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Able Cain

Forum managing director enjoys ‘behind-the-scenes’ efforts

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Julia Harman Cain, theater, Forum, gay news, Washington Blade
Julia Harman Cain, theater, Forum, gay news, Washington Blade

Julia Harman Cain says contemporary theater doesn’t have to be didactic. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Julia Harman Cain vividly remembers her first encounter with Forum Theatre. Not long after moving to D.C. in 2007, she attended a performance of the Round House Silver Spring resident company’s production of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot.”

“It was a really, really strong production,” she says. “I spent the last 10 minutes of the play crying. And I was seated in the front row — it was a little awkward.” Cain left the theater determined to get to the know Forum much better.

By the following season, Cain was working as associate producer on the company’s production of “Angels in America,” gay playwright Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning opus about AIDS. And in 2010, Cain (who is gay) was named Forum’s managing director.

As managing director, Cain says, she’s a “behind-the-scenes person.”

She explains: “My job is to help make sure that everything is in place to make the season go. That includes marketing, fundraising and finance. I’m responsible for front of house, which includes everything you experience when you walk in the door. And operations. I call the repairman when the copier breaks.”

Forum founder and Artistic Director Michael Dove says “There’s very little that Julia and I do that isn’t collaboration. It’s much more a Venn diagram with a lot of overlap than two sides of an organization. But beyond her title as managing director, what may surprise people most is that I trust her artistic eye as much as any collaborator. She would make an amazing critic or dramaturg and keenly understands story. In fact, she has even brought several plays to me that we have produced in the past few years.”

While Cain concedes being gay doesn’t have a lot of impact on the daily mechanics of her position, she does view the arts through an LGBT filter. In fact, she has a little method she uses to rate the complexity of LGBT characters in films and plays. Based on the Bechdel litmus test (named for cartoonist Alison Bechdel creator of “Dykes to Watch Out For”) which rates the complexity of female characters on screen, Cain’s gay version asks: Is there an identifiable LGBT character? And does he or she talk with other characters about something other than their sexuality?

“Theater in D.C. scores very well when it comes to plays with layered LGBT characters,” she says. “And Forum in particular has an excellent track record for producing plays with LGBT central characters.”

Growing up in Needham, Mass., (a suburb of Boston), Cain, 27, made her theatrical debut in first grade as a super hero in a 10-minute skit about recycling. She went on to do school shows and community theater. As a Princeton undergrad, she majored in comparative literature and participated in extracurricular theater, mostly behind the scenes. (Cain loves stage managing, but reportedly makes “a really bad costume designer.”)

After graduating, rather than follow her theater-focused friends to New York, Cain moved to D.C. and began a season-long internship at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company where she also worked as an assistant to the company’s artistic director Howard Shalwitz. “Woolly was my introduction to professional theater,” she says. “Being around Howard taught me so much. Over 30 years, he has created a successful company and made a recognizable brand. Although their shows might sometimes be way out and not well known, Woolly’s audiences are willing to take that dive with them.”

“Forum is a big small company and I like that,” says Cain, who lives with her girlfriend in Takoma Park. “Because we’re not too big, it allows us to take risks and not deal with a lot of red tape. At Forum, we like to do shows that are conversation starters, to do plays that deal with social, political and spiritual themes, that are engaged with contemporary life.  Most political theater has a reputation for being overly didactic. It doesn’t have to be that way.”

A couple of examples supporting Crain’s claim include Forum’s season opener Kara Lee Corthron’s “Holly Down in Heaven,” the story of a pregnant, born-again Christian teen who seeks solace from her eclectic talking doll collection; and Forum’s upcoming production “9 Circles” by playwright Bill Cain (no relation to Julia) to be staged by Jennifer Nelson. It’s a play based on real events about an American soldier who kills a family while serving in Iraq.

“I’ve always wanted Forum to be a service organization that spoke to a diverse community and to be a gathering place for ideas, discussion, and discourse. Julia brought the ideas and tools to start that process,” Dove says. “Julia transformed Forum from a rag tag group who put on plays into a functioning organization that better serves a community and grows responsibly.”

