December 9, 2010 at 3:44 pm EDT | by Patrick Folliard
When I get the sensation

‘A Peppermint Patty Christmas’

Through Dec. 18

Strand Theater Company

1823 N. Charles Street, Baltimore



Budding lesbian playwright Kate Bishop hit a nerve with her debut with lesbian Baltimore residents. (Photo courtesy of Bishop)

By titling her new play “A Peppermint Patty Christmas,” Kate Bishop puts a queer spin on a holiday classic. Like the beloved Peanuts TV special of everyone’s youth (“A Charlie Brown Christmas”), Bishop’s piece in some ways explores the deeper meanings of the season.

And though inspired by the animated favorite’s freckle-faced Tomboy whose female sidekick addresses her as “sir,” Bishop has written a grownup work about a lesbian striving to strengthen relationships with partner and family.

In Bishop’s play (commissioned by Baltimore’s Strand Theater Company), girlfriends Patricia and Marcie live in Brooklyn where the former is a gym-owning jock and the latter, a brainy graduate student writing her dissertation on Christmas. Not a big fan of the yuletide, Patricia has vowed to change things up this year. When she takes her girlfriend to spend Christmas with her less-than-functional family in Dundalk (a working class Baltimore suburb), Patricia is intent on foregoing small talk for total honesty. It’s time to be completely above board about her life.

Bishop came out to her family long before she ever brought a girlfriend home for the holidays. Still, a lot of her play is autobiographical: Like Patricia and Marcie, Bishop and her partner of nine years are an interracial couple. But perhaps most importantly, Bishop’s real life experiences with family and her career as a social worker (her clients are primarily Baltimore teens who’ve recently been diagnosed with HIV) prompts her to write – often humorously — about real life. Few of us, she says, truly recognize the idealized holidays we see depicted on greeting cards and commercials.

Last June, Bishop began her association with the Strand when her first play, a one act titled “How I learned to Eat Pussy,” was produced as part of their 2010 Friends and Neighbors Festival. Jayme Kilburn, the company’s artistic director, was initially attracted to the playwright’s unapologetic and mature voice. She explains,

“I have read too many plays where the central character is a lesbian in high school and falls in love with a pretty girl, experiments, is tortured by her feelings of inadequacy, etc., etc.,” Kilburn says. “Although those plays have their place … this was very different from that. It celebrated the discovery of her sexual orientation and was a very positive and detailed account of her first experience with a woman.”

Not surprising given the title, Bishop’s play struck a chord with Baltimore’s lesbian, theater-going community. The show ran for only a weekend, but each of the performances was sold out. Lesbians were letting the Strand know that they wanted to see more work about lesbian women, so when the company decided to commission an original holiday piece (to add to its season comprised of plays all written by women), they went to Bishop.

A resident of Baltimore’s Mt. Vernon neighborhood, the city’s cultural epicenter, for almost five years, Bishop, 37, grew up in the Pittsburgh suburbs and lived in Cleveland for a decade. She has a Bachelor of Arts in gender studies from Hiram College and a master’s in social work from Case Western Reserve University.

“This theater stuff is still pretty new to me, but I now feel a future in it,” Bishop says. “While I still need to work on some of the basics, I think I have a fresh sensibility and a lot to say. More and more I’m writing for a broader audience.”

Kilburn concurs.

“Kate has said that she wants to see more butch women on stage, and is not entirely satisfied with the current portrayals of lesbian women,” she says. “I think Kate could be instrumental in pushing lesbian characters into the spotlight. Anybody can watch her plays and relate to her characters. The Strand’s mission is to promote women’s voices, and Kate’s work fits into the mission perfectly.”

  • I don’t understand why the author needs to see more “butch” women on stage in lesbian roles. Not all lesbians are “butch” and, as someone with a number of lesbian friends, I am offended on behalf of the ones who are very pretty and very feminine. I agree that lesbian characters need more of a voice in the theater, but there is a pre-conceived notion of what a lesbian looks like that both The Strand and the author of the show are playing into when they say that lesbian characters need to be more “butch”. Just a thought.

    • Thanks so much for writing this piece, Patrick! Loved it, I’m a fan of you.

      Hi theatergirl, thanks for your thoughts. I appreciate someone who stands up for her friends.

      Perhaps you think I’m saying “butch” as shorthand for “lesbian” or “more credibly lesbian”. I see an absence of lesbian-generated images of women who proudly claim a more masculine identity. Maybe it’s an effort to avoid the mannish-woman stereotype, or to make lesbian lives translate more easily for the straight world, but lesbian representations I see on screen and stage too often just erase the existence of butch women altogether. While it’s important to be free of the notion that all lesbians look any certain way, I’d like to imagine (or pretend, maybe) that we’re beyond that assumption now.

      When I was coming out (hello, 1993, how ya doin’?), there was a gay guy with a weekly radio show who chronicled ANY mention of LGBT in mainstream media. Every gay character was celebrated, no matter how offensive or buffoonish, because there were just so few images of queer people anywhere. A generation later, we are treated to more and more queer characters every year (though cisgender gay men still far outnumber women and transfolks). In seeing more numerous images of lesbians, I am disappointed that the whole spectrum of our community is still not represented.

      Butch women have a revolutionary history, a rich culture, and a sacred place in the dyke world. Those powerful women must not be left out of the literal spotlight because they might confirm a stereotype for those with limited vision. I want to see my friends, all of them! I also want to intentionally create roles that allow masculine women to get work in theater without having to disappear behind a gender identity that feels absolutely foreign. I have the enormous privilege and responsibility of holding an audience’s attention for 90 minutes. Better believe I’m gonna make it count for me and my people. It’s long past time.

    • Theater girl, you seem to know that all lesbians aren’t butch – and after that i am having a lot of trouble understanding how, with all your knowledge of lesbians you have no idea what a ‘butch’ is, or what ‘butch’ represents in the history of sexual self-awareness and happiness. Apparently all your lesbian friends are femmes, but not one of them has ever dated a butch, which makes me hope your sampling is very small, cuz otherwise that would be sad, and very strange.

      The only place that all lesbians are “pretty” and “feminine” and only date other femmes is television. Maybe you are standing up for those fictional femmes. Which brings us full circle to Ms. Bishop’s point. Maybe if there were more roles for butches, you would not be so ignorant.
      Perhaps before you stand up for all the acceptable pretty lesbians, you should talk to some of them & who THEY would like to see on stage.

  • hey, theatergirl. all katy said was she wants to see more butch women. why does this bother you? obviously not all lesbians are butch – in fact, it seems that most depictions of lesbians in media, tv, theater are femme – which is exactly katy’s point. you dig?
    what do you have against us butchies anyway?
    signed, my real name,
    cathy brennan

  • Hey theatregirl,
    As a butch Lesbian, I am excited that Kate Bishop wants to see more of us!!!
    Besides, if you aren’t a lesbian…Why are you weighing in on things you clearly don’t understand? Annoying. Kate Bishop is a lesbian. She knows what she is talking about…I am a Lesbian. I know what I am talking about…you keep figuring out what your boyfriend needs and leave the lesbian politics to the lesbians.

  • I’d love to see more butch women play butch characters in any medium, because butches are hot and I don’t see enough of them honestly represented, particularly by LGBT-sourced media. Personally, I can’t wait for Kate’s play to be turned into its own annual Christmas special and I hope she’s directly responsible for the casting.

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