Queer Voices

September 20th 2023 Queer Voices

September 20, 2023 Queer Voices
September 20th 2023 Queer Voices
Queer Voices
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Queer Voices
September 20th 2023 Queer Voices
Sep 20, 2023
Queer Voices

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Get ready for a powerful episode as we navigate through the resonating impact of The Laramie Project, a play that touches on the harrowing murder of Matthew Shepard, and the significant legislation that it inspired. We are joined by the play's director at Theatre Suburbia, Judy Reeves who offers us an intriguing insight into this dramatic piece. Judy details how the play uniquely employs ten actors to portray over 65 roles, and how it is not solely focused on the murder, but on the ripple effect it caused within the community of Laramie, leading to the creation of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

Guest: Judy Reeves
https://web.theatresuburbia.org/season/63/show/laramie-project

This episode also welcomes the talented Charles Busch, a celebrated playwright, actor, novelist, director, portrait artist, and cabaret entertainer, who shares details of his upcoming memoir, Leading Lady. We examine the specific aspects of Judy Reeves' play, The Laramie Project, set to stage at Theatre Suburbia from September 15 through October 14. We also reflect on the invaluable role of platforms like KPFT in amplifying voices that often go unheard, and the continuous call for support from our listeners.

Guest: Charles Busch
https://www.amazon.com/Leading-Lady-Memoir-Most-Unusual/dp/1637744145

We wrap up our episode with a heartwarming conversation with the acclaimed actor, Bryan Batt, known for his Broadway productions. Bryan offers a sneak peek into his role in the forthcoming show, Pay the Writer, as well as his experience filming during the pandemic and the film's upcoming release in New York City. We also share personal anecdotes about the late comedian Joan Rivers, a theater history enthusiast and the value of humor in navigating adversity. Brian offers some pearls of wisdom for the younger members of the LGBTQ+ community, and we discuss the significance of queer voices in the play Pay the Writer. Prepare to swim in a sea of theater, history, and community.

Guest: Bryan Batt
https://paythewriterplay.com

Queer Voices airs in Houston Texas on 90.1FM KPFT and is heard as a podcast here. Queer Voices hopes to entertain as well as illuminate LGBTQ issues in Houston and beyond. Check out our socials at:

https://www.facebook.com/QueerVoicesKPFT/ and
https://www.instagram.com/queervoices90.1kpft/

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Send us a Text Message.

Get ready for a powerful episode as we navigate through the resonating impact of The Laramie Project, a play that touches on the harrowing murder of Matthew Shepard, and the significant legislation that it inspired. We are joined by the play's director at Theatre Suburbia, Judy Reeves who offers us an intriguing insight into this dramatic piece. Judy details how the play uniquely employs ten actors to portray over 65 roles, and how it is not solely focused on the murder, but on the ripple effect it caused within the community of Laramie, leading to the creation of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

Guest: Judy Reeves
https://web.theatresuburbia.org/season/63/show/laramie-project

This episode also welcomes the talented Charles Busch, a celebrated playwright, actor, novelist, director, portrait artist, and cabaret entertainer, who shares details of his upcoming memoir, Leading Lady. We examine the specific aspects of Judy Reeves' play, The Laramie Project, set to stage at Theatre Suburbia from September 15 through October 14. We also reflect on the invaluable role of platforms like KPFT in amplifying voices that often go unheard, and the continuous call for support from our listeners.

Guest: Charles Busch
https://www.amazon.com/Leading-Lady-Memoir-Most-Unusual/dp/1637744145

We wrap up our episode with a heartwarming conversation with the acclaimed actor, Bryan Batt, known for his Broadway productions. Bryan offers a sneak peek into his role in the forthcoming show, Pay the Writer, as well as his experience filming during the pandemic and the film's upcoming release in New York City. We also share personal anecdotes about the late comedian Joan Rivers, a theater history enthusiast and the value of humor in navigating adversity. Brian offers some pearls of wisdom for the younger members of the LGBTQ+ community, and we discuss the significance of queer voices in the play Pay the Writer. Prepare to swim in a sea of theater, history, and community.

Guest: Bryan Batt
https://paythewriterplay.com

Queer Voices airs in Houston Texas on 90.1FM KPFT and is heard as a podcast here. Queer Voices hopes to entertain as well as illuminate LGBTQ issues in Houston and beyond. Check out our socials at:

https://www.facebook.com/QueerVoicesKPFT/ and
https://www.instagram.com/queervoices90.1kpft/

Glenn Holt:

Hello everybody. This is Queer Voices, a home-produced podcast that has grown out of a radio show that's been on the air in Houston, texas, for several decades. This week, brett Cullum has an interview with Judy Reeves about a play she's directing at Theatre Suburbia about the Matthew Shepard murder 25 years ago.

Judy Reeves:

Moises Coffin had a group called the Tectonic Theatre Project and they went out to Laramie. Oh, I think they went six trips, I think they made and they did over 200 interviews with the people in Laramie and even the perpetrators throughout the trial, and they did this over the course of a year and a half.

Glenn Holt:

We have the first part of Deborah Montcree-Fell's conversation with Charles Bush, author and entertainer, about his life in New York.

Charles Busch:

My child is a bit of the plot of the movie Anti-Mame. She was this remarkable woman who was a fantastic parent. She was kind of a mother and father. My own father was a lot of fun, but an eternal teenager who really wanted to be an opera singer and didn't have the drive for it. But it was fun and irresponsible.