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Books

New book explores ‘Breaking the Rainbow Ceiling’

The benefits of coming out at work

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(Book cover image courtesy of Bloomsbury)

‘Breaking the Rainbow Ceiling’
By Layla McCay
c.2024, Bloomsbury
$24/240 pages

You can see the CEO’s office from the outside of your workplace.

You’ve actually been in that office, so you know what it looks like inside, too. Big, expansive desk. Cushy, expensive chair. Ankle-deep carpet. The CEO got there through regular means over the course of his career – something you’d like to do, too. But as you know, and as in the new book, “Breaking the Rainbow Ceiling” by Layla McCay, you’ll have to take a different path.

Of all the thousands of board seats and C-suite occupiers in American businesses, only a very tiny number – less than one percent – are occupied by people who identify as LGBTQ. In London, says McCay, no one on the Financial Times Stock Exchange identifies as such. Just six of the world’s leaders, past or current, have come out as LGBTQ.

The reasons for this are many, from discomfort to a sense of a lack of safety or just plain mistrust. Employees often don’t talk about it and employers can’t or don’t ask, which can lead to a lot of issues that cis, heterosexual employees don’t have to think about.

LGBTQ employees make less money than their straight co-workers. They experience discrimination ranging from sexual violence on one end, to micro aggressions on the other. Discrimination can be found in educational settings, and networking events, in a lack of mentorship, and the feeling that one needs to “code-switch.” Even an overseas job offer can be complicated by identifying as LGBTQ.

And yet, says McCoy, there are benefits to coming out, including a sense of authenticity, and feeling as if a load has been removed from one’s shoulders.

If you are an employer, McCoy says, there are things you can do to help. Include LGBTQ people in your diversity programs at work. Insist on it for recruitment. Make sure your employees feel safe to be themselves. Make all policies inclusive, all the time, from the start. Doing so benefits your business. It helps your employees.

“It’s good for society.”

Pretty common sense stuff, no? Yeah, it is; most of what you’ll read inside “Breaking the Rainbow Ceiling” is, in fact, very commonsensical. Moreover, if you’re gay, lesbian, bi, trans, or queer, you won’t find one new or radical thing in this book.

And yet, inside all the nothing-new, readers will generally find things they’ll appreciate. The statistics, for instance, that author Layla McCay offers would be helpful to cite when asking for a raise. It’s beneficial, for instance, to be reminded why you may want to come out at work or not. The advice on being and finding a mentor is gold. These things are presented through interviews from business leaders around the world, and readers will find comfort and wisdom in that. You’ll just have to wade through a lot of things you already know to get it, that’s all.

Is it worth it? That depends on your situation. You may find nothing in “Breaking the Rainbow Ceiling,” or it may help you raise the roof.

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Out & About

Under Armour hosts LGBTQ obstacle course

‘Unmatched Pride’ event held in Baltimore

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Unmatched Athlete in partnership with Under Armour Unified will host the inaugural “Unmatched Pride event for LGBTQ+ and allied youths” on Saturday, July 20 at 11 a.m. at the Stadium at 2601 Port Covington Dr. in Baltimore Peninsula.

Teens 13-17 and kids 8-12 will have the ability to compete in obstacle course activity and skills challenges. The obstacle course will consist of a variety of fun stations that will test participants in strength, agility, and cardio. Flag football skill challenges and more will be offered.

For those who are interested, there will be an opportunity for youths to compete with and/or against their parents as well at 1:30 p.m. Registration is available on Eventbrite

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Out & About

Blade’s Peter Rosenstein holds book talk in Rehoboth

‘Born This Gay’ memoir explored

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Longtime Washington Blade contributor Peter Rosenstein will hold an author talk on Thursday, July 25 at 5:30 p.m. at CAMP Rehoboth (37 Baltimore Ave., Rehoboth Beach, Del.) in conversation with fellow author Fay Jacobs. The pair will discuss Rosenstein’s new memoir, “Born This Gay: My Life of Activism, Politics, Travel, and Coming Out.” Register at camprehoboth.org.

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