Theater » Theater Feature

Friends With Benefits

Planned Parenthood and Emerald Theatre Company to hold fund-raisers.

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Mikki Cobbins is not a party planner. She works as the community health educator for Memphis¹ Planned Parenthood clinic, a job that takes her into schools, churches, and neighborhoods to talk about safe sex. But this Saturday night, Cobbins is taking her mission to the bar scene, when she hosts Rhythm & Choice at the Hi-Tone Café.

³We decided to throw a party for the younger crowd,² Cobbins says, ³because that¹s who we serve ‹ the working poor and the people without insurance.² She recruited Tha Movement¹s Eric Robertson to line up the music ‹ Susan Marshall, Men-Nefer, Valencia Robinson, and DJ Lorin are slated to perform ‹ and tapped Hi-Tone owner Bryan Powers for the space. All she needs now is a packed house willing to celebrate the power of choice and party for a good cause.

Cobbins hopes that the event will educate the public about the organization, which offers compassionate, affordable health care for millions of women worldwide. ³Locally, the collapse of TennCare has really hit,² she says. ³It¹s impacted our city, and it proves the point of why we need to be here.

³Nationwide, Planned Parenthood focuses on a woman¹s right to choose, but here in Memphis, we mostly serve women who don¹t have health insurance,² she continues. ³Our clinic is vital, especially to college-age women who need pap smears and regular check-ups.²

In 2004, Cobbins says, approximately 12,000 family-planning appointments were made at the Memphis clinic. The majority of these visits were for STD testing, pregnancy testing, and routine gynecological services, although Planned Parenthood also performs first-trimester abortions.

³We also do rapid HIV testing for men and women,² Cobbins says. ³In 20 minutes, you can tell if you¹ve been infected,² she says, adding that the test is free for teenagers.

³Saturday night, we¹ll be listening to music and drinking and dancing, but we¹re gonna let you know you¹re here with us,² Cobbins says firmly. ³We want people to leave knowing this is a Planned Parenthood benefit and that your money will go toward helping keep our doors open. There won¹t be a lot of speeches, but you¹ll definitely feel the theme of the night, which is helping women, supporting women, and celebrating women.²

At TheatreWorks, the Emerald Theatre Company is closing its eighth season this weekend with Out Tonight IV: The Cabaret Continues. The annual production, which serves as a benefit for the gay and lesbian theater troupe as well as a rallying point for Gay Pride Month, provides a viable outlet for Memphis¹ homosexual community, according to co-artistic director Hal Harmon, who runs ETC with founder Den-Nickolas Smith.

³When Den and I started, we were in the midst of the AIDS crisis,² Harmon explains. ³The only plays we were getting were AIDS-related, and once you see one of those productions, you don¹t want to see it again. Staging them was Œthe kiss of death,¹² he laughs. ³We wanted to do the shows that had primary gay or lesbian characters, but a lot of gay and lesbian playwrights were closeted. And because Circuit Playhouse and Playhouse on the Square had first dibs on the rights to big plays, we had to seek out published works that weren¹t so popular.²

Harmon and Smith forged a niche for themselves with the campy, mock-horror plays of drag legend Charles Busch, such as Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, Die Mommie Die, and Psycho Beach Party. They produced several original works and established an annual playwright competition. They also struck a chord with Doric Wilson¹s Street Theater, which documents New York¹s 1969 Stonewall riots, a pivotal moment in gay history.

Their concept for the season-closing cabaret is twofold: First, it ensures that the theater company can cover its costs and start the next season in the black. It also allows the actors to have fun with stereotypes, glamming it up onstage for an audience that, Harmon maintains, is mainly straight.

³A large majority of our patrons are heterosexual,² he says, ³although older gays and lesbians do come to the theater regularly. I¹m gonna bite my tongue later, but I¹ll say this anyways: If we don¹t have cute boys or brief nudity in our productions, we can¹t pack the house, which is sad. When we have those types of shows, we sell out!

³We definitely feel that we¹re providing a voice for the community, and it¹s nice to know that our core audience is supporting us,² Harmon continues. ³We don¹t just want people to think, Let¹s go see some gays. We want them to say, ŒLet¹s go see some good theater.¹² 

Rhythm & Choice at the Hi-Tone 9 p.m. Saturday, June 11th; $15 with all proceeds going to Planned Parenthood. For more information, go to PlannedParenthood.org.

Out Tonight IV at TheatreWorks Thursday-Saturday, June 9th-11th. For show times and ticket prices, call 722-9302. For more information, go to ETCMemphisTheater.com.

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