Do you prefer frames?


Q: What is "poetic, eclectic, black gay culture wrapped into words?"
A. A Real Read

That is how Derrick Mathis, writer for the Chicago Reader, described this outspoken African-American lesbigaytrans/ intersex performance ensemble. Representing a community living under a dual minority status, A Real Read addresses concerns relevant to its community: HIV and AIDS prevention, homophobia, religion, women and transgender issues. Through their poetry, prose, music, and vignettes, the group strives to give a voice to a community often silenced, while offering performances that reflect the universal.

Byron S. Stewart founder, along with co-founders Sanford E. Gaylord and Byron Mason collaborated and formed the ensemble in 1996, enlisting the talents of many artists: Derrick Anthony, David Barnett, Ronda Bedgood, Keith Butler, C.C. Carter, Terry Cullers, Joel Hall, Kelly Love,Catherine May, Patricia Mickey, Mary F. Morten, Christopher McMorris, Lynnell S. Long, Elizabeth Shivers, Shannon Sudduth, Avery R. Young, and many others. Some of these artists have moved on to other opportunities.

A Real Read is a company in residence at the Bailiwick Arts Center. As a company in residence, we have produced our own original works (see Booking Options) and the works of Larry Duckette, Steve Langley, Dr. Shirlene Holmes and other poets and playwrights of African descent in the Studio and Main Stage.




For fees and technical requirements or to schedule an appearance, please send an email message to us at

The group has brought its message to groups such as Chicago Black Lesbians and Gays', Horizon's, and the Astrea Foundation's Fundraisers; 9th annual Lambda Literary Awards; the Lambda Literary Writers' Conference in Washington, D.C.; the 10th annual Black Lesbian and Gay Leadership Forum conference in Los Angeles; the Illinois Federation for Human Rights benefit at Park West; the Men of Color Motivational Group benefit in Detroit, Michigan; the Bailiwick Arts Center's Pride Series; the Chicago Department of Public Health's World AIDS Day Ceremony; Ladyfest Midest Chicago, and the Randolph Street Gallery.

A Real Read was featured at the Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender College Conference held at the University of Illinois at Chicago February 20 - 22, 1998; Illinois State University; McLean County AIDS Task Force; National Association of Artists' Organizations (NAAO); and many other organizations in the Chicago area and the Midwest.

Learn more about the members of the ensemble:Check out our brief bios

Upcoming performances:

A Real Read, Chicago's African American Lesbigaytrans Performance Ensemble, is seeking bookings. We will list scheduled performances on this page when final arrangements have been confirmed.

Reading Room

We have a variety of pieces authored by members of the ensemble for your reading enjoyment in this newest addition to our site. Take a look!

 Quotes from the press:

Our first show's review:

"A Real Read dared to cover ground that has been long held taboo. It's time to address our issues, without being afraid.

I feel that this body of artists is successful due to their willingness to address the issues; transgendered persons have long been ostracized in all of our communities, so it is significant that the ensemble members speak from actual proofs obtained throughout life...not always an easy option, though certainly necessary if the work is to impact many who experience it.

I laughed, I shouted, and cried in parts. Even more importantly, I was able to identify with some aspect of each vignette...the difference I think in good work and great work is its ability to touch people and achieve communion with its audience." -- Donna Rose, BLACKLines 8/97

Conversation With A Diva:

"Alone on stage at the Bailiwick Arts Center, actor Byron Stewart in a refined artistic sense, profound penetration and superb communication presented a "Conversation With A Diva." ... Jeff Citation award winning actor Stewart (pours) his heart, the loves, losses, and brief happiness of a young African-American, ... endeavoring to evaluate his life as a gay individual. --
Earl Calloway, The Chicago Defender.

"Sir Damone's self-imposed title is not that of a beggar, but a warrior, with inspiration, rather than catharsis. His search is not for a Knight-In-Shining Codpiece, but for a role model capable of instilling within him the security and self-esteem that his marginal status within an already disenfranchised subculture...This Bailiwick Repertory production has the intelligent Jonathan Wilson directing the charismatic Byron S. Stewart. Together, they delve their text with an ear for its spiritual roots and serious subtext integrated with considerable humor. The result is a saga of universal trial and transcendence, devoid of petty misanthropy or manipulative coyness, recounted by a charming and congenial host who faces his mortality declaring, " I have still won!" Who among us can make that claim?"--

Mary Shen Barnidge, Windy City Times.