Glenn Holt:

And Brian Levinca talks with Brian Batt about a new play in New York City.

Bryan Batt:

Play a Bruston Fisher, a power agent to a character named Cyrus Holt, who played wonderfully by Ron Canada, who he's a world famous author like a Norman Mailer type, and we have this long, long, long relationship.

Glenn Holt:

Queer Voices starts now.

Judy Shepard:

I'm the mother of Matthew Shepard. He was my son, my friend, my confidante, my constant reminder of how good life can be Our father's back for us. He was murdered in October 1998 because he was gay.

Brett Cullum :

I'm here with Judy Brieves, who has been an active member and force behind the Gulf Coast Archive and Museum that is a project and foundation dedicated to preserving Houston's queer history. She has been with them since day one and they are about to celebrate 24 years. She is also a legend of KPFT, having been a host of After Hours and facets. But today we're here to talk about Judy as a director of theater. She has been working with Theater Suburbia since 1994 and is currently directing the Laramie Project there, which opened September 15th and runs through October 14th. Judy, tell us a little bit about the Laramie Project. What is it about?

Judy Reeves:

Well, the Laramie Project is about a brutal murder of a young Wyoming University of Wyoming student, matthew Shepard. It just reverberated around the entire United States of America the weekend that happened. He was taken out into the woods of Laramie and left to die after being beat with all kinds of things and his shoes were stolen. We've never gotten to the bottom of that, but his shoes were the only thing that was stolen and a credit card. He was left to die tied to a fence for 18 hours and a University of Wyoming student was riding his bike out early in the morning and he saw Matthew and he tried to revive him and he went and got help and Matthew was taken to the hospital and he actually died two days later.

Judy Shepard:

I've seen a scareclaw wrapped in a wire, left to die on a high-rich fence.

Charles Busch:

It's a cold, cold of wind. It's a cold, cold of wind.

Judy Reeves:

It's a cold wind blow Wyoming.

Judy Reeves:

This was the beginning of any kind of legislation at all that protects our people, so to speak, in the gay community, and Matthew's parents decided that they weren't going to go home and sit by the fireplace and mourn their son's death.

Judy Reeves:

They were going to do something about it to make his life important. So they finally did get the first Hate Crimes Prevention Act in the US and it's still relevant today, of course and they did this using not only Matthew's names but also James Ver Jr, who was also an adult. He was 42 years old, but at about the same time of the year he was taken out into the woods by three white supremacists because he was a black person and he was beat to death in the same manner. So the Hate Crimes Prevention Act has both of their names on it, and they also attached a foundation to it so that families can get some help when this happens in their home. But also now Dennis and Judy got that running up and doing so well. Dennis has turned his sights to the transgender community now, because they are not protected under this law and they have no protection and murders are just running rampant in that community. So I commend Dennis and Judy for continuing their efforts.

Brett Cullum :

And, of course, dennis and Judy are Matthew Shepard's parents. Can you tell me a little bit about the play though? I think that the play is an interesting thing because it's not really depicting these events that we've just described. It's really kind of about the aftermath, isn't it? I mean, just kind of tell me about that.

Judy Reeves:

Well, moises Kaufman had a group called the Tectonic Theater Project and they went out to Laramie. Oh, I think they went six trips I think they made and they did over 200 interviews with the people in Laramie and even the perpetrators throughout the trial, and they did this over the course of a year and a half. It's not an usual play. You don't have people sitting in their living room over coffee and talking about things. It has moments in time. It's a very different kind of play and it's 10 players in the play and they do over 65 actual parts. 10 people do those 65 parts. So it's a very interesting theater way.

Judy Reeves:

But the aftermath of this beating it tore Laramie up. It was a quiet little town, a little college town. They didn't have much of a problem. They didn't even have a gay bar. They had a single bar and everybody got along in it until this happened. So the Tectonic Group went out and did all of these interviews and the focus isn't the way Matthew was killed, it's not the fact that he was killed. It was the reactions of the people who knew him and who went to school with him and his family and the actual town people, how they reacted to it and how it affected their town. So it is covered. The details of the death are covered, but it's not the whole focus of the show. Focus of the show is how the depths of humanity can sink so low and then when people come in with compassion at heart and they raise it so high. It's the highs and lows of humanity and it's all surrounds Matthew's death.

Judy Shepard:

It was just something about him that just made people want to talk to him, want to share, want to be his friend. You made your person's success by the friends they leave behind. I think that was a great success.

Brett Cullum :

I think it's interesting that you're bringing this to theater suburbia. They are known as Northwest Houston's longest running all volunteer playhouse. I usually associate them with doing things like murder mysteries, melodramas, maybe some light comedies and things like that. How did you convince them to take on this project at this time?

Judy Reeves:

Well, I won't say I threatened them, but no, most of my experience in directing this is my 44th play to do has been at suburbia. I went to the board and I said I'm going to do this play. I'd love to do it at suburbia. I realize it's not our kind of play, but it needs to be done. And it needs to be done this year because it's the 25th anniversary marking his death Actually, both of their deaths. They both died the same month. I was actually shocked when Elvin Moriarty, the president of theater suburbia, called me and he said you know, that little play you've been bugging me about for months. I said, yeah, I kind of steeled myself up for the big no he says well, the board can't think of any reason not to let you do it.

Judy Reeves:

I went oh my God you know, really so they just decided to take a chance and give me the play and I am extremely honored that they did that. And suburbia has just knocked themselves out to give us every single thing we needed. Every little nuance of the play is being catered to, so to speak, because it's a very different play. And suburbia does do theater. Suburbia I need to use their name does do poignant plays when you present it in the right way. And this 25th anniversary just was too much for them to pass up.

