top of page
Name.png

Conceptualized and Choreographed by Monica Ordoñez

 

CAST

Aaron Wiggins - Patron

Adrienne Simmons - Jane Golding/Patron

Alexa Erck - Ferris Leblanc

Bayleigh Breanne - Jean Gosnell/Dancer 

Cailyn O’Hara - Patron/Dancer

Clinton O. Parfait - John Golding

Daví Eddie Lockwood - Marcy Marcel

Edward Spots - Reggie Adams

Elyssa Fonicello - Patron/Dancer

Jakki Kalogridis - Roger Nunez

Jason Derek North - Douglas “Buddy” Rasmussen 

Jay Canova - John’s interest/Patron

Jo Farley - Luther Boggs

Joel Hochman - David Stuart Gary aka Piano Dave

Justice Hues - Regina Adams/Narrator 

Kevin Real - Adam Fontenot

Kristy Ganssle - Patron/Dancer

Lauren Saizan - Patron/Dancer

Mares Sánchez - Patron/Dancer

Sophia Rose - Patron/Dancer

Waverly Tess Evans - Patron/Nurse

Click here for performer bios

Take My Hand
Music: Can’t Help Falling in Love|Perfume Genius
Film clips courtesy of Royd Anderson - The Upstairs Lounge,
Sheri L. Wright - Tracking Fire, NBC NEWS
 
The Wild Side
Music: Walk on the Wild Side|Lou Reed
             
Meet the Patrons!

Music: This Magic Moment|Lou Reed
             

Out of the closet, and into the light. 

 

Buddy the bartender had a gift for making the regular patrons feel special and making other patrons feel like they were one of the regulars. You’re home here. You’re one of us. Buddy and Adam lived that adage that opposites attract.

 

Reggie and Regina met that night and became inseparable. 

 

There was Luther Boggs, Buddy's right hand man and his straight friend, Jean Gosnell. Ferris Leblanc, a WWII vet. Stewart Butler and his dog Jacco. Skip Getchell. John Golding. David Stuart Gary, the new piano player who we all called Piano Dave. 

 

It was a place to go if you wanted to have fun, a place to go, a place to talk, a place to find  friends if you were in need. People who understood, people with whom you could let your hair down. A place perhaps, to find love…


You Just Didn’t Want it to End 
Music: Perfect Day| Lou Reed
 
Down the stairs, into the closet, and into the darkness, where they wore masks of themselves walking down the street; where gay people could be beaten, arrested, evicted, fired, and thrown in a mental institution even, dare they come out; but still, many patrons made the ultimate sacrifice to serve our country in war, always on the edge. Many were deeply religious. The UpStairs Lounge was a safe haven that even provided that religious outlet, when the Metropolitan Community Church, a gay friendly Christian congregation held their services in the back theater prior to the beer bust.  

The Safe Haven
Music: Neon Bible|Arcade Fire
Gay and Straight, We Shall Overcome
Music: We Shall Overcome|Pete Seeger
Narrations: Let the Faggots Burn by Johnny Townsend
 

It was Reggie who named his new partner Regina, Latin for Queen, his queen. From then on, she no longer identified as Richard, but as Regina. Reggie had been studying Jesuit priesthood, as Regina was about to take on a Mormon mission in China. Together they instead detoured on a path pursuing their unique love, interracial and queer, during a time where segregation lingered. and being gay was illegal.  Within six weeks, they moved in together in an apartment adorned with plants and flowers on Julia St. Regina gave Reggie her class ring, which he wore on his left hand, and Reggie gave Regina a good luck charm, a necklace with an Italian Fisherman. They wore these on June 24th, as they climbed together UpStairs preparing for the Beer Bust and dinner after with Buddy and Adam. 


The Smash
Music: Maybe This Time, Mein Herr|Liza Minnelli
Narrations: Let the Faggots Burn by Johnny Townsend

 

As a child, Marco Sperandeo told his sister, I’m going to live like a woman one day. In the later 60’s and early 70’s, Marco had a job as a mail runner at the municipal court building. On weekends, he would go to The UpStairs Lounge. Marco’s long time friend Regina Adams takes credit not just for being the first one to put Marco in drag, but for making him the first person to impersonate Liza Minelli in the city of New Orleans. Marco performing as Marcy Marcell was a smash and soon a regular performer in the theater in The UpStairs Lounge.


