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Not as Cute as Picture

nytheatre.com q&a preview by J.D. Cerna, actor/writer
February 7, 2013

What is your job on this show?
Performer/writer.

What is your show about?
A semi-autobiographical performance piece that takes audiences on a hilarious exploration of purpose, of searching and survival that is set in 1994, a time when young gay menʼs pursuit of purpose was often obstructed by the crashing reality of AIDS.

When did you know you wanted to work in the theater, and why?
When I played Radio Operator McCaffrey in Chatsworth Elementary’s production of “South Pacific”. I was seven. I researched radio operators and everything. There was no air-conditioning, and the show went up in June. I was so proud of myself and excited beyond belief, and I ran up to my family after the show and said “Did you love it, did you love it??!” and they were dripping with sweat and dying from heat exhaustion. They didn’t love it, but I did.

Who is more important in the theater: the actor, the playwright, or the director?
Actually, I would submit that the Usher is the most important person. Last thing any writer, director or actor wants is some disgruntled audience member put in the wrong seat. Next to Usher, I would have to say Playwright. He or she is the one who first has the daunting task of putting chaos into order. I think the actor and director’s job is getting inside that writer’s head, figuring out how to make that writer’s vision, worldview, order, truth – come to shimmering life up there on that stage – correctly.

Is there a particular moment in this show that you really love or look forward to? Without giving away surprises, what happens in that moment and why does it jazz you?
I look forward to what is actually a painful moment in the play – the scene where I get a phone call from my ex-lover who’s calling to tell me he has AIDS and that I better get tested. The reason I look forward to that scene… is that I am conscious there’s a slew of guys in the audience who got that phone call too, and this is what we do in theater, right? We communicate specific moments like that, and then the audience realizes “Wow, I’ve been there, too and I’ve forgotten about it” and then we all get to face it and remember it together. And it’s not just the guys. It’s everyone. Everyone’s gotten that phone call that suddenly turns the world upside down and we have to deal with it whether we like it or not. I feel like that’s the moment when the audience is one, as it were, and you live for moments like that onstage. Then, one second after that, the audience meets Patrick, based on a waiter I worked with who used to take drugs and then vogue as he took food orders, and he’s just so damn funny. That’s when the audience gets to exhale and laugh and it’s fantastic.

Which “S” word best describes your show: SMOOTH, SEXY, SMART, SURPRISING?
So exhausting. Does that count? But exhausting in the best kind of way. So exhausting because I’ve played almost 20 roles, many of whom are physical dynamos, but each night the audience connects so much to the story and the characters so yeah, it’s the best kind of exhausting. I guess Sexy, too. One of the characters gets really drunk and moons the audience and one guy wrote me and said “I got horny when you did that.” Ha! It’s funny because I never think that it’s me mooning the audience. It’s the character doing it, not me.

Can theater bring about societal change? Why or why not?
God, I hope so. I know it can bring individual change, and isn’t that the start of societal change? I have been changed by theater. I remember I saw a play once and I cried so hard at the end that a complete stranger next to me just grabbed my thigh tightly and knowingly. Yup, she clenched my thigh! She knew I was moved because she was too. It sounds funny, right? Like, was she making a sexual advance? No. She was bracing me because she knew I was losing it. And I thought – wow, two total strangers holding each other in the dark because we’re so moved by what we are seeing. That, right there, is society changing from “we’re all strangers” to “we are not all strangers”. I think the problem with society is that we all believe there’s a society out there, when there’s really just a bunch of people all trying to find their way in the dark. We can be lights for each other, guiding the way.