Judy Reeves:

And I have actually gotten the foundation involved. They contacted me and that kind of shocked me. I got an email from a person at the foundation and she said Dennis texted me and said that you are doing Laramie project at the Theatre Suburbia and I should give you everything you need and was like Dennis, who it's like Dennis Shepherd doing. Dennis Shepherd knows I'm doing his play. You know I was on his radar somehow, so I was really stunned. But they have really been over backwards to give me all the answers to any questions I have. And Suburbia has been very, very, very excited about this play and just given us enough rope to hang ourselves if we don't do a good job.

Brett Cullum :

I think it's interesting how much the Matthew Shepherd Foundation is involved in productions around the country, and especially given that this play is produced quite a bit. At one point it was one of the most produced plays in America and community theaters have been doing it for years, ever since it debuted in 2000. I haven't really seen it surface here in Houston and quite a while. I remember the last time I think that Judy actually came down and was at opening night for that. And this anniversary obviously is epic. It's the 25th year. There's a lot of things that are going to be around it and I'm very excited that you guys are going to be right front and center of that and honoring that moment in history. And what do you think it has to say now, 25 years after this horrible murder of Matthew?

Judy Reeves:

Shepherd. I think it says more than anything that, yes, matthew was gone. He was taken long before he should have been, and nobody should die like that. Nobody should die from hate. But look at what the people of the United States have done since his brutal murder. I mean, they don't have him up on a pedestal. Matthew was not perfect by any means, but because of what happened to him, people actually rallied around and supported his parents in their process of trying to get some legislation to help these horrible events when they happen.

Judy Reeves:

Today I'm looking at the play, not as, oh, matthew's dead and we need to mourn this thing for two hours. No, I look at it as a celebration of his life because, unfortunately, his death brought about some huge changes in our legislation and protect a whole community of people who were never protected before, and now their parents are moving on to protect another section of the community who has no protection at all, and so it's really a celebration at this point. It's not a dirge, so to speak. It's not a funeral, it's not. It's not as sad as it was 25 years ago. It's really a celebration of his survival for this 25 years, and I've done a radio show dedicated to Matthew's life every October, so I'm very familiar with it and I'm sort of in touch with two of his relatives. We only talk on Facebook Messenger, but that's okay, you know, they don't even live in the country, but it's there and Matthew's always been very special to me, possibly because he died on the same date as my mother and she was, so it's really close to my heart.

Brett Cullum :

I'm talking to Judy Rives, who is directing the Laramie project, which is going to be showing a theater suburbia starting September 15th is that correct? And goes through October 14th? Yes, and they do have a website and it's theater suburbia, but you spell theater at that European way, with the RE. So if you're looking for theater suburbia online, make sure that you do it that way, with the stylish RE at the end of it. And one of the things that I think is amazing is your run actually goes through October 14th and Matthew obviously died on October 12th, so you've got a very heavy date in there in the middle of your run. Tell me a little bit about your cast as well and how the show is taking shape.

Judy Reeves:

Well, the show is taking shape beautifully. I mean, I'm amazed that we got 10 actors who just some of them have not been on the stage much at all, in age from 75 to 22, and they all play multiples. Yeah, and even the 75 year old I'm sorry he'll be very mad at me, 74 year old in the pay also plays a 19 year old college student and you'll be able to tell who's on stage when, because they do have costumes and such. Some of these people have never been on suburbia stage and others of them have. I've only worked with two of them, but they've all just sort of rallied around and it's just unbelievable the job that they're doing, because and when I told them, you know you're going to do 12 people in the play, it's like what you know. Yeah, it's not like sitting around, like I said, with a cup of coffee in a living room for 15 minutes in conversation and then you have a blackout. No, these people are on and off stage constantly and they're always somebody different and they have about three lines as that person and they exit and come back as another person. It's it's moments in time, literally.

Judy Reeves:

But I am backed solidly with two other directors, michelle Richie and Sam Martinez, and they have been the backbone of me. I mean, they have just dragged me through this thing kicking and screaming. No, they, they really are great. We also have a good backstage crew, so we have a great crew and they've really worked hard. In fact, I have to do a shout out to RMCC church, because Ken over there let us use one of his rooms for Tursals one week because Theatres of Urbia was tied up with the 10 by 10 for a week and we couldn't get into the theaters. So they are really working hard. They deserve audiences and I can't say enough about all of the work that they put in. They are just an absolutely wonderful group and a group of people who bonded at Readthrough and have become fast friends since then once again, it's at Theatres of Urbia and they are online.

Brett Cullum :

You can get tickets online and make reservations and it is Theatres spelled the European way, with the RE out there, and it opens on September 15th and closes on October 14th, runs mainly evenings. You've got a couple of matinees sprinkled in there.

Judy Reeves:

Yeah, I think maybe two yeah, we run Friday and Saturdays at 8 pm and we have two Sunday matinees on October 1st and October 8th and they start at 2 pm. The theaters open for that obviously recommend reservations and you can get that by either going online at theaters of urbiaorg, notcom. Um, not much else I can say.

Brett Cullum :

I've been out there like forever, so I do like them well, obviously they like you and they've trusted you with this play and it's gonna be wonderful and I'm very excited to see it. It's a cold, cold away it's a cold cold away.

Bryan Hlavinka:

It's a cold when blowing with.