The Omen
Music: Les Fleurs|Minnie Riperton
Narrations: Let the Faggots Burn by Johnny Townsend

 

But on that Sunday morning, Marcy woke up with a strange feeling. She stayed in her apartment all day. She was scheduled to perform UpStairs for a charity event at 8pm but was procrastinating going, feeling dread. She would just watch the Bette Davis movie on TV until the next commercial break…

 

There was always something bumpin’ at The UpStairs Lounge…from putting on plays in the back theater, Like Egad What a Cad...tiny tricycle races…we’d just fall to the floor laughin’..

 

John and Jane Golding lived a peaceful, quiet existence in their New Orleans home. Married in 1947, they celebrated their 25th anniversary in December of 1972. John, Jane, and their two daughters and one son went to church together regularly. They went to movies when they could afford it, went on picnics together, and went to the beach, anywhere interesting that lay along the bus routes since they couldn’t afford to own a car. All in all, they were a fairly average family except for one thing. John was gay.


The Cure
Music: Scherzo|Perfume Genius, Some Velvet Morning|Nancy Sinatra, Lee    Hazlewood
Story inspired by Dr. Robert Heath’s gay conversion therapy at Tulane Medical School and the story of patient B-19
 
My Body
Music: My Body|Perfume Genius
Jane
Music: I Go To Sleep|The Kinks
Narrations: Let the Faggots burn by Johnny Townsend
 

John and Jane often talked together, and Jane marveled at how close they were as friends, despite the wall she often felt between them. John was no dancer, so they rarely went to parties, but they did go to movies together fairly often and occasionally went to see stage plays when they could scrape the money together. Yes, they were closer than some couple she knew, but there was something, something…


John and Jane, and Him
Music: I Only Have eyes For You|The Flamingos
Narrations: Let the Faggots Burn by Johnny Townsend
Entangled Fate
Music: I Only Have eyes For You|Hugo Winterhalter and His Orchestra
Narrations: Let the Faggots Burn by Johnny Townsend
             

John asked if she thought she’d be better off without him, but with three children and no work experience, what was she going to do? She still loved him, despite him being gay. He was still kind and generous, still gentle and mild. The kind of guy everyone loved. And besides, he needed her. So they stayed together.

 

Reggie and Regina were now living together in the French Quarter at 1071 Conti Street. Both busy with their new day jobs, they saved Sunday evenings at The UpStairs Lounge as their romantic ritual, where they could love freely. 

 

On June 24, 1973, it was a typical hot summer evening. It was also Gay Pride Day.

 

Mitch and Hourace dropped off their sons at the movie theater to attend the beer bust. They would pick them up right after…but something strange was in the air. 

 

Reverend Bill Larson and Ricky Everett had lunch together, and Ricky just couldn’t shake this strange feeling he had, saying to Bill, “ I don’t know why, but I think you’re going to die…”, to which Bill replied, “Don’t I know it”. They shrugged it off and headed to the lounge. Ricky had a hot date joining him.

 

Jimmy dropped his friend Skip Getchell at the lounge and saw a black cloud dwelling over Skip as he walked in. He blinked thinking he must have been pretty drunk.

 

Regina and Reggie planned for dinner after the beer bust with Buddy and Adam. Innez would be scoping out some contenders for her gay sons. Ferris had just celebrated his 50th birthday.

 

Marcy, still pacing in her apartment, was set to perform in the back theater at 8pm, with proceeds going to a children’s charity hospital. Patrons would be gearing up for their weekly beer bust at the upstairs lounge. A $1.50 cover charge for all you can drink beer, and you even got your .50 cent deposit back. 

The UpStairs Lounge would quickly be bumpin’ with 60 souls cuttin’ up, singing and dancing. Piano Dave would say, ready kiddies, and we would quickly be United in song, proudly singing United we stand.

