"I believe that the arts are very crucial and can change the world," said Pride Films & Plays ( PFP ) Executive Director David Zak.
Zak's long and storied career in the theater can be traced back to his teaching days at Benet Academy in Lisle, Illinois. One day Zak, who taught Drama and English, told his students what his mom told him, that they could be anything they wanted to be i.e. the captain of their own ship.
"One of the kids said to me if you can do anything you want to do why are you here teaching us," said Zak. "I turned in my resignation the next morning. The kids were shocked but supportive when I told them I always wanted to run a theater and would come back to teaching later in life."
Zak, who grew up in Lisle and attended Benet Academy before graduating from MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Illinois with a BA in Theater and English, moved to Chicago in 1979; in 1982, he founded Bailiwick Repertory.
As Bailiwick's executive and artistic director, Zak has received many Jeff Awards for producing and directing. In 2003, he received a Jeff Special Award for bringing diverse communities into the Chicago theater with programs such as the Deaf Bailiwick Artists, Pride Series and the Lesbian Theatre Initiative.
He left Bailiwick in 2009 and spent about six months teaching contemporary theater at Korean National University of Art in South Korea.
"It was really great to get as far away from Belmont Ave. as you could get and work in an environment that values the arts and has money for the arts," said Zak. "That was really exciting for me. To be in a culture that had no out gay people was really interesting to me. It was at this point that I began to think about developing new LGBT works for the stage and screen. The LGBT movies I was watching on my Kindle weren't very good and I knew I could do a better job."
When Zak returned to the United States, he co-founded PFP in 2010 with John Nasca and Patrick Rybarczyk. Over the years, PFP has produced a number of successful plays, including Book of Merman, The Boy From Oz, Some Men and Angry Fags, in association with Steppenwolf.
Topher Payne wrote the comedy Angry Fags, which was a part of Steppenwolf's Garage Rep.
"The Book of Merman opened at Mary's Attic and later moved to the Apollo Studio Theatre," Zak told Windy City Times. "It was one of our biggest financial successes until The Boy From Oz. I would go from the Book of Merman, which was a traditional musical with an older audience, over to the Steppenwolf Theatre to see Angry Fags, which had mostly young people in the audience with a few older Steppenwolf Theatre season ticket holders. We billed it as Oscar Wilde meets Tarantino. The Angry Fags audience wasn't going to go see Book of Merman."
Some Men is a Terrence McNally play consisting of 10 different scenes from the 1920s to today and had its Chicago premiere with PFP.
"We got positive reviews from each of these shows because of the audiences who sought them out since these plays are very different from each other," said Zak. "We're making sure there's a range of plays available and we're also looking to have people go outside their comfort zone and try something new such as the gay guys going to the lesbian play. Really what we're doing is LGBT material for everyone. That's the big turning point for us in the coming year is figuring out how to get everyone interested in seeing what we're producing.
"We produce more plays than films but this year we are working on evening that out and that's our goal for 2016. Next year we're starting the Queer Chicago Project to look for ten minute film screenplays from writers around the world that can be shot here in Chicago."
PFP will be holding a benefit, "Simply Sensational," on Nov. 2, and it will feature Chicago native Alexandra Billings. Honey West and Skylar Kergil, who's been documenting his transition on his YouTube channel since 2009, will also be performing.
"It's a way to celebrate the various components of what we do, raise money to support all of our projects and make the L and T more visible in the theater and films," said Zak. "The event isn't just about trans artists, however, we are highlighting this community at our event. Lauren Sivak and Carolyn Reynolds will be there representing our LezPlay Incubator program. As we kick off this coming year what we're trying to do is get more women in the director's chair and see more women writers submit their work to PFP."
Zak explained that a group of women started Lez Play Incubator specifically to energize lesbian plays, performance pieces and films. They meet on the first Sunday of the month at 4:30 p. m. at 1411 W. Wilson Ave. in Chicago.
Not only will PFP be holding a benefit, but it will also host the Queer Bits Fall Film Festival Nov. 9 at the Public House Theatre and the Gay Film Weekend Nov. 13-15 at the Center on Halsted.
Queer Bits Fall Film Festival will feature short films from around the world. Gay Film Weekend will consist of movie directors working through screenwriter submissions via stage readings with actors so the screenwriters will get a visual sense of what they wrote; the writer will also hear feedback from the audience.
"I love 10-minute films because they're the perfect length for a short story," said Zak.
PFP's upcoming stage performances include the Noel Coward production Design for Living at Rivendell Theater through Nov. 22; Raggedy And, about a biracial transgender lesbian/cisgender lesbian couple, also at Rivendell Theater March 10-April 10, 2016; and Ten Dollar House, a true story of two guys during the Depression who restored a cottage in Wisconsin, at the Piccolo Theatre in Evanston Jan. 7-30, 2016.
"Every day I wake up and find script and screenplay submissions in my email inbox so there's always something new going on," said Zak. "We're always looking for new board members and diverse voices to add to our ranks. We also need financial support to keep producing plays and films since we don't get a lot of federal funding and the state of Illinois is broke so there is no money there"
See pridefilmsandplays.com for more information. To purchase tickets to the Nov. 2 event visit, pridefilmsandplays.com/chicago-legend-alexandra-billings-is-the-featured-performer-at-simply-sensational and for all other PFP productions ticket purchases visit, pridefilmsandplays.com/tickets .