Playwright brings his life to center stage

Nicole Hennessy

Play opens tomorrow

Raised as a Mormon, John Cameron was taught being gay was a sin.

Anxious to suppress his homosexuality, he turned to a controversial reparative therapy experiment conducted at Brigham Young University in the mid 1970s.

“I wanted to believe in it so badly that I convinced myself that it was working; that I was changing,” Cameron said. “I was wrong.”

Cameron was leading a double life through electroshock therapy and other conditioning techniques such as snapping a rubber band on his wrist when he had an “inappropriate” thought.

“(Undergoing therapy) was a huge secret,” he said. “I didn’t tell anyone.”

Cameron came to Kent State to earn his master’s and doctorate degrees after leaving BYU. At that time, he began writing a play titled “14.”

“Writing the play brought me out of depression,” Cameron said. “The play, for me, has been a wonderful self-discovery.”

The title refers to the 14 men, including Cameron, who participated in the experiment, none of whom Cameron ever met.

“It’s a very emotional, controversial subject matter,” he said. “I didn’t write it to be political. I knew it would be. I was just trying to finish something in my life.”

Cameron has learned that two of the 14 men committed suicide.

Because of the fact he believes in chaos rather than fate, the play speaks a lot about realizing the absence of a god figure and being OK with that fact. Throughout the torture-enduring plot, there are also humorous undertones, character transformations and acceptance.

“14” will run at 8 p.m. Oct. 9,10,13-17 and at 2 p.m. Oct. 11 and 18 in Wright-Curtis Theatre in the Music and Speech Building. Tickets are $8 for students and $16 for adults.

“14” is sure to bring up many thoughts and opinions.

Max Harrington, PRIDE!Kent’s president, said he hopes “14” will give people a new perspective on “a broad degree of issues that take place in society.” Harrington believes the LGBT community has advanced due to popular culture such as music, films and plays like “14.”

“I think it’s very cool that we have been able to have a play performed and produced here at Kent State,” Harrington said. “It’s another use of reaching out and handing out a message.”

As John Cameron, writer and director of “14” said, “’14’ is not meant to be political, it just is.”Harrington said he believes “before it needs to bbject.”

“We (society) will never, ever stop trying to make everybody else exactly like us,” Cameron said. ” We are all so abusive to each other. We’re always holding each other down.”

As this year’s visiting director of Kent State’s School of Theatre and Dance, Cameron was given the opportunity to stage his play.

Flying back and forth from the University of Iowa where he serves as the head of acting and associate professor, Cameron must amend each of the play’s flaws before its Oct. 9 debut.

“I never thought this would be interesting to anybody,” he said. “We have the tendency to think other people’s lives are interesting and ours are boring.”

For the students, working with the writer and director is a great experience.

“Working with John (Cameron) is the best part,” cast member Erin Diroll said. “It’s really cool since it’s a true story.”

The production team of “14” cares about what the audience gets out of the play.

“I hope they get a sense that homosexual guys are people; they’re just people,” said Dane Castle, who plays the psychologist. “Everyone’s just trying to find themselves in life.”

Castle said he is gay and found the play inspirational and the experiment frightening.

“It’s hard enough to find yourself, gay or straight,” he said. “Why should we make it (acceptance) harder on ourselves?”

As Cameron positions the actors on stage, it is as if he is re-inventing his own memories.

“Theatre and life are kind of the same,” Cameron said. “The only thing that makes it worthwhile is your interaction with other people.”

Including the narrators, the cast includes 14 students and a plot that Cameron claims is too weird to give away.

So as the dialogue goes, “I don’t want a moral, no neat little conclusion, I just want the story told.”

Contact performing arts reporter Nicole Hennessy at [email protected]