Inspired by a true story, original ‘Outburst' opens at Acrosstown

The new play “Outburst” features, from left, Darren Willis as David, Filipe Echeverri as Danny and Tom Miller as Nick, starting Friday at the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 1:47 p.m.

On March 22, 1994, Rodney Wilson returned to his teaching job at Mehlville High School in Missouri from a trip to Washington, D.C.



What: Leroy Clark's original play inspired by the true story of a high school teacher who came out to his class after visiting the Holocaust Museum
When: Opens Friday and runs 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through May 19
Where: Acrosstown Repertory Theatre, 619 S. Main St.
Tickets: $12; $10 for students, military and seniors, at the door and in advance at Sweet Dreams, 3437 W. University Ave. (378-0532)
Info: 505-0868,
Note: Play contains strong language and brief nudity

He visited the Holocaust Museum, where he had purchased a poster of various ID patches worn by concentration camp inmates. He then brought this back to his students, who had been studying World War II.

Wilson, then 28, pulled a chair up to the front of the classroom and proceeded to tell his students that he was gay.

Wilson's experience is depicted in the comedy-drama “Outburst,” which premieres at the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre on Friday.

The play, written and directed by Leroy Clark, explores the struggles of Wilson, renamed Hank Nichols in the production, as a teacher living out of the closet.

Clark had been working as chair of the School of Performing Arts at Wichita State University in 1994 when he read about Wilson's story, titled “A Lesson in Tolerance” by David Ruenzel, in the September issue of Teacher magazine.

However, when the story was published, the school board hadn't yet decided if Wilson should be fired.

“It just seemed so important and current,” he says. “All the issues were great, but the story hadn't been solved.”

Clark then began writing “Outburst.” Although the overall story is based on the real incident, the plot, characters and dialogue come from Clark's imagination.

In Clark's version, the teacher is Hank Nichols, played by Tom Miller. Other characters include his partner, David, played by Darren Willis; next-door neighbor and drag queen Danny, played by Filipe Echeverri; and fellow teacher and friend Flonny, played by Xanna Prentice.

Although the actual events took place in Missouri, Clark set the play in Wichita since he was more familiar with the area.

“I felt that the issues were as important and relevant there as in Missouri or anywhere else,” Clark says.

Miller, who has done performance art since childhood and recently received an Associate of Arts degree in theater from Santa Fe College, is excited to be a part of what he calls a “fantastic and topical play.”

“At the core, this is talking about ways in which we divide ourselves,” Miller says. “We ought to be going forward and respecting what we have in common.”

“Outburst” achieved fourth place in the National New Works of Merit Playwriting Contest in 2003 and went through two stage readings at the 13th Street Repertory Theatre in New York City.

Both Clark and Miller feel the production is relevant today. In Alachua County, for example, it is still legal to fire a teacher for being gay or lesbian, since there are no laws preventing it.

“I think you see [Wilson's story] from a more personal perspective,” Clark says. “It just puts a human face on the issues.”

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