Glenn Holt:

That was Brett Cullum talking with Judy Reeves about the play she's producing called the Laramie Project Music. In that interview outtakes from American Triangle by Sir Elton John, which was part of the album Songs from the West released on the Rocket Mercury label in October 2001.

Deborah Moncrief Bell:

This radio program we Are Voices has existed since the 1970s. On KPFT we have this little crew of folks working every week to produce what's no longer unique because we're almost mainstream now, but we're still an important voice that might not otherwise get heard because it's not on that many places. So KPFT is very important to give voices to those who might not otherwise have voices. So, as Glenn always says, you participate by listening. You should also participate by supporting the station. So please go to kpftorg and make your donation right away.

Glenn Holt:

This is Queer Voices.

Deborah Moncrief Bell:

Charles Bush is a playwright, actor, leading lady, novelist, director, portrait artist and cabaret entertainer. His memoir Leading Lady a memoir of a most unusual boy, is available as of September 12th. Welcome, charles, to Queer Voices. I imagine I first became aware of you after seeing your play the Empire Lesbians of Sodom and followed you ever since. Let's start at the beginning with your story, which involves the untimely and early death of your mother when you were only five years old. Can you talk about that in your early years?

Charles Busch:

Well, it is interesting. Particularly when you get of a certain age you start seeing the shape of your life as a whole. I guess my mother's death I was actually seven, I was really young. What was the first big event of my life, and so much of my life has been shaped by that. I've spoken to so many people who've lost a parent in childhood and we all sort of feel marked by it and it does affect what we seek in relationships, certain needs that are never really resolved. But I was very fortunate that my mother had a much older sister, my Aunt Lillian, who was 12 years older than she and was very involved in my life from birth. But she, aunt Lillian, stepped in and when I was 14, she legally adopted me and had me move in with her to Manhattan.

Charles Busch:

My child is a bit of the plot of the movie Auntie Mame. She was a remarkable woman who was a fantastic parent. She was kind of mother and father. My own father was a lot of fun, but an eternal teenager who really wanted to be an opera singer and didn't have the drive for it. But it was fun and irresponsible and Aunt Lillian just kind of took charge in a marvelous way. And one thing I was very fortunate about with her. My aunt had a green thumb and I was kind of like one of her African violets that needed a lot of care and tending and she really figured out what was the raw ingredients she had to work with, and so she didn't try to turn me into anything I wasn't. The idea was whatever was interesting about me and strong about me and that's what she would cultivate like a rare plant.

Deborah Moncrief Bell:

Yes, she saw your potential and nurtured it, and in fact, the title of your book, with the subtext of a memoir of a most unusual boy, actually comes from something that she did, which, ironically, that story is not related in the book. But can you tell where that comes from?

Charles Busch:

Well, you know this book has been. I've been working on it for 14 years and there's been all sorts of various marvelous editorial hands at different times, so I forget sometimes what's what I've cut or what's in it. Frequently she would refer to me in talking about me. Oh, he's a most unusual boy and I guess that this particular thing was that her goal was to try to get me into college. It didn't seem likely at all because my grades were so, so mediocre and no matter how she worked with me and tutored me and sat at the dining room table trying to get me to absorb all this material.

Charles Busch:

I was never all that scholastic but I applied to all these different colleges and got turned down by most of them. But then I knew some kids who had applied to Northwestern, which is a fine school, and I really was not academically up to snuff for them. But I applied and it's in Illinois, evanston, and the morning that I was supposed to get on the plane to go to Chicago and Evanston to for my college interview, we got a phone call from the, this woman from the admissions office, and she said Well, we, my aunt picked up the phone and so we never received his latest SAT scores and I don't know how we dropped the ball on that one. And so she said we're just going to cancel the application. And my aunt, just you know said, is a most unusual boy, he's not only interested in acting, because it was I applied to the theater department, but he draws and he writes and shows. I think you really will like him and I can get him on the next plane to Chicago. And the lady said I'm sorry, it's just, it's really no point doing this, but should I have the application all in front of me? So I'll just take a look at it now.

Charles Busch:

And about a week later we got a letter from Northwestern welcoming me, saying that I got accepted by early admission. My aunt, we were just astonished, and she she's. When she told me that she said Look, you won't believe this, you got accepted by early admission. And I, my reaction was, and she started laughing. She said Well, what would your reaction have been if you had been declined?

Deborah Moncrief Bell:

I said I guess she actually had written a letter where she used that phrase, and you didn't discover that letter until a few years ago, I think when she passed away in 1999.

Charles Busch:

And we gave up the contents of her apartment here in New York City. Yeah, I found this big accordion pleaded envelope just with my name on it, and I took it, and I've just took it to my apartment. I have in my file cabinet. Just not that long ago I I've just been getting rid of things too and I decided really to look inside this accordion pleaded envelope and found my birth certificate, which I had thought was lost and that was a good thing to have, and and then all these things. And then, you know, found, you know, these college rejection notices, college and then the ultimate acceptance, and just all these, my whole life basically, and in receipts and doctors bills, and just all the minutiae and raising a complicated son.

Deborah Moncrief Bell:

You're a drag legend and you're noted for playing leading ladies, which you do with finesse. You portrayed a transgender person, nat Ginsburg, on HBO's Oz. Did you ever consider that you might be trans?

