UI Theatre Department’s ‘Borderless’ presents audio experience that uplifts LGBTQ+ history

‘I’m Writing to You Today,’ created by MFA directing candidate Ann Kreitman, guides listeners through campus while dramatizing a series of queer love letters, written between 816 A.C. and 1994.


Grace Smith

Photo illustration by Grace Smith.

Maddie Johnston, Arts Reporter

As long as film, television, and theater have prevailed, queer voices have been repressed. When queerness is present in these media, the uniting force between gay characters has historically been suffering, with stories that focus on coming out, trauma, or fall into the “bury your gays” trope where the queer character always dies in the end.

For Ann Kreitman, an MFA directing candidate in the University of Iowa Department of Theatre Arts, this legacy of queer representation largely informed her decision to create a work which would highlight the more beautiful, positive aspects of queer love, while also challenging the conventional forms of theater.

In partnership with the UI Pride Alliance Center, Kreitman created, I’m Writing to You Today, an “environmental audio experience” which guides listeners through campus while actors read queer love letters written from 816 A.C. through 1994.

“My intention with this is to make like, if this were a play, the set is campus,” Kreitman said. “So whatever time of day you experience, that is perfect. If your lighting design is the sunset, beautiful. But you are guided, and I hope pretty well taken care of, by following what’s in the narration.”

When Kreitman realized she was lesbian at age 24, she bought herself a book of historical lesbian love letters. She said she fell in love with the book, reading the letters over and over, hoping to some day find a love like theirs.

And she did. Kreitman’s first love, in her words, was brimming with all the stored-up love from her prior life unlived. She tore the letters from the book and left them hidden all over her partner’s apartment, willing her to find them at the perfect time.

The immersive audio experience, which starts at the theater building, dramatizes several of the letters interlaced with the story of Kreitman’s own first love. Listeners are guided through some of the spots that were pivotal to Kreitman’s development, as well as some that have been significant to the LGBTQ+ community of Iowa City.

“I wanted to make it specific to campus, and so I started reaching out to different people to try and find, you know, are there fun facts about the history of queer folks on campus, and it’s all these like little tidbits I gathered from unexpected sources,” Kreitman said. “I think it’s really reflective of queer history, in that, for a very long time, it was not preserved out of safety. Like you didn’t want to keep these things, because it would implicate you. So much of queer history is learned through talking to people in the community, and figuring it out, and I experienced that as I was making something that would hopefully pass on to queer students at Iowa.”

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Kreitman takes listeners to the top of the Pentacrest, where a group of queer strangers celebrated the day Iowa passed marriage equality in 2009. She takes them past the arches of the old brick Art Library where queer kids used to kiss between classes. She then takes listeners to the windy Iowa river she walked by on her first campus tour that she knew she’d return to, and the old chapel on Hubbard park where she discovered her own version of prayer.

She tells them to look out at the park, which she presumes will someday hold “the lost little queer kids of the future,” when in a few years, the Pride House will have its new facility on this infamous lawn.

“Maybe you’ll see the queer kids sitting cross legged in the sun in hesitant groupings, practicing what it means to be themselves” Kreitman said. “Trying on language, trying on lovers. Maybe they’ll be reading our letters.”

The audio experience ends at the IMU, where Kreitman said the Gay Liberation Front had its first offices.

Emma Welch, coordinator at the Pride Alliance Center, said I’m Writing to You Today is a powerful and beautiful work because it serves as a reminder to young queer people that they have always, and will always exist.

“The fact that Ann has taken these love notes, these queer love notes, and mapped them onto campus to make it truly an immersive experience is just very powerful, and I think brings an opportunity for LGBTQ+ students, and especially students who are still exploring their identities, or may not be public in their identities yet, this gives them an opportunity to be part of someone else’s story,” Welch said.

The one-hour audio experience will be available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts on April 1 through 30. Listeners can go alone or in pairs, at any time of day they see fit.