For me working with artists I have carefully selected and seeing what they do with these plays is what I find most exciting. Good work is often the union of several creative ideas and I am lucky to have access to some really talented collaborators. We have two up-and-coming directors: Brady Brophy-Hilton and Wesley Cayabyab both of whom I have wanted to collaborate with for a long time.
How did the Lawfully Wedded project start?
Last summer I was approached by Roy Arauz the Artistic Director of Arouet Theatre in Seattle to help write a show about gay marriage. They needed something fast – and wanted to be in rehearsal in just a few weeks. They hired me, another playwright, a poet and a musician. I was on shaky ground personally as my mother had died just a couple weeks before but I agreed to try and write some sketches to meet their deadline. At first they wanted me to dramatize some sociology reports they had gathered from gay couples but I told them it would be better if they just assigned topics and I could create my own scenario rather than dramatize specific situations. So each week they sent a topic like, "write about people who think they have a legitimate reason for being opposed to gay marriage" and I would think WTF am I going to do with this? And then I would just go with it. My goal was to write as many 4-6 page sketches as possible. At first I didn’t think I had anything to say about gay marriage. I usually veer away from “issue plays” or themes "ripped from the headlines" but as I started working on the sketches, I realized that this story is not only my story, as a gay man, but the story of the ever-evolving American family. Right now we are a society fiercely divided and there’s a lot of fear and bewilderment going on and a lot of anger and resentment. But there is also a lot of bravery, fortitude and pluck. Marriage seems to be a litmus test for our culture right now. Our opinions on marriage quickly reveal our deepest held values. And the big issue of our time is whether or not to legalize gay relationships and how that might affect families, communities and the American culture at large. We need to acknowledge that gay people, should they decide to marry, will face the same challenges as our straight brothers and sisters (maybe more) and while marriage has a universal truth it is also an individual journey. This has been a long, difficult path. What hit me as I was madly trying to finish these sketches is the courage it takes not only LGBT people to step up and demand their equal rights but also the courage of our families, friends and neighbors to stand up with us and demand change.
But my! That’s a lot of rhetoric and blah, blah. It's not really any fun. I needed to put all that aside and just create some characters and stories that would tell a story that you wanted to watch. I didn’t want people to stand around and pontificate about their feelings on marriage equality, or worse, subject an audience to a sermon about acceptance. I wanted someone to throw grandma’s wig in the dog bowl! I wanted people to chase each other around the room passionately with gerbils and vacuum cleaners! I wanted you to see people so in love with each other they wanted to part one another like water. I wanted to understand my own grief at the time. Beauty is often the trigger to grief. Fog coming over the horizon, a roaring sunset, the photograph of someone we love brings grief right back, dead center, into our chest and I guess that led me to writing about a wedding because weddings are beautiful and deeply depressing to me -- they often make me remember those I have lost.
Did you originally start out with Bill and Jason as characters?
No. Originally I had no intention of writing serial characters. It was during the process that this couple, Bill and Jason, kept returning to me and they wouldn't shut up so I decided to run with them. I didn’t have a lot of time so I needed to listen to the voices that wanted to speak. That is often what playwriting is to me. I found I really enjoyed writing in sketch size pieces so that we have tiny slices of vibrant life that cover a very broad subject - a collage of scenes. I really love this modular structure and would like to try it again with another project. I wrote 18 or so sketches in about four and half weeks and Arouet presented about seven of them last October. The show was a big hit when it traveled to various colleges and small theatres for the Arts Crush Festival. After seeing the show in Seattle, I felt inspired that the show should be brought to San Francisco. After a reading at Stage Werx - Laylah and Quinn agreed that we should do it for the 2013 season with multiple writers here. I asked all my favorite gay writers in San Francisco to contribute to our show but most turned me down or had weird conditions – fortunately my friends Kirk Shimano and Alina Trowbridge, two writers who I admire and envy, came up to the challenge and gave us two really wonderful pieces. I wish we had more by other writers but I am very pleased with the sketches we do have.
MAIDRID’S BOW: An Amazon Tale has a very special place in my heart and was so beautifully realized by the actors and production team. Elise Barley, who built costumes for Teatro ZinZanni, outdid herself creating 37 costumes for Amazons, Smelters and forest creatures. David Stein, the director, was so excited about the show it inspired all kinds of great work from everyone. The actors had these terrific fight scenes. And there is something about scantily clad women fighting to the death with daggers that only the coldest of hearts can't enjoy. I loved the production of RUTH AND THE SEA partly because it was almost cancelled but due to the determination of director, Stuart Bousel, and the cast - the show went on and beautifully realized. It was our own Christmas miracle and from that Wily West continued. I can't ever leave out NYMPH O’ MANIA because Wes & Quinn built a gorgeous set and the actors all went above and beyond to create a fantastic show. Some of my other favorite projects: SPOOKY CABARET we had an evening with live music and theatre envisioned by Quinn that was inspirational and Stuart Bousel jumped in as impromptu MC and the evening felt like a really grand party. I definitely want more of that! I really enjoyed seeing our audience get into the fun of SHOWDOWN our single-evening competition where the audience votes on their favorite plays. And the plays were all winners.
So how did Gorgeous Hussy come into the world?
Okay, I have to admit I really didn’t know much about Joan Crawford when my friend, actress Katharine Clark Reilly, asked me to write her a vehicle piece. Joan Crawford scared the crap out of me when I saw her in MOMMIE DEAREST – oh, wait that was Faye Dunaway. Several people I talk to about my play don't know the difference. Anyway Katharine gave me a couple biographies about Joan and I quickly became fascinated with the Crawford story. I discovered Joan Crawford movies and I was amazed at how good she was – especially when so many of the scripts she did were so badly written. I was impressed that she never got all uppity and artsy about acting - to her it was all business. Everyone needs to see MILDRED PIERCE, WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE and the WOMEN. They still hold up. Unfortunately my friend Katharine was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and she passed away before I could finish a script for her to look at. One day, about two years ago, one of the biographies fell off my bookshelf and landed on my foot. And I picked up the biography and took it to bed with me. So what it is it about this woman that is worth revisiting? Joan Crawford is the American dream personified. She literally is the rags-to-riches girl. She started as Lucille Fay LeSueur doing laundry in Kansas City and re-made herself, changed her name, worked hard, made shrewd choices, and became a wealthy celebrity. I think it is part of our American mythos to celebrate that kind of success and not really examine what it costs – what we trade for a big career. Joan Crawford wanted to be a movie star more than anything and she became one but at a significant personal cost. We are thrilled to take Christina’s word for it and write Joan off as an abusive bitch. But the story is much more complicated than that. As Joan says in the play, “Our children do not forgive us so easily. They forget we were struggling with our own problems and we didn’t have all the answers.” I also wanted to explore how it is we make stars and take them on. It was important to me that this be a two person play - rather than a monologue - and show how movie stars or celebrities are a reflection of us, our culture, our dreams and who we want to be as a society. While much of what Joan says and does in the play is based on biographies – much of it is also my own personal hallucination about Joan Crawford and what she might have been like if you got her really drunk. The play is not a photograph; it is more of an impressionist painting.
What do you hope audiences will take away?
First I hope they come to see the shows and enjoy them. I think they will because the actors are good and have heart. As a troupe I hope we capture the spirit of the characters we are presenting in a way that audiences can understand and relate to. I hope they are glad they came to the theatre. There is no place in the world you will see so many people working for the pleasure of so few. What I find most compelling about live theatre is that it allows us to share experiences and stories as a community. I believe plays can change the way people think about certain issues or subjects and that can impact lives far beyond the evening we spend at the theatre.