Charles Busch:

Well, that's an interesting question. My generation of drag performer. When we came about in the 80s, being called a drag queen was, oh, it just seemed like a terrible insult. I wanted so much to be accepted and respected as a playwright and as an actor that I felt and I think I was right back then that it seemed like, particularly when straight theaters and journalists would refer to me as a drag queen, I thought it was a bit of a put down, marginalizing me, not taking me seriously as an actor and a writer, just because I was playing a female character. That meant something like I wasn't really an actor. At least that's how I felt. It was my generation of performer he's a bit older than me Charles Pierce, who came before me, but then Charles Ludlam and then John Epperson, who's my contemporary, who has this stage character, lipsenka.

Charles Busch:

We countered that by refusing to ever in any interviews say that the reason we did drag, that it had nothing to do with who we really were, that it was strictly professional. That's it that we were totally different off stage. I get mortified and I read quotes from early interviews of mine because it's much more complicated than that. I never thought of myself as trans or even non-binary, but the fact that my creative imagination is so sprung from a feminine source. It's profound and something very deep within my nature, and I can effortlessly move from male to female. I don't need the costume.

Deborah Moncrief Bell:

Right you take on the persona.

Charles Busch:

Yes, and it's very deep and I don't know there could be also to facile psychological reasons about that. I'm creating the mother that I never had. I don't know who knows. I think it points us to that, even simplifies it. But whatever it is, I'm very aware of the female in my nature and it's a place of authority and strength.

Deborah Moncrief Bell:

And even though you had that factured relationship with your father, it was viewing old movies with him that kind of intrigued you and you kind of recognized something in those leading ladies of that time.

Charles Busch:

Yes, and then I've also. From early childhood I was fascinated by theater history and particularly the actresses from the stage who never did film or very rarely. Going back all the way to Sarah Bernhardt in the 19th century, to the actresses of the 30s and 40s and 50s, then Fontaine and Catherine Cornell and Laura Taylor. In a way, they fascinated me more than Biddy Davis and Joan Crawford, because I had to imagine what their voices were like and what their performances were like.

Deborah Moncrief Bell:

The tale of the allergist's wife was your Tony-nominated play ran. For what? 777 performances, yeah about two years. Your experiences. You did a lot of madcap stuff, but you also did serious work and a fairly prolific playwright. You have what 25 plays to your credit.

Deborah Moncrief Bell:

Something like that yeah, and you had friendships with, in interactions with a number of show business folks and in fact you had a very meaningful relationship with the comedian Joan Rivers, who became kind of a mother figure to you after the passing of your aunt. Talk a little bit more about your relationship with Joan.

Charles Busch:

Oh gosh, I'm just a daughter and it's so funny. I grew up like everyone seeing Joan Rivers on TV and all her various incarnations and being a fan, and then I started we would in the theater in New York. You do a lot of these one night events and benefits and you're thrown into contact with all sorts of fascinating people and end up sharing dressing rooms with. They usually put me in the women's dressing room. I don't quite know why, but I rather enjoy it, and nobody ever seems to mind. No actresses ever said what are you doing here?

Judy Shepard:

No.

Charles Busch:

I was in contact with Joan for years and she would come to my place but I didn't really know her. And then, I don't know, six years before her death, something like that, maybe more she asked me to work on a project with her and I did and we became great friends. But it's funny when I look at old clips of her with her old faces. I don't relate that woman to who I knew. I only knew her last face. What was interesting about her is that she was, of course, very funny and she was funny as funny offstage as she was onstage. It's not like I've met some of these ladies who have a real stage persona and offstage and they're like God, I don't see any of that funny lady. But with Joan she was always funny. But she also had this rather elegant lady, mrs Rosenberg, who that was very much who she was. She didn't suck the air out of the room. You would have thought she'd be one of those big personalities that just dominate and I can enjoy that too. It's fun actually just sitting back and witnessing that with her. She was so interested in other people.

Charles Busch:

I was always aware of the unknown, young, sort of struggling Joan that I'd read about. She was impressed by other people and we one time went to this fabulous party. Hal Prince, the legendary producer director, used to give a big Christmas party at his duplex and, oh my God, just everybody from the New York theater was there at Sondheim and Barbara Cook and all these people, and they'd be singing on the piano. But in some ways Joan as far as notoriety goes, she was maybe the most famous person in the room in a certain context. I was standing next to her and at one point we saw a Sondheim asked Barbara Cook if she could get up at the piano and sing and she did this exquisite rendition of his song in Buddy's Eyes. And then Joan whispered to me can you believe we're here? So her that she didn't really feel that she was a big celebrity somehow.

Charles Busch:

She was just absolutely a dear living person. Those of us who really were good friends there, I think we all felt very safe that if anything should happen to us, she'd be there. She got one of her really her best friends. She was able to get them first on the list to get a liver transplant. She was just a great friend and took care of people. We don't know all the good things she did. She didn't publicize it.

Deborah Moncrief Bell:

In the last episode of the Marvelous Mrs Maisel there's a scene where she's walking through her dining room with a very long table I imagine it set 30 people and I knew instantly from hearing the stories of Joan's legendary Thanksgiving gatherings that that was based on that. I believe a lot of that character was based on Joan.

Charles Busch:

Oh yeah, Thanksgiving. Oh my God. It was like out of Downton Abbey, Just the table, most lavishly decorated table, and there'd be a waiter behind each person. It was totally Downton Abbey. I remember the first year that she invited me and my partner Eric and my sister Margaret to Thanksgiving. I was so touched that she had me sitting next to her at the end of the table. It was just very magical. I just adored her. I think all of us just miss her so much.

