nytheatre.com q&a preview by Jonathan Gibson
July 24, 2012
What is your job on this show?
When did you know you wanted to work in the theater, and why?
I was obsessed with being a movie star, so I often ignored the exhilaration that live theatre is because I didn't want to distract myself from the film pursuit. When I finally did some film, and saw and felt how tedious, boring, and inauthentic it can be (having to act opposite a camera or, literally, air/nothingness a lot of the time; how rare it is to enjoy the luxury of even a bit of rehearsal; how difficult it is to film scenes out of context and sequence...in some ways, film/TV is much more challenging, acting-wise), I was less enamored. Then when I didn't care about movie stardom anymore (coincidentally, old school movie stardom died along the way), I could honestly say: There is nothing like live theatre. Heck, even the film/TV actors who venture into theatre (isn't it sad/funny that Broadway is now the venue for many actors to learn about stage...the way high school auditoriums/gyms were for those of us who cared about this stuff early on?) generally agree that theatre is where it's at for an actor (it doesn't mean they should be rewarded, however...Tony Award voters and Scarlett Johansson...good grief!). Theatre makes sense for the actor: even in avant garde pieces, there's usually some of kind of organic logic that allows for a natural character arc. It just feels right. I could go into some of the clichés we traffic in to celebrate theatre (the energy of the audience, the interplay between audience/actor, the one-time-only experience of it, the incredible risk), but I won't...sort of. Since truly great moviemaking is mostly dead right now, theatre (along with a decent amount of cable television) is the surest bet for some entertainment excitement and authenticity.
Why did you want to be part of FringeNYC?
With little humility, I believe our show deserves to be seen by a lot of folks...and this is an opportunity to get more eyes and ears to the show. Selfishly, it's a luxury to have some extended time in NYC...even in August! And there is something terribly exciting about being part of a festival...of any sort. The energy, the focus...people tend to play nicer at festivals, for some reason, both the participants and audiences, and that's liberating and welcome, too.
Why did you want to write/direct/produce/act in/work on this show?
This show appeared to me without any effort on my part. And at a time when I'd grown tired of the Business...and had decided I'd rather be a performer enjoying myself in a musty basement for an audience of three, creating memories I can cherish, rather than hating myself all the time for not being “right” enough for some ridiculous image that I don’t even respect (and only having memories like walk-ons on a soap or a line like “My manager is in the back…” on a network show). Those just aren’t the reasons I wanted to act, though I know we pay our dues, of course. This show also came to me at a time when I had made a rite-of-passage as a gay man: shedding a lifetime of baggage about internalized homophobia, self-loathing, closeted-ness, “gay” versus “straight” acting, being a gay actor…a lot. It just seemed serendipitous that this big, meaty gay role came along when it did. Beyond all THAT, I’d just gotten into an online war on gay.com about the ruthless ways gay men interact when it comes to beauty and desire and acceptance…I mean, Rory, the character I play in Pieces, goes on these rants about the same things, and I’d just been ranting all over the internet about the exact same issues. Again, wild timing. I wasn’t aware ‘til we’d done our staged reading what a supreme acting challenge this role is. I relish and respect this opportunity like crazy: this is probably the most demanding role I’ve played…during our LA run, I actually lost a few pounds, and we were only doing three shows a week! So take all those personal issues colliding with a great role…and losing a few pounds around my middle (not that there’s anything wrong with a few pounds around the middle!), and this show is a no-brainer…I’m in!
Which famous New Jerseyite would like your show the best: Snooki, Bruce Springsteen, Thomas Edison?
I don't care much for this section of questions, and I'd prefer to answer the Mormon/Once/Salesman/Clybourne question (which is probably the most popular to answer for the serious shows), but it won't drag into this online form properly...so I'll play by the rules and take New Jersey: Snooki will appreciate the three hot guys in the show (I'm not counting myself out of false humility)and our sassy female lead (actually, everyone appreciates her, I tell ya!), Springsteen is a crazy liberal (even if a lot of his fans don't realize it...or care)so he'd love our message and themes, and Edison was a genius and great thinker...he'd love chewing on the issues presented (though he might've been unaccustomed to seeing two guys kissing...or not..no assumptions here!).
Can theatre bring about societal change? Why or why not?
I used to despise this sort of question and discussion...we start sounding so pretentious and pseudo-academic and anal about these things. We use words like “dialogue” and “patriarchal” and “socio-political” and “gender-feminist-blah-blah-blah,” but at the same time, I know these “dialogues” are important. I’ve never been in a play when I felt so genuinely and personally committed to its issues and message. In fact, I might have avoided such a play in the past (at least one that really announced its issues). Pieces is, I hope, entertaining…I had one friend say, “I hated when intermission came because I wanted to know what happened.” That’s a good sign. Pieces is also jam-packed with ideas, argument, philosophy…just loaded with food for thought, as they say. Issues anyone can relate to, and that one character makes clear are not copywrighted by the gay community! I’ve experienced, sometimes brutally (not physically, but spiritually and emotionally), the same feelings and thoughts and challenges as the character I play. And I hadn’t seen a play/movie/TV show really tackle the agonizing, ugly side of the gay world underneath all the fun and sass and laughter in the way Pieces does: that we can be a mean, nasty, cold-hearted bunch about looks and class and status and how that mutates us into these various types. Obviously, Boys in the Band profoundly exemplifies the harshness of gay life and gay interaction, and even subplots in Tales of the City hint at these issues (and obviously many, many other great pieces of gay theatre touch on these issues, lest I sound naïve). But Pieces makes it THE issue…with a character who is actually AWARE of the issue and screams and shouts and rants (Julia Sugarbaker-style…you win points if you get that reference…please say Hi after the show) until everyone acknowledges these issues! That’s what made Pieces different for me. And once we started performing the show, we saw and felt and heard the impact of presenting these issues without varnish. It feels good and right and satisfying. One of our actors even joined the cast and started a men’s group just from seeing our staged reading…this show hits an authentic nerve. I’ve been in shows that got tears from the audience and genuinely moved them in some way, but this experience has been very different…much of our audience is actually challenged or enlightened or just plain gobsmacked with reaction and response. That feels so good, I must say. I am seeing and sensing change in those who see our show…yes, a play can make a small dent. And ultimately change is made up of little dents, and we often don’t even realize that we’ve knocked some wall down ‘til it’s done and over with ‘cause we’re so busy with our dent-making. Without doubt, overtly political or not, plays make dents.