Playing at Pride Art Center in Chicago IL
dates: Fridays Saturdays and Sundays October 27th to November 26th - matinees on Sunday.
UPSTAIRS is a work of fiction, but the events that inspired it are all too real. On Sunday, June 24th, 1973, the fourth anniversary of the Stonewall uprising in New York, a gay bar known as the Up Stairs Lounge in the "Gay Triangle" area of the French Quarter of New Orleans was set ablaze by an arsonist. Wooden stairs leading to the bar's only entrance were doused in lighter fluid and set alight. Twenty-nine people perished in the fire itself, and another three succumbed to their injuries afterward, bringing the death toll to 32. Fifteen of the 35 survivors were injured. It remains the deadliest attack on an LGBTQ population in US history.
Located on the second floor of a three-story building at the corner of Chartres and Iberville Streets, the Up Stairs Lounge had only one entrance, up a wooden flight of stairs. That evening the bar held a free beer and all-you-can-eat special, attracting a crowd of almost 125 regulars. About 60 patrons stayed after the event ended, most of them MCC members there to plan an upcoming benefit for the Crippled Children's Hospital to be held in the bar the next week. 23-year-old David Gary played piano, and bartender Buddy Rasmussen served drinks. Following an altercation, two men, David Dubose and Roger Nunez, were kicked out of the bar. Upon exiting, one of them threatened to "burn them all out".
At five minutes to eight that evening, the buzzer downstairs, usually used to signal an arriving cab, was rung. The bartender, Buddy, asked a regular, Luther Boggs, to yell down that no one called a cab. Luther opened the steel fire door leading downstairs, and the oxygen-starved fire on the wooden stairwell exploded into the room, engulfing it in flames that quickly spread to the bar's draperies and tablecloths. Moving quickly, Buddy managed to lead thirty-eight people out through a hidden exit behind the bar. Some thirty others were left inside the second-floor club, stymied by unmarked emergency exits and barred and shuttered windows. A few managed to escape through the narrow bars, jumping to the sidewalk below, some in flames.
MCC assistant pastor George "Mitch" Mitchell managed to escape, but returned to the fire when he realized his boyfriend, Louis Broussard, was not with him; both men died in the fire, their remains were found clinging to one another. George Matyi also escaped but went back to rescue more trapped patrons; his body was discovered embracing those of two other victims. Thirty-five people survived due to Buddy's heroic efforts leading them out of the bar to the roofs of the French Quarter, hoping from roof to roof until they found a safe way down. The fire, which lasted only 17 minutes, killed more gays and lesbians in America than any other incident to date, and was the deadliest fire in the history of New Orleans.