Deborah Moncrief Bell:

Yeah, certainly an incredible person and someone who gave so much in so many ways, not only as a performer but as a friend. So it's really lovely to hear those stories about her child. Now back to you. You have been in a number of films, most recently the Madcap adventure, the sixth reel, which you did with Margaret Cho. Tell me a little bit about that movie.

Charles Busch:

It came about because I did a play a few years ago that was quite successful in New York called the Divine Sister, and my close collaborator, carl Andrus, who's directed really most of my plays for the past 25 years. We were hoping to make a movie out of that. It's a satire on movies about nuns and everything from Black Narcissus to the Trouble with Angels. Anyway, we met with an indie film producer, ash Christian, and about making a movie of that and he said it would be very expensive and it's a period, it's the sixties, and it's a whole school, catholic school and he said it was not realistic. So then Carl and I tried to think of some kind of movie that we could make in our apartments, a contemporary movie for my great stage buddy, julie Halston and I to play in together.

Deborah Moncrief Bell:

Yeah, it was during COVID right.

Charles Busch:

Yeah. So we wrote the script during COVID, just zooming between Carl lives in Connecticut and I'm in New York City, and so we quickly wrote this thing and I just love 1960s comedy caper movies Particularly. There were a number of them that were made in England that aren't necessarily so famous to say make my mink and oh you know, and then some of our more famous like the Lavender Hill mob and all that Anyway. So I always wanted to make a movie where I was running around my neighborhood here in Grudge Village in wacky disguises and trying to pull off some sort of caper. We wrote the script and then Ash said he would produce it and then suddenly he died, suddenly at a young man. Just not quite sure what happened there, but he died and but fortunately the people he worked with picked up the ball and we went forward.

Charles Busch:

Things changed because of COVID. It wasn't realistic to shoot in small spaces, you know in people's apartments. So we ended up shooting the whole movie, except for a couple of exteriors, on a soundstage in upstate New York and it felt like we were, I don't know, at MGM and the 30s shooting all the interiors. You know, all these apartments were completely built on a soundstage and it was so much fun.

Deborah Moncrief Bell:

It's a very, very funny movie and I enjoyed it very much I was able to. I don't know, I watched it online, but I think it was like through a special theme.

Charles Busch:

We were at all these different festivals and at each festival because of COVID, they also did streaming at each place and we've had a very difficult time finding the right distribution for it and streaming. We have not been successful at that. I think the movie and it's about older gay people well, older gay and straight people and you know, I think maybe I'm just making excuses, I don't know, but it just seemed like there's more interest in young gay people frolicking and Fire Island and Provincetown than older gay people scrambling around in Grenge Village. But we have. What's exciting is, finally, we are having a theatrical run here in New York City at a wonderful new movie theater called the Look Cinema on West 57th Street. That's one of these theaters where you can actually eat full dinner in the theater. It's quite glamorous. So we do a run there, I believe September 22nd through the 29th. I'm just delighted that people get to see it. People really enjoyed it, you know, and actually I'm hoping that this theatrical run will lead to other opportunities for the movie, something we're very proud of.

Glenn Holt:

That was the first part of a conversation between Deborah Bell and Charles Bush. We'll have the remainder of that conversation next week.

Deborah Moncrief Bell:

Next Saturday, november the 28th, is actually shop, small shop local.

Charles Busch:

Our website is TXPIForg.

Bryan Batt:

Facebookcom Feed the vote Houston.

Glenn Holt:

Huh, who is that talking? When's that going to happen? Did our guests talk about events, websites and other contact information and you didn't catch it? Check our own Queer Voices website at QueerVoicesorg. We have all that information for you there and you can find links to previous shows. That's QueerVoicesorg and we're also on Facebook. This is Queer Voices.

Bryan Hlavinka:

This is Brianica, and today, on Queer Voices, we're talking with Brian Batt, a famed actor that has been in many, many productions of different shows on Broadway, and he's starting in a new show. Brian, can you tell me about yourself in the show?

Bryan Batt:

Well, I play Rustin Fisher, a power agent to a character named Cyrus Holt, who played wonderfully by Ron Canada, who he's one of the world famous author, like a Norman Mailer type, and we have this long, long, long relationship. He's on his way out, he's dying and it's the tying up of his loose ends and I kind of negotiate bringing back his family and his ex-wife and not a complete happy ending but a nice, nice send-off. I don't want to give too much away. So many of my friends have seen it, especially older friends of mine, really really enjoyed the themes of the topics of end of life, but not in a negative way. They really really moved them a lot. And it's also mainly about friendships and unlikely friendships. And how do you deal with great, great talent, great artists, and what can you forgive and what do you not forgive or what is the limit? Because a lot of times people in these positions, with these artists' brains, these geniuses, are great at their craft, they're great at what they do, but as far as relationships and humanity, sometimes they fall behind.

Bryan Hlavinka:

So we should mention the name of the play the Paid the Writer.

Bryan Batt:

Yes, paid the Writer. Very interesting note I did the workshop of it last year and initially I thought what a strange title. And then the strike happened right before we started rehearsal and I thought, well, this is pretty timely. You grew up in.

Bryan Hlavinka:

New Orleans. Can you talk about that?

Bryan Batt:

Yes, I grew up in New Orleans. In fact I still live there. My husband and I have a home there and a business. We have a home furnishing shop called Hazelnut and I love it. I always went home from New York on vacations. My whole family is there. I'm very close with a lot of my friends that I grew up with there and it's a very unique city in the United States. There's nothing like it. It has such a sense of history and it has its own food, its own music, its own style, its own way of life. I love it. If someone would have told me 20 years ago, I would be happy living there again. I would have told them out of their mind, but I kind of got weaned off of it. We opened the shop. This October it would be 20 years. I can't believe that we kept our place here.

