"Stained Glass," a joint project presented by Michigan Stage and non-profit performing arts organization Planet Ant, is set in the post-apocalyptic Planet Ant, recently overrun by religious zealots, who, along with their leader, Tina Featherbottom, threaten to shut down Ant Hall and transform it into a megachurch. When Featherbottom's minions and the main character Nancy Nogood have a heated exchange at Ant Hall, Nogood's "tired, uninspired act is transformed into an origin story worthy of a comic book hero," reads an overview of the show.
"The show is an exploration of queerness and gender identity, which applies not only to members of the LGBTQ community but to allies as well," explained Tim Paré, Michigan Stage's artistic director and the show's co-writer and director.
Members of the drag and LGBTQ+ community are no strangers to religious persecution and ridicule, which is why this show is considered semi-autobiographical. Paré co-wrote it with Philip Calabro, who stars in it as Nancy Nogood. Calabro told Pride Source that he's "been wanting to tell [this story] for a while."
"[A]s I've continued my drag career, and especially during the pandemic, I have realized how important drag is to my own person and how drag is the perfect avenue to tell my story," Calabro shared. "Once Tim and I began writing this show together, it all just fell into place."
Portraying Rose Ritz and Tina Featherbottom is Hayley Pulizzi, a cisgender female drag queen.
"Rose is my actual drag persona in the Detroit drag scene," she said. "However, in this production, Rose is the lounge singer that Nancy lip syncs to every night. Meanwhile, Tina is the antagonist of the show. She's a religious zealot who wants to bring an end to Nancy's shows and will do everything in her power to do so."
Pulizzi says she was drawn to the show for the opportunity to sing live and show off her musical-theater background.
"As an AFAB [Assigned Female At Birth] drag queen I sometimes face certain criticisms and biases once people find out I am a cis-woman," Pulizzi said. "I find if I don't open my mouth to speak or sing, 'the illusion' isn't broken. In certain clubs and venues, if I were to sing live, I would be treated differently. However, this cast has lifted me up and celebrated me, and that has felt beyond wonderful."
Paré agrees with that sentiment. He says the show was presented at Ferndale Pride to celebrate these stories with a new, family-friendly audience.
"As a Ferndale-based community's non-profit, I'm always seeking intersectional outlets for programming," he explained. "Pride seemed the most obvious choice. Pride, as a movement, has evolved so much in recent years, embracing a much wider audience."
Besides Pulizzi and Calabro, the show also features six local drag artists, including Wanda Bread, Jezebel, Prince Cole, Remy LaFontaine, Paige Michaels and Stevie Phoenix.
"Looking Back Through Stained Glass" will wrap its limited run this weekend. Catch it Thursday through Saturday, Oct. 7-9, at Ant Hall in Hamtramck.