For Max Jimenez, playing a leading role as a gay teenager in Shine! Theatre’s ‘Bare: A Pop Opera’ means getting to star in a favorite show
Max Jimenez still can’t quite believe it. The aspiring actor and Fresno City College student — who uses they/them as pronouns — had always wanted to appear in the musical “Bare: A Pop Opera.” They didn’t realize they’d nab a leading role.
“Bare” marks another cutting-edge production from Shine! Theatre, which is expanding from its original mission as a children’s theater and embracing more adult fare. Artistic director tony sanders (who doesn’t capitalize his name) knew he wanted to produce “Bare,” which first hit New York stages about 20 years ago, and he wanted a special place to do it: a church.
He found the perfect location at St. James Episcopal Cathedral, which encourages diversity and inclusion. The production opens Friday, May 13, and continues for two weekends.
I interviewed Jimenez, who plays Peter, a student at a Catholic boarding school who falls in love with his roommate. Here’s our discussion.
Q: When you were 12, you took a song to your vocal teacher, Jenny Myers, and told her you thought it was great. Tell us about that song. What eventually happened?
A: I brought Jenny the song to use for an audition after I had fell in love with the music. Ironically I brought her Peter’s solo, “Role of a Lifetime”. Little did I know in seven years, I’d be playing him. Luckily the song isn’t too high for me anymore 🙂
Q: Around about that time, you used another song from “Bare,” titled “See Me,” to introduce an important conversation with your mom. Can you share some of the lyrics? What was her reaction when you told her you were gay?
A: Singing “See Me” every time literally kills me. Having that tie to real life definitely keeps my performance organic and fresh every. single. time. Luckily my mom wasn’t as dismissive as Peter’s. I was given the space to grow into my own which I feel isn’t the case for some youth, especially in a town as “small” as Clovis. It can just be as simple as telling your kid you love them no matter what.
Q. Your character, Peter, goes to a Catholic boarding school. You were raised Catholic yourself, right?
A: I did grow up in the church; so, the religious aspects of the show really strike a chord with me. What I love about the show is how it deals with this, it shows how harsh some churches can harp on the LGBTQ+ community for something they really can’t change. It fully shows what that can manifest into. How hate can quite honestly kill.
Q. What happens when Peter falls in love?
A: It’s all encompassing. As expected when he’s carrying around a fairy tale for half the show. He so badly wants to be loved out loud, but their surroundings and the opinions of others deters his boyfriend, Jason, from allowing this. “Our love was pure and brought me closer to god” is something said toward the end of the second act that really sums up the shows message. That love is beautiful in all kinds of different relationships as long as it’s pure. Their love is truly written about so carefully that it makes it all the more painful when things go wrong.
Q. “Bare” has what some would call strong adult content and includes depictions of drug use. And yet you will be performing it in a church sanctuary — St. James Episcopal Cathedral, to be specific. I think it’s safe to say that most church spaces in town would not endorse or host a play like “Bare.” I know you dreamed for years about being in this show. Did you ever think you’d perform it in a cathedral?
A: I never in a million years thought we’d be doing such a show in a church though, but St. James Episcopal church is such a blessing to our show. Without them, there wouldn’t be one to talk about. Their church is such an open minded and wonderful space that welcomed us with open arms. They preach a message of acceptance of all walks of life too, which was so marvelous to experience throughout the rehearsal process. Though it’s got some explicit content, it’s never there to shock, it’s there to push the story along. It’s a beautiful space and it’s fantastic to be able to say we had the privilege of creating art there.
Q. How did your own high school experience compare to your character’s?
A: In high school, I’d say that the contents of this play simply weren’t possible in that setting . As much as I’d love to say I wore my queerness on my sleeve proudly, I wasn’t as accepting of myself as Peter is at that time. Being perceived that way is a big issue for some people and I’m glad I had that time to figure out exactly how I’d want to present myself to the world. Queerness is beautiful and truly a blessing in disguise, because why would you want to be like everyone else?
Q. There’s a lot more to “Bare” than just your character’s love story. What are some of the other threads of the narrative?
There’s so many different relationships shown in the show, all jam packed into such a heart-wrenching love story. The story is fully about self love and accepting yourself for who you are. A character that is simply one of my favorite roles is Nadia,(played by Abigail Halpern) who has some of the best music. She is Jason’s twin sister and has a whole arc of self acceptance and loving the skin she’s in; especially when you’re not the golden child. Which is something I definitely related to when I first listened to the cast recording all those years ago.
Q. I think it’s exciting that you’ll have a live pit band. How do you describe the music in “Bare”?
A: Having the privilege of doing the show in a church is a blessing enough, but we have an amazing live band. The music in the show is just so thrilling, nonstop, and very hard. It’s truly a team effort in making sure everything runs smoothly throughout the whole run every night. Kudos to them!
Q. What’s the biggest difference between Peter and you?
A: He’s more tolerant of when people treat him unfairly. A big theme in the show is how different he is. He treats everyone the same even though they can’t reciprocate that same kindness. You can tell when someone perceives you as less than just by your appearance. I definitely used to be like Peter but now I know my worth and don’t accept anything less than that.
Q. Anything else you’d like to say?
A: At the end of the day, everyone deserves their place on this little rock we call our world. Treat those around you graciously and those worth your time will flock to you. Love is love.