Bryan Batt:

I went back and forth, kept on doing theater and Broadway up here and then Mad Men happened and I was in LA. I was in New York, new Orleans. In Los Angeles I was kind of a five-coastal that was very ridiculous and expensive. I had to sit down and make a list and figure out where was I happiest. It turned out to be New Orleans when they know you at TSA, it's time to make a decision. I do love it there it's home anyway but so is New York. I love New York so much too. I love to travel, but you know, I believe you can do this and that it doesn't have to be, or so I go back and forth. You know, especially now with Zoom and with self-auditioning, when I do audition you're put on tape. It's not really really in person. I haven't had an in-person audition in years, many years.

Bryan Hlavinka:

What was it like growing up gay in New Orleans?

Bryan Batt:

Well, I wrote a play about it, called Dear Mr Williams, that producers are working on getting it to Broadway right now as we speak. It was difficult. Not in the sense I mean I had a wonderful childhood in the sense that I had wonderful parents. My mother was a very, very wonderful person. My father was great too. He drank there. We've never abused it, but you know we drank. But everybody in New Orleans drinks.

Bryan Batt:

I have very, if I dare say, privileged life. I didn't want for anything, but when it came time, when I realized that I was gay, I knew no one that was gay. I you know there were, and at that time there were no books, there were no TV shows, there were no movies that you'd got. Now it's so. It's so much better for kids because they can identify, they can say oh, that's me. I would say, you know, I never saw me anywhere. It wasn't until I did theater in college. I went oh wait, oh wait. This is what that is, this is how I feel.

Bryan Batt:

And it wasn't really until I met my husband, tom, that I knew love was a possibility. I knew sex was a possibility. You know, that's a different thing. But love, actually loving somebody, that wonderful tingly feeling you get every time they're near, that you've been there a way and you just want to be with them and cook with them, and shop with them and, you know, do everything with them. That kind of feeling I thought I would never experience. And that was the hardest part, you know, letting go of that, those stereotypical norms of like getting married, I, you know, oh, I can't wait to get married. And they're like, no, you'll never get married. And lo and behold as time changes and time moves on. We did so, you know. It's like. I know people might be tired of the old adage, but it does get better. It just takes time.

Bryan Hlavinka:

How did you meet your husband?

Bryan Batt:

We met doing Evita in the Carousel Dinner Theater in Akron Ohio.

Bryan Hlavinka:

That's a gay story, if I've ever heard one.

Bryan Batt:

Isn't it? Um yeah, I wrote a book called she Ain't Heavy. She's my Mother, and there's a chapter about how I met Tom called Don't Cry for Me, akron, ohio. It's a fun chapter. It's a very fun story. Friends, when I read it, just laughed out loud, calling me going. I can't believe that's how it didn't happen. Yeah, it was fun.

Bryan Hlavinka:

Gay men of a certain age. Know you from Jeffrey. Can you talk about that? That was a wonderful movie. You talk about seeing yourself on film. I think that's when I saw myself on film.

Bryan Batt:

Yeah, it was a hard thing. I mean, I did the play off Broadway At the first. We did it at the WPA Theater, then at the Vanette Lane and then they brought the original cast most of us out to Los Angeles Kevin it's now called Kevin and then I was doing another Broadway show and I think I got the movie. I was very fortunate to play opposite Patrick Stewart, who is still a friend and just one more most lovely gentleman, true gentleman, actor, and I really did some cherish him it was. It was wonderful. Every moment, from that, from the first read, through the table read of the play, to the last shot of the of the Barthini shot of the film. It was a wonderful experience. I wish that I would love everything to be like that, because it was. It was just Kevin, but it came out at a time.

Bryan Batt:

You know, initially, you know Paul Runnick is so funny and so witty and by some is with us fighting and clever. When we first opened we didn't know what, how people were going to respond Honestly, because you know there were rewrites every day and by the time we started previews, the script started off, as you know, it's all white pages. And then they there's this at four computers that would get kinkos. They would like run off everything and each day was a different color paper and I and the irony was our script looked like a rainbow and we didn't know. We all sat around. We were going to dinner break before the first preview. We sat around and said what do you think is going to happen? I think Harriet Harris said either people are going to jump to their feet or they're going to jump to their feet and run, and it turned out to be the latter, I mean the pop first, they, they, they loved it. Very interestingly, though, at that time the times we've had such power as far as theater goes. I think they still do. But I think, you know, now people are giving theater and other things a chance, going to see things first and deciding on for themselves rather than just trusting a review.

Bryan Batt:

There was one review and this is one of the times I had two critics I can remember the other one. One was Frank Rich, and there was another one, and the other one I can't show his name is leaving me right now, but it was just that you said you know you can't joke about age, you can't say anything. And Frank Rich wrote this rave. You know, I think he had the Friday new color and he wrote this rave saying we must keep our sense of humor, we must and that and that, and was a rave review.

Bryan Batt:

That's why we moved, that's why we had a professional run and then everything else after that. It was Paul, I think it was Paul's philosophy that you know, if you, if you, if you lose your sense of humor or your ability to laugh at humanity, you know then the disease or adversity has won. So, and one thing gay men, we do have is our wit and our sense of humor, as a young gay man swimming the waters, that that was one of my tools, my, my, my humor and my, my wit, to deflect any possible interactions that will not be so kind.

