Tarlton said he was energized to write the play in order to more equitably represent the LGBTQ+ community after doing his own research on the historical recipients of Tony Awards. He applied for and was awarded the UNC Provost’s Committee on LGBTQ Life Commission Grant to fund the production.
“The biggest inspiration for me initially was a lack of queer representation on stage and in the media in general,” Tarlton said. “I was dissatisfied with that, so I just decided to write.”
Tarlton said what he has enjoyed most is watching all the components of theater come together. “Just Like Now” is written, directed, designed and acted by UNC students.
“I love sitting in tech week and seeing all of these design elements and the director’s vision and all of the little tiny pieces coming together to form this collective experience," Tarlton said. "I cried a little bit last night actually because it was so overwhelming.”
The story is centered around four main characters dealing with romantic relationships that interfere with their platonic relationships, all while balancing the everyday battles of college and being queer.
Sophomore Marcella Pansini plays Lissa in the show and said she knew she wanted to be a part of the production from the moment she first read the script.
“I told Gage before I even auditioned that I loved the script so much that I would want to be involved in any way possible,” Pansini said. “I told him I would be a stagehand or I could get snacks. I didn’t care — I just wanted to be involved in the show somehow. I got really lucky that I got cast.”
Pansini said that there is a deeper look into the queer community, but ultimately the relationships the characters share, romantic or not, are not as different as some would perceive.
“It is really about how important and how underrated friendship can really be,” Pansini said.
Allen said the characters will be easy for college students to identify with, while also providing an enriching perspective on harder topics.
“It’s a joyous piece of art, but at the same time has these deeper meanings and themes that a lot of people might identify with and feel represented in that way,” Allen said.
Tarlton said he feels as though the actors, tech help and production leaders have all found a piece of themselves within his work.
“When you write it, it’s all me,” Tarlton said. “I sit in the room alone and write it and edit, and write it and edit, and write it and edit, but now a lot more people have been touched by the story. They’ve found a different way to put their own self into the production — that’s why I do theater.”
Sophomore Kayla Brown is one of the actresses who has been impacted by the story as she plays Beth, Lissa’s romantic interest, in the show. She said one objective of the production is for audiences to take a deeper dive into LGBTQ+ life.
“It’s a really beautiful story,” Brown said. “There’s so much within the play that you may not expect, and I think overall it will be a really heartwarming experience for people to have before finals. It’s a nice break from everything.”
She said she would encourage students to attend because “Just Like Now” is a show of ups and downs that will provide an escape from the stress around this busy time of finals.
Tarlton said he is eager to share the work with audiences on a real stage that has been so private for much of the last year.
“I’m just really excited that people are going to see something that lived in my mind for so long, and now it’s come to life,” Tarlton said.