Oh, What a Beautiful Day!
 Lead Vocals: Justice Hues, Adrienne Simmons, Cailyn O’Hara, Jay Canova
 

As John finished his spaghetti that evening, he stood up from the table. “Lady”, he said, calling Jane by his pet name for her, “that’s so good”. That’s so delicious.” They smiled and then she began washing dishes as he finished getting ready to go out. Not a perfect life, she thought. Certainly, not a perfect life. But she knew she was still better off with him than without him. “See you later,” John said as he headed for the door. She managed a smile in response and watched as her husband left to join his friends over at the UpStairs Lounge. 

Reggie realized he didn’t have his checkbook, which they would need for dinner with Buddy and Adam after the Beer Bust. You have a fresh drink, you stay here and enjoy it. I’ll be right back. At 7:45 pm, Regina left for their nearby apartment to retrieve the checkbook, and Jean’s hat that she had borrowed. “I love you.”


RUN
Music: Run from Me|Timber Timbre
 
Luther, Put on Croc Rock!
Music: Crocodile Rock|Elton John
 

The clock at The UpStairs Lounge stopped a few minutes after 8. 

I had only been gone for ten minutes. Someone emptied a can of lighter fluid into the stairwell at The UpStairs Lounge. 

When Luther opened the door at the top of the stairs, a huge flash of flames exploded into the room, catapulting a massive fireball into the lounge, igniting everything. The wallpaper, the carpet, the wooden panels…

The lights went out. People were drunk, confused, screaming. You could hear the crackling of flames, bottles popping. 

People began frantically trying to escape the barred windows overlooking Chartres Street, ripping down flaming drapes and breaking glass panes, only to get stuck. Jeanne and Luther managed to push through an opening and made it to the fire escape. Adam remained at the bar, frozen in fear.

Buddy knew about the fire escape door behind the theater. He shouted to everybody to follow him, touching each person he passed. Come with me, he said calmly, come with me…

I had only been gone for …10 minutes. I kept hoping to see Reggie emerge in the crowd, but it was never him. I heard a distant scream as I laid my eyes on the lounge. It was coming from me.

Luther, Go See Who’s at the Door 
Music: Choir|Perfume Genius, Divorce Papers|Arcade Fire and Owen Pallett
After
 

“I stayed up all night waiting. Is this where John had been? Did he get out? Was he ok? I called the hospitals and the morgue, but they had no information on John. He was later identified by fingerprints from a gay related charge. I found myself wishing John had just been burned, but lived. I would have taken care of him. 

 

29 people killed in French Quarter Blaze

A bar frequented by thieves burglars and queers 

They were just a bunch of faggots though, who cares? I do, I thought, I do.

Silence from city officials

Silence from the archbishop  

No statements of sympathy for the victims or their families in mourning

Rejection of services from most catholic churches

A careless police investigation, though evidence was compelling   

Silent is how the gay community had to be; Mourning the loss of their friends and loved ones the next day at work, wondering who made it? Who passed? But they couldn’t say anything, for fear of being outed.

17 bodies were found by the piano intertwined together

3rd and 4th degree burns over their bodies made most of them unrecognizable

Some suffered fatal injuries from the impact of falling from the windows

Three more would succumb to their wounds in the hospital, after unimaginable suffering. Like Luther Boggs

But they were just queers, right?

 

A small service was held, one week later by the MCC at St. Marks Church, where mourners were able to sit peacefully and share their grief. Despite the tantalizing media awaiting outside, the congregation proudly walked out the front door, united. 

 

John rests in St. Patrick Cemetery #1, with military honors  

Rodger Nunez had been UpStairs that night causing trouble when Buddy threw him out. A witness saw a man matching Nunez’s description purchasing a can of lighter fluid at the Walgreens down the street. Buddy spotted Nunez in the crowd outside the fire and furiously dragged him to the police, telling them he had committed this crime. The police failed to pursue the lead and make any arrests. He committed suicide on November 15, 1974. A nun who he befriended named Sister Mary Ledet spoke of Nunez, recounting, “he didn’t like to er, to be gay, and that threw him. That was, I think, his stemmed, his problems all stemmed from that, you know, he couldn’t, he, he reached the point where he couldn’t accept himself for who what he was.”

