Stonewall riots history comes to life in a NYC park with help from ‘talking’ statues and Tony-winning star J. Harrison Ghee
June 21, 2023
By: Muri Assunção
LGBTQ history is coming to life with a little help from four “talking” statues and the voices of five Broadway actors.
In the recently launched “Talking Statues at Christopher Park” project, Tony-winning actor J. Harrison Ghee and theater stars Jenn Colola, Rosa Gilmore, Claybourne Elder and Conrad Ricamora lend their voices to the long-standing “Gay Liberation” statues in the West Village park, helping to illustrate the history of the 1969 Stonewall riots from a different perspective through audio clips accessed with a QR code on a mobile phone.
They tell of the origins of the country’s first national monument dedicated to LGBTQ history, as well as the violent clashes between patrons of the Stonewall Inn and New York police that marked a turning point in the fight for LGBTQ equality.
In New York, there are more than 30 sculptures across the city that already use the “Taking Statues” technology, but the Christopher Park project is the first in the nation to directly address LGBTQ history.
The installation is the result of a collaboration between two award-winning organizations dedicated to preserving and honoring the city’s rich LGBTQ history — the hit podcast “Making Gay History” and the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project.
Ghee, who made history last week as the first nonbinary actor to win a Tony Award for their portrayal of Jerry/Daphne in the musical “Some Like It Hot,” plays the role of Christopher Park itself.
The four other voices, played by openly LGBTQ actors, bring life to the models who were immortalized by George Segal’s realistic sculptures in the late 1970s.
The two women represented in the statues — Leslie Cohen and Beth Suskin — were a real-life couple, while the two male models were not romantically involved. One of the men, the late David Boyce, was a friend of the artist. The identity of the other man is still a mystery, says Ken Lustbader, co-founder of the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project.
When commissioned, it was specified the “Gay Liberation” statues “had to be loving and caring, and show the affection that is the hallmark of gay people.” They were also to include equal representation of women and men.
However, the monument, which found its permanent home in Christopher Park in 1992, has since been criticized by some members of the LGBTQ community, who have taken issue with its lack of representation — which is something the four talking statues talk about.