“Hit the Wall” is a story that’s been told before, yet can’t really be told enough: Ike Holter’s 2013 Off-Broadway production turns the Stonewall riots of 1969 into a play rolling through the moment that’s said to have kick-started the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender fight for equality.
The documentary-style production is now using the landmarked Stonewall Inn as its stage for the first time, in a limited run set through Nov. 27.
“I thought the play would really come to life in the place where it was based,” says Nick Browne, 27, the first to transport Holter’s production to the Greenwich Village venue. “It’s just not fair if these stories aren’t told. If you grow up and you don’t realize there are people who came before you who literally fought a revolution for you, it does you a disservice.”
The play focuses on the hours leading up to the violent bar raid of June 28, 1969, which resulted in five days of protests and more than 18 arrests. A cast of 10 actors call on select “immersive” seat-holders in the audience to help channel the chaos of the historic night.
“From the start of the show, there are moments that I think start that movement to the idea that we’re all in this space together. We’re not performing this for you, but we are inviting you to the experience we’re about to go through,” says actress Molly Watts, 22.
Twelve of the 50 total seats are grouped by the stage and are, at times, directly involved in the plot. Other audience members are encouraged to shout out during party scenes.
“You can’t help but feel you’re a part of the show because it’s happening all around you. And for a lot of our audience, they’re a part of the queer community, it’s their history,” says Scotland Newton, 28, who plays a transgender woman.
The cast takes over the bar area of Stonewall Inn, with television screens set up around the venue helping to scene-set when the script has brought its audience outside of the bar’s walls.
Since it was originally written by Holter and played at the Barrow Street Theatre five years ago, Browne says he hasn’t altered the script, keeping the historical accuracy.
“All of the characters in our show represent an archetype of the time period and the political climate,” explains Newton. His character, Carson, represents trans women of color, who would have been more accurately described as drag queens at the time.
A particular rule of the past involving gender-specific clothing comes into play for Newton and Watts, who appears as Peg, a trans male.
During the police drop-ins — which were common at Stonewall since its opening in 1967 — patrons who weren’t wearing at least three pieces of clothing representative of their gender faced potential arrest. As the NYPD busts inside to raid the bar, “inappropriately dressed” patrons are forced to crouch down in a restroom and hide.
“There’s a powerful moment when Peg and Carson think if they switch clothes they’ll be able to avoid what’s inevitably about to happen, and they make the decision together to stay dressed the way they are,” Scotland adds.
Unlike many a theater production, “Hit the Wall” has no choice but to wrap on a lower note. There’s no easy way to tie up a movement that’d continue to span decades post a single evening in 1969.
Instead, the cast hopes to incite a hunger for change or at least a desire for improved LGBTQ education.
“The play leaves you curious. After you experience it, you have to walk out through the bar, where you have all the pictures of original newspapers on the walls and signs that this is a raided premises,” Browne says. “I hope people take it in and start getting curious about other LGBTQ events.”
Tickets to “Hit the Wall,” presented by The Tribe NYC, start at $25 and are available for purchase at thetribenyc.com.