David-Edward Hughes: Tell me ALL about you! Ok maybe not ALL but fill our readership in.
Greg Brisendine: I’m 50 years old and my background in the arts is relatively new. About 15 years ago, a friend invited me to a Poetry Slam. I had never heard of performance poetry, much less a poetry competition, but I was instantly captivated by the kinds of stories I was hearing from poets on microphones. So I started taking poetry classes, and for more than 10 years, performed and competed in Slams around the country. I still write and occasionally perform poetry and it is still an art form I love.
About 4 -5 years ago my friend Roy saw me perform some poems and encouraged me to try theater. He cast me in a short play and I had so much fun I took an acting class. To date, I’ve been in 3 plays and also got to be in Fiddler on The Roof, which was the scariest and most awesome thing I’ve ever done. I’ve had such an amazing experience challenging myself to try new things (like singing and dancing on stage) and have found the Seattle theater community a great place for those challenges.
DEH: What was the inspiration for this play and what lead up to this production
GB: A few years ago, some friends and I (including my friend Roy) were spending a weekend at the beach and I got started telling funny stories about weird dating experiences I’ve had. We all agreed that I should write the play, although I had never done that before. So I literally just started writing scenes to see how what I could do. I ended up with a workable outline and script when I got distracted by acting and other projects, so ended up putting the play down for more than a year. Roy and I continued to believe that it was a story to be told, so I picked it back up again. And last year I started working with a playwriting group called Parley, so I had a great place to get feedback on the play. So at one point last year, Roy and I committed to the play and it came together.
DEH: The main characters in the play are older, which is not the norm for gay plays.
GB: True, the gay male community, like the larger society, has had a fetish for youth that has crept into theater and kept older characters off of stages. I’m hardly a theater scholar, but I wasn’t seeing myself represented on stage. Short version: I’m a 50 year old gay man who’s actively dating. I wanted to see myself on the stage.
DEH: Which gay plays do you admire and can you name any you detest?
GB: Many of the gay plays I love, I’ve seen first as movies. Torch Song Trilogy (the movie) was a critical turning point in my own coming out and that story still speaks to me because it was the first time I encountered a show where no one was apologizing for being gay. It may be cliché to say Angels in America, but Angels in America. Not just because it’s gay, though. There are layers to that story that (for me) are a study in storytelling. That said, it also captures what was happening around AIDS at a specific time and I think that story is important. I loved Jeffrey too, but mostly for its humor (as opposed to its message). Writing humor is a continuing goal of mine. I don’t really detest any gay plays, I typically think there’s room for every story to be told. That said, I did detest the movie A Single Man, which goes through a gay man’s loss of his lover in the 50’s. While it was likely a reasonable representation of a gay man’s experience in the 50’s, I found it quite shallow and in the end the main character meets a young blond guy on the beach so everything was OK! Sheesh.
DEH: How did you and Roy end up deciding to do the show at this time?
GB: It was mostly about commitment and calendars. Once we decided that we wanted to definitely do it, I committed to a date for a first complete draft, we then established a date for auditions and started talking to Gay City about Calamus Auditorium. Based on the availability of the space, we built our schedule backward. So it was mostly about how soon we could get it up on stage.
DEH: There is music being especially written for this production. Your idea or Roy’s? What’s the value of having it? Did you and the composer discuss?
GB: This was neither my nor Roy’s idea. It was Dana Amromin the sound designer’s, and is apparently what it’s like to have amazing artists on the design team as well as on stage. Dana said in a production meeting, after reading the script that she felt like it had a jazz vibe. Roy and I totally agreed at which point she told us that she had enlisted her brother to write original music. I haven’t met the composer, but have been delighted with Dana’s take on the music based on her experience with the script. This is one extraordinary example of the collaboration that makes me love theater. This show will be so much more than I could have imagined when writing it.
DEH: What do you see for THE HAT down the road? Any other plays you are developing?
GB: I would love to see THE HAT have a life after this production. The more I’ve worked with the characters in the script the more I’ve come to love them. I’ll be sending it out into the world pretty actively after this to see what I can get going.
I do have other plays in development. I’m working on a murder mystery based on Snow White and the Seven Dwarves that’s ridiculously fun and has given me a chance to write in that murder mystery genre. I’m also working on new play about a group of women in their 70’s and 80’s and takes on issues of personal responsibility around NSA sex and STDs. This seems serious and is, but there is a TON of fun by having this unfold in a retirement community.
THE HAT from Gay City Arts and The Bitter Single Guy Productions performs at the Calamus Auditorium at Gay City through April 9th. For tickets or information visit them online at bittersingleguy.com/the-hat.