Struggle, forgiveness: ‘Dear Anita Bryant’ to stream this week

Play performed on Zoom on Friday, Saturday

Ronni Sanlo

Ronni Sanlo

PORT ANGELES — Not so very long ago, singer Anita Bryant led a crusade called Save Our Children. Pushing for repeal of the Dade County, Fla., ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, she mounted a campaign against gay rights: one that spread across the United States.

Ronni Sanlo, a playwright who now lives in Sequim, was an early target. Forty-one years ago, she went to court and lost custody of her two young children. As a lesbian, she was deemed unfit to care for them.

In the ensuing years, Sanlo endured everything anti-gay activists could throw at her. Yet she transcended the fight — which is ultimately the subject of “Dear Anita Bryant,” the autobiographical play to be live-streamed this week.

Kathleen Balducci

Kathleen Balducci

The Port Angeles Community Players, with director Carol Swarbrick Dries of Sequim and a six-member cast including Kathleen Balducci as Sanlo, will perform “Dear Anita” at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday via the Zoom platform. Tickets are $7 plus a $1.10 service charge at PACommunityPlayers.org, and include a talkback following the show.

Sanlo considers Bryant a key figure in the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people — in the past and today.

“Bryant was the catalyst that truly jump-started the LGBTQ civil rights movement in 1977,” she said. “Her anti-gay crusade touched every state.”

Sanlo suffered, personally and mightily, at the start of the movement, added Swarbrick Dries.

“She not only lost her children. She lost her job and her home,” after divorcing her kids’ father.

“She rose like a phoenix,” the director said, “went back to college to get her Ph.D.,” and became an HIV epidemiologist, educator and director of the LGBT centers at the University of Michigan and then at UCLA.

Carol Swarbrick Dries

Carol Swarbrick Dries

Along with her many accomplishments, there is another, said Swarbrick Dries, that is as important as any other point in the play.

Sanlo forgave Anita Bryant.

“It’s a fascinating, very real story,” Swarbrick Dries said, “and I’m so grateful to be involved.”

Sanlo’s wife Kelly Watson is the producer of “Dear Anita” while Sequim composer and arranger Linda Dowdell has orchestrated the music.

Swarbrick Dries, a veteran Broadway performer, adds a song, recorded at ToolShed Soundlab in Port Townsend.

Anna Andersen

Anna Andersen

Alongside Balducci, the cast includes Sequim actors Jim Dries and Debbie Leach, and Mindy Gelder, Pat Owens and Anna Andersen of Port Angeles.

“I cannot believe what Ronni went through, at the hands of careless prejudice,” Andersen said. She marvels too at the way Sanlo overcame adversity — and emerged with her heart open.

“She is very good at her craft,” Andersen noted.

“The script is well told, very touching, and inspires in us the urge to fight against injustice, which is of course very timely.”

Andersen added that Swarbrick Dries manages to make the Zoom rehearsal process not only work, but also bring out each actor’s strengths. This, she said, is a delight to witness.

Sanlo, for her part, believes this country has come far on the path to LGBTQ rights.

“People are coming out at younger ages. Marriage equality is the law of the land. Yet there are some areas in which tremendous work is still needed: aging LGBTQ people are feeling forced to go back into the closet for fear of discrimination in assisted living situations,” she said.

Sanlo and her wife fear for their own safety at times. But she emphasized: “We teach people how to treat us. If we act frightened and secretive and not at all authentic, that’s exactly how we’ll be treated. So we two old lesbians – moms, grandmas, stepmoms both – move through the world with pride in spite of our fear. We must, so that we’re modeling self-love.”

________

Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.

More in Entertainment

Mandolinist David Grisman and painter Tracy Bigelow Grisman, seen here with their donations, are among the contributors to "Weave It Together," the Northwind Arts Center-Port Townsend School of the Arts auction online now. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Daily News)
‘Weave It Together’ auction kicks off arts merger

Live online event to stay open until 5:45 p.m. Dec. 6

x
Artists offer visions of ‘Light at the End of the Tunnel’

A group of Sequim-area artists are finding the creative silver… Continue reading

Louisa Morgan
Port Townsend author wins sci-fi award

Louise Marley of Port Townsend, who writes under the… Continue reading

Second ‘Flora Ludmilla’ episode set to air

Ludmilla Studios will present the second epic episode of… Continue reading

Washington State Parks astronomy lecture series continues online Sunday

Troy Carpenter will present “Lunar Exploration Via the Internet” at… Continue reading

The Crushwater duo — Chandra Johnson and Scott Sullivan — will give an “In [Your] Living Room” concert online Friday.
JFFA stages online concert, sets goal

With plans for an online concert today and a… Continue reading

Magic moments like this between Dylan Krashan and Santa Claus in 2018 won't happen this year at the downtown Sequim tree lighting event due to pandemic protocols coming into place. The tree lighting moves online to 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving at the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce's website and social media pages. Sequim Gazette file photo by Erin Hawkins
Sequim downtown tree lighting goes virtual

Hometown Holiday events planned

Port Townsend sets holiday events

White lights are decorating trees in downtown Port Townsend’s… Continue reading

Symphony concert video premiere online

The Port Angeles Symphony Ensemble’s first concert video is… Continue reading

Most Read