'Stop Kiss' performer attacks hate


“Stop Kiss,” a play that premiered in the late-1990s, explores discrimination against same-sex couples. Sadly, more than a decade later, the issues are still pertinent.

“I play Callie. She is a jaded New Yorker approaching 30 and really doesn’t love her job, but doesn’t have the motivation to change things in her life to make her happier,” Colleen Hughes, one of the show’s two leads, said. “She meets by chance Sara, who moves to New York to become a teacher in the Bronx. She is an open, kind person who looks at life in a positive way. It really changes Callie’s perspective on the world.

“They form a friendship and end up attracted to each other, which is new for both of them. And just as they are having their very first kiss months into the relationship, they are attacked.”

Hughes, of 20th and Emily streets, had previously read the play as a student in New York City and was familiar with the topics explored. Taking place in a nonlinear format, the scenes alternate from before and after the attack.

“Half the play takes place before the violence so there are a lot of moments of levity. Funny, quirky things play out from when they are meeting each other,” the 29-year-old said. “It’s nice that the audience gets to laugh in between heavier moments with the violence.”

There is no violence dramatized on stage and instead the piece explores the dynamics of juxtaposing the before and after. Hughes believes they have been hitting the right notes.

“We’ve gotten really positive responses, and it’s been really lovely. People seem to be affected by the story,” she said.

As part of this year’s Live Arts and Philly Fringe Festival, the final shows will take place 7 p.m. tonight and tomorrow at The Arts Garage in Fairmount, 1533 Ridge Ave. Performing in the Fringe, something Hughes has done since moving to the area seven years ago, is always a treat for the actress.

“[The festival] definitely has a really exciting energy. It seems like everybody is seeing and doing things,” Hughes said. “It’s a really fun time of year to be performing.”

A Vorhees, N.J., native, Hughes was always attracted to performing, and her penchant for dance led her to try her hand on the stage.

“I started dancing at a really early age. I took dance classes even before I began school, maybe age 3 or 4.” she said. “I got to theater via that route. I loved performing and I liked the storytelling element of theater so I had done a lot of it by the time I was in high school.”

Sure of her future career, Hughes moved to the Big Apple to attend New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where she studied theater. Upon graduating in 2005 with her bachelor’s, she intended for a summer spent back home to get her faculties together for a permanent move to New York City for the fall auditions season.

“I figured I’d go home and work my normal summer job then move back to New York in September,” she said. “While I was here, I took classes and saw some shows and thought, ‘This is interesting work going on down here.’ At that point, I thought I’d find a six-months’ lease to see what I think.

“That was seven years ago. Now you couldn’t drag me back.”

Since then she has lived in multiple places around the city, including near the Italian Market, before settling in her West Passyunk home three years ago with boyfriend Terry Brennan.

“We really loved the community feel. It was one of the things I really love about where we are,” she said. “The neighbors are looking out for each other. It’s a place I’m happy to call a home.

“I love the fact that artists in Philadelphia can make a living doing what they love to do, and it’s a very livable city.”

Hughes’ work in Philadelphia combines her dance background, even if her focus now is mainly theater.

“I do dance, but not as much. A lot of the theater I work on is physically based so it has some dance crossover. When I was growing up, I did all of it— ballet, tap and jazz,” Hughes said. “A lot of the theater I do, but not all of it, is with companies that do work that’s created from scratch from the actors. A lot of it is pretty experimental not necessarily following a set narrative beginning to end.”

A departure from this type of work, “Stop Kiss,” Hughes feels is an important story to bring to the stage. After producer/director Kristin Heckler posted an open call for the production, Hughes responded in July and auditioned for the role of Callie.

“I was drawn to the piece since it’s such an incredibly important story to be told. It’s very well-executed writing and a really strong well-made piece,” Hughes said. “When I went in, [Heckler] has a really nice directing style.”

Performances of the piece began last week, and it has garnered positive buzz from audiences and local critics. Hughes is excited even more people get a chance to experience the show with the final two performances.

“I think [people] should come and see it because it’s an incredibly potent story,” she said. “One of the things we said during rehearsal was how much things have changed since ’98. Things have changed, but it’s still an incredibly important story that needs to be told.”

Showtimes are 7 p.m. Sept. 13 and 14. Tickets are $15. Call 215-413-1318 or visit livearts-fringe.ticketleap.com/stop-kiss.

Contact the South Philly Review at editor@southphillyreview.com.