A Wild and Precious "Theraplay" of Gay Experience

One man's 50+ year gay journey comes home to a place that helped launch it

For over 35 years, psychotherapist Steve Cadwell has processed the trauma, the heartbreak, the joy, and the triumph of patients LGBTQIA. Through the lens of his own wild and precious life, spanning an era of gay liberation, he brings this story back to Austin, where he got his start.

The many faces of Steve

Cadwell spent time in Austin in the Seventies, earning his MSSW in 1980 at the UT School of Social Work; so his return this week is doubly special. His one-man show… or as he calls it, his "gender-free, one-queer show," Wild and Precious makes its Austin premiere tomorrow night, Thursday, November 13, 7:30pm, at UT's Utopia Theatre.

Growing up in New England as a "a queer little sissy boy, a disturbed distraught adolescent," says Cadwell, "I needed Texas. It was a foreign country. It was so important for me to get out, to find this place – the big sky, the springs [Barton, of course], the celebration of weird."

Here in Austin, he says, he found what many of us have – a "gay community coming together with an identity, great gay bars, a really open, engaged community." For him, he adds, "A great place to feel the fuller range that we can all express and be together."

After working with patients from the LGBTQIA spectrum in his professional life, the decades spent processing stories of shame, life in the closet, and the affects of homophobia definitely informed his art. He decided to take action and create a multimedia theatrical performance – Wild and Precious (named for a line in a Mary Oliver poem) is the result.

The show captures Cadwell’s journey through childhood in rural Vermont, AIDS, activism, marriage, parenthood, and 50 years of experiencing life as a gay man. With support from friends and church members, Cadwell has taken his theatrical memoir – a two-act performance filled with costume changes, elaborate lighting, song, and poetry – from a friend’s living room to college campuses and now, right here to Austin.

As the country lightens up on its oppressive attitudes and policies towards LGBTQ people, says Cadwell, it’s easy to forget that the world is not out of the homophobic woods. “I’m taking people into the darkness of what the closet is. As a psychotherapist, I have a view of the closest in a deep way,” says Cadwell. “To be in the closet about your sexuality is deeply damaging. It’s not just about the sex, it’s about the bliss of expressing who you really are, and to have that castrated, which is what the closet is, is very destructive. I pull no punches in making that point dramatically.”

Cadwell uses the theatre as a space to liberate and invite others to feel free and to own their identity. The show is a theatrical journey that celebrates individuality, self-expression, and weaves in both dark and light moments throughout history in the gay community. His show, he joked, is like “theraplay”: a marriage of therapy and theatre as a resource for people to grow and feel free of shame.

“Risk telling the whole story,” insists Cadwell. “The sad part, the terrible part, the joyful part, and the funny part. It’s the full spectrum of life, and I’m glad that I did that. That’s what the rainbow represents: the full spectrum, and it’s safe. We’re in it together and as I watch people, it’s the relationship between the audience, and me and it’s very powerful to feel connected in anyway we can. That’s what people tell me, they’re moved and that means we’re connected.”

Tickets are still available for the Thu., Nov. 13, 7:30pm performance of Wild and Precious at UT's Utopia Theatre.

Gay Place regular Sarah Marloff contributed to this story.

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Theatre, Steven Cadwell, Wild and Precious, gay lib, 70s Austin, 70s gay, UT, Utopia Theatre, Austin ex-pat, theraplay

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