‘Dear Harvey’: Queer joy and seldom heard history take center stage in play


Jackie Glover, played by Sarah Heinesh (right), wears a blue shirt and an orange dress, joining a candlelight march at San Francisco City Hall after the assassination of Harvey Milk, in a scene from the play on Friday, Oct. 14. (Kamela Cubillos | The Union)

Combining multimedia elements such as acting, spoken word and music the first play of the Fall 2022 semester “Dear Harvey” had its premiere performance on Friday, Oct. 14.

As the clock hit 7:30 p.m the doors to the Campus Theatre were unlocked and the crowd, some carrying bouquets of flowers, excitedly shuffled in.

Inside the theater, the lights began to dim and on stage three big windows displayed photographs of Harvey Milk.

10 actors entered the stage and rummaged through a few scattered boxes. One actor held up a photo discovered in the mess to deliver the play’s first line, “I came out at 14.”

The El Camino College theatre department&squot;s opening production of "Dear Harvey" directed by Nathan Singh on Friday, October 14th 2022.
A walk down by all actors at the end of the opening night of “Dear Harvey” directed by Nathan Singh on Friday, Oct. 14. (Kamela Cubillos | The Union) Photo credit: Kamela Cubillos

Opening on the same week as National Coming Out Day and during LGBTQ+ history month, the play recounts the life and accomplishments of activist Harvey Milk, who was also the first openly gay politician elected in California.

“Dear Harvey” is directed by Theater Instructor and Arts Administrator Nathan Singh, with music composed by Thomas Hodges.

The documentary-style script was written by Patricia Loughrey and much of the dialogue is taken verbatim from interviews with people who knew Milk. Some dialogue was also taken from letters, speeches and articles compiled by Loughrey.

Singh was approached by El Camino Theater Department for this play because of his past experience telling LGBTQ+ stories. Singh was interested but didn’t want to tell traumatic stories that centered around hate crimes or horrible coming-out experiences.

“I feel like I want to explore this idea of queer joy and hope and something that feels empowering for this community,” Singh said.

"Dear Harvey" director Nathan Singh poses for The Union in front of El Camino College campus theater during a rehearsal on Friday, Oct.7
“Dear Harvey” director Nathan Singh poses for in front of El Camino College Campus Theatre during a rehearsal on Friday, Oct. 7. (Nindiya A Maheswari Putri | The Union) Photo credit: Nindiya A Maheswari Putri

The play introduces Harvey Milk and explores the importance of the LGBTQ+ history and culture, a topic Singh says is too often overlooked or outright censored.

“We can’t talk about these identities, we can’t talk about these histories in [some] academic environments. I feel like there is an erasure of LGBTQ history”, Singh said, in reference to the way certain schools prohibit LGBTQ+ discussions.

Due to the documentary-like nature of the script audiences get to hear personal stories that feel very intimate, lending vulnerability to the story. All actors get to play Harvey Milk and the actors also play multiple characters.

“It’s not just about LGBTQ history; it is actually about California history,” Singh said.

Other characters in the play are Milk’s campaign manager Anne Kronenberg, the first openly gay mayor of Santa Cruz John Laird, community organizer and lesbian activist Jackie Grover, and AIDS activist Cleve Jones.

As early as September the finalized cast began an exhausting five-day-a-week rehearsal schedule, a schedule they kept up until the Oct. 14 premiere.

The El Camino College theatre department&squot;s opening production of "Dear Harvey" directed by Nathan Singh on Friday, October 14th 2022.
Actors holding signs with people’s names and marched to San Francisco City Hall during Harvey Milk’s death anniversary in 1985 to fight the stigma of people who died from AIDS during a scene from “Dear Harvey” opening night on Friday, Oct. 14. (Kamela Cubillos | The Union) Photo credit: Kamela Cubillos

The team went deep into research, unpacking the timelines of Milk and the LGBTQ+ movement. They all watched the Oscar-winning documentary “The Times of Harvey Milk.”

Raychell Benecke is an El Camino student and the dramaturg for the production. Her responsibilities include researching and working with the cast to ensure that facts and interpretations are as historically accurate as possible.

“I’m like a huge history nerd and I love Queer history even more and I think it’s something that’s really important to tell the world,”Benecke said. “Seeing all that Milk has done for not only the queer community but also the elderly and other communities was really powerful.”

Singh said he wants audiences to walk out of the theater questioning their own views on LGBTQ+ identities.

“Within this community of El Camino College, there’s a whole generation of students that don’t know who Harvey Milk is, who maybe has heard of him, but they don’t really know what he did,” Singh said.

The El Camino College theatre department&squot;s opening production of "Dear Harvey" featuring student Randy Acosta on Friday, October 14th 2022.
The El Camino College theater department’s opening production of “Dear Harvey” featuring student Randy Acosta as Nicole Murray-Ramirez’s character on Friday, Oct. 14. (Kamela Cubillos | The Union) Photo credit: Kamela Cubillos

As the premiere night ended, audience members who stood in line to enter the show now erupted from the theater doors, with some eager to share their thoughts.

“It’s an important piece of Queer history that I got to learn about and I found it very moving,” Community member Kyle Ybarrolaza said. “We did not know that Harvey only served for 11 months [in office].”

Kenny Simkins, LGBTQ+ coordinator at the Student Equity and Achievement Center at El Camino College attended was proud to see the level of representation that the show displays.

“We’ve come a long way, to have young people know where all of their rights and their privileges come from is so important,” Simkins said.

“Dear Harvey” will close out its production with two more performances scheduled for Oct. 21 – 22 at 8 p.m. in the El Camino College Campus Theatre. Tickets cost $15 or $10 with student ID.


Editors Note: Wording in the story and a quote were changed for accuracy, Oct. 20, 2022, at 1:38 p.m.