.”
What’s more, it seemed to make a difference to the audience—especially “to the kids and to the faculty of that beleaguered school. People were really happy that we were there—some had come from other schools three to five hours away.” It also affected Bechdel: “I think I’ve gotten quite complacent in my old age, seeing how much progress has been made in terms of gay stuff. It was a wake-up call. There’s still a lot of work to be done.”