"...Conversation With A Diva has a simple set-up for its deep musing on life and what it means to be gay, Black and, often an outcast. There has been no shortage of pain in young Sir Damone's life: he has endured being orphaned, homelessness, physical and emotional abuse both as a child and as an adult, alcoholism, ridicule, racism, lost love and HIV infection. But the most wonderful thing playwright Shirlene Holmes has done is making him a survivor. ...What makes this play so compelling is that we can only feel admiration for the steel strength of this man, who can be as wildly feminine as Bette Davis in Jezebel. ...A single character play, in order to succeed, needs two things: a dynamite script and dynamite actor. This show has both." --

Rick Reed, Outlines.

"...Conversation With A Diva is a journey of unexpected turns, comic poignancy, and intelligent self-reflection.... It's a complicated story, beautifully written. Damone's life illuminates vital issues without reducing them to movie-of-the-week banalities. Each story he tells has a power that draws from the universal and unique...When one lover dies in his arms he lets the spirit fly out the window into the rain, which pounds on the house as if it is the lover trying to return, an elemental haunting...As Damone, Byron Stewart, artistic director of A Real Read, performs with subtlety and style. Conversation With A Diva goes beyond the usual generic gay-guy story that most pride festivals celebrate." --

Carol Burbank, The Chicago Reader.

"...A foot stomping good time was had by all those who experienced "The Best of A Real Read." Presented at New York University's Loeb Student Center, this one night engagement was as hot as anything found on Broadway. The material was witty, thought provoking, and not only tongue-in-cheek, but also bold, direct, confrontational and liberating. This is a must see for everyone in the community-of-life." -- Kevin Green, Gay Men of African Decent Newsletter, April 1999.

"A Real Read knocked the socks off the Federation crowd" - Tracy Baim, Nightlines (from her report on A Statement for Freedom 4 -- for the Illinois Federation for Human Rights benefit at the Park West.

"Two years after Essex Hemphill's death from AIDS, the African-American lesbian and gay performance group known as A Real Read is presenting the Chicago premiere of a theatre piece based on Hemphill. It was written by Hemphill's longtime companion and performance partner Larry Duckett.

"We Heard the Night Outside" explores the relationship of two men attempting to shake off societal labels and create their own world... Directed by David Zak, Sanford Gaylord is strong and poignant as Duckett (here called Perez) an actor who finds himself in the words of another. A Real Read founder Byron Stewart is sly and enigmatic as Hemphill (called Paradise) a deep thinker one minute and a free spirited joker the next."-- Andrew Patner, Chicago Sun-Times

"Play on! is all I can say to this troupe. There is an untapped audience in our community locally and nationally who haven't had the opportunity to experience an art that so strongly resonates with our lives as Black lesbigaytrans people. For those of you who haven't had their Real Read-you need to see them soon. For those of you who have been 'read' at their earlier shows, the next performance of Comin' Straight At'cha! will be a chance to reacquaint yourself with a Chicago Black lesbigaytrans theatre experience from a troupe that has grown in the depth of performance and the variety of material." -- Robert Schultz, Chicago's BLACKLines magazine

"A Real Read, a wonderful troupe who convinced us to listen, who compelled us to care...Combining elegance, wit, humor, anger, and compassion, they managed to create an evening of theater that enticed and enlightened both white and black, gay and straight," -- Mike Spitz, Chicago's Nightlines magazine.

"Stewart is motivating and developing his actors into theatrical discipline and sureness of style," -- Earl Calloway, Chicago Defender.

"A Real Read members really know how to kick!" says the Chicago Tribune's Achy Obejas.

The quotes section was last updated June 23, 1999

Dramatic Diversity is another option if you are seeking diversity training. Byron Stewart, of A Real Read, is one of the founders of this organization which offers performance-based training for committed corporations. For more information, visit their website, call (312) 409-2875 or email

Feedback, please:

We would like to hear your comments, criticisms, and questions about our ensemble and our web site. Please drop us a message at

This site was last updated on 2/26/03. Please send reports of broken links, inaccurate information, or suggested links to David Barnett (

This site was originally hosted through the generosity of the Office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Concerns at the University of Illinois at Chicago. We thank them for their support.