 

REGINALD E. ADAMS

MAY 31, 1949 , JUNE 24, 1973

BODY NO. 8

Identified by his ring 

MY REGGIE

“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord for their works follow them—Apoc 14:13.”

               
Set My Spirit Free
Music: My Body is a Cage|Arcade Fire
Photo: Robert Fieseler, Still Beloved, Common Wealth Magazine
 

Duane Mitchell, known as Mitch, was one of the people who had followed Buddy, but as the group filed onto the roof, he realized he didn’t see his lover, Horace, among them. He turned back, reentering the flaming lounge to look for him. They died together.


I’ll Be With You
Music: Unchained Melody|The Fleetwoods, Sea of Love|Phill Phillips and The Twilights
Film clip courtesy of Robert Camina, Upstairs Inferno

 

I'll be with you.
 
For Ferris
Music: Mr. Lonely|Angel Olsen
Film clips courtesy of Sheri L. Wright - Tracking Fire 
 
32 Souls
Music: Dimensions|Arcade Fire and Owen Pallett, Otherside|Perfume Genius  
Film clip courtesy of Robert L. Camina, Upstairs Inferno, www.upstairsinferno.com
 

50 years ago, 32 lives were lost to the tragic fire at The UpStairs Lounge. 

 

32 lives that were neglected honor, respect, and remembrance by city officials. 32 lives that were lost because of hatred. 

 

32 voices silenced for being queer. 

 

Let us remember that they were living, laughing, loving, praying, drinking, riding tricycles, performing for charities, and just being free to be. 

 

32 lives lost with souls that shine on;  for them we stay present, remain engaged, and active; We remember their voices in solidarity to shape our future.

United We Stand 


United We Stand 
Music: United We Stand|Brotherhood of Man
 
Bows
Music: Queen|Perfume Genius
 

 

 


Research/Resources
Johnny Townsend, author, Let the Faggots Burn
Clayton Delery, author, The UpStairs Lounge Arson
Robert Fieseler, author, Tinderbox 
Royd Anderson, The UpStairs Lounge Fire (documentary)
Robert L. Camina, Upstairs Inferno (documentary), www.upstairsinferno.com
Sheri L. Wright, Tracking Fire (documentary) at trackingfire.org

Additional Credits
Choreographer/Writer/Artistic Director/Sound Mixing: Monica Ordoñez
Pianist: Joel Ellis
Audio Engineering: Gregg Perea 
Costume Designer: Jennifer Johnson
Costume Assistants: Paige McRae, Bridget Hamstead 
Lighting Design and Technical Production: Crescent Sound & Light, Inc.
AV Technician: Sofia Rodríguez
Set Decoration: Jason Derek North
Graphic Design: Sophia Rose
 
Special Thanks
The New Orleans Museum of Art; Diane Baas, Kevine Griffith, and The University of New Orleans School of The Art; Le Petit Theatre; The Tulane Theatre Department; The LGBT Archives Project of LA
 
Supporters
The UpStairs Lounge is supported by the generosity of the New Orleans Theatre Association and also in part by the Louisiana Division of the Arts, Office of Cultural Development, Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, in cooperation with the Louisiana State Arts Council, as administered by the RAC. Funding has also been provided by the National Endowment of the Arts.
 

 

This is an emotionally charged production depicting hatred, grief, suicide, and death. We encourage our audience to take care of their emotional well-being during the performance and seek support if needed.
 
Also, we acknowledge the recent sexual assault allegations against Arcade Fire. We stand in solidarity with survivors of assault, and we believe it is important to address these allegations. 
 
Sexual assault resources: 1-855-435-7827 (STAR), 1-888-372-8995 (statewide hotline); Suicide and crisis lifeline: 988; Crisis text line: text NAMI to 741741; The Trevor Project hotline: 1-866-488-7386 (mission is to end suicide among LGBTQ+ young people)

bottom of page