Bryan Hlavinka:

What has been your favorite role?

Bryan Batt:

I don't know. I love Jeff. I really loved Sal and Mad Ben a lot. That was wonderful. You know, sometimes it's these little tiny parts you get to do in independent little films I loved. There's a movie that just came out last year I did with Mike Feist called Pinball the man that saved the game, and it's I think it's streaming on something right now and it's a an adorable film. He was riff in West Side Story. He's fabulous. But it's an adorable film and I love my crazy part.

Bryan Batt:

I played the, the fashion director for GQ, and it's mid 70s, so I looked. It was hysterical, it was a fun part. I really loved doing comedy like that big comedy, what else? And I was big Broadway shows I loved. I mean I I understood the male lead in Sunset Boulevard and went on quite a few times for Joe Gillis and I went on quite a few times in the sky, the Pimp and Ellen as the lead, which was a huge role. Those were the thrilling.

Bryan Batt:

I have fun, luckily. I love what I do and I'm so grateful to get to do what I do, so I try to find joy in every role that I get to do. I have no if there's no time in this business for me to be negative, especially at this age. I see some people when I was younger coming to work and complaining and everything, and I remember saying it's like you don't like this, please give you notice. There'll be a line around the block to replace you. You know this is not everybody gets to do this. This is what we've worked and studied for and did the hard pain in the ass jobs to be able to get to be on Broadway. So I try to try to find something wonderful.

Bryan Batt:

I'm loving this part right now that I'm playing with Rustin Fisher. I really am. We were into our second week you know second week and one of the big scenes with Ron last night. It just, you know it always was good, but last night it was just on fire and we came off. It was because what did we do? This was really great. So it's the constant discovery. That's one of the things about live theater. That's so fantastic that things can change and the audience inspires and the audience is a character in the play.

Bryan Hlavinka:

I'm an absolute Broadway queen. I come to New York several times a year just to see shows, and I saw you into my girls.

Bryan Batt:

Oh, that was fun. Those boys, oh my God, those boys, I love every one of them. A bunch of them came to the opening for this show when we started. I love them. They were so kind to me you know, I was the old band of the group and when they'd go out they'd make sure I would let me tag along and in fact they'd insist that I tag along. But they're just dreamy. We still keep in touch and they're so talented, so talented, and I'm so inspired. My leak is with this wonderful book. J Armstrong was just in parade and Britt and Smith is. Oh my God, he's every, all of them, carmen. I love them. I love them.

Bryan Hlavinka:

What advice do you have to the younger gays that are coming up now that you would maybe give given yourself back then?

Bryan Batt:

I would. Well, it was a different time. One thing, and I think this still counts in casting when you walk in the room you kind of have to be the character, not like. You know, if you're auditioning for a serial killer, don't bring a knife, but you need, you can't give too much of yourself away. I think, unfortunately, in casting, a lot of casting directors, whether they be gay or straight, they're looking to see, if they're you know, if a guy can play if he comes off to a feminine, to or whatever that is, you know, or to gay or whatever that is. I think you kind of have to. If you're going in for a big old straight lug, play it as you go going in there. That being said, once you walk out the door, be yourself. I mean, that's the point. That's one of the things that's getting kind of pooky now, that everyone has to be exactly what they're being cast, as I have played many of straight role. You know I've played many straight roles and I don't think I should only play gay roles because I'm gay. At flip side, I do think, you know, mostly gay men can bring a lot to a gay role that I think some straight actors might not be able to, but it's acting.

Bryan Batt:

One good thing. And this whole controversy with Bradley and the nose, I mean, come on, you know, what I love is instantly his descendants. His family basically said we approve this. You know, my dad had a big nose, you know, it's such a fact. I don't know what they can do with Helen Mirren as gold in my ear. I don't get it. But one thing I do love Matt Weiner from Mad Men. After he cast me and I've never had this happen before but I walked, especially for TV or film, unless it was an offer, which I love. Just getting offers, that's heaven, like this play in T-Mart Girls and some other movies. They're like, they're just offerings. But he said, you know he goes, he wanted a gay man playing salvator. He did not want someone with a mask, he wanted a gay man and I was very appreciative of that.

Bryan Hlavinka:

And do you think that's because a gay man would understand the closeted nature of the role?

Bryan Batt:

maybe I don't know. I just think he's so authentic, matt. He goes also a lot from his gut. And same with Alan, who was the director on the pilot. He told me later on he said you walked in, you started to talk and they said it was you, which is, you know, every actor's dream to hear those words. And I think with Mad Men it was so good that they. It was AMC's first foray into that kind of scripted, high-end, beautiful, you know television. They really gave Matt free range. There were no suits sitting around saying, hey, maybe you ought to put Britney Spears in this episode. You know, it's not that. They let him that. He was true to his vision and let him tell his story. I think that's why. And then writing and everything, everything was one of those things where all the stars aligned. It was just brilliant. Every week we'd sit around the next script of papery and just go how are they doing this? How does it just get better and better?

Bryan Hlavinka:

It's groundbreaking TV.

Bryan Batt:

It was so much fun to be part of that. We had no idea when we shot the pilot spring, I think, of 2006, and then we didn't start filming until spring of 2007. Everyone had to wait because Matt had to finish the last season of the sopranos, but everyone was like yep, we're on board, no matter what.

Bryan Hlavinka:

Let's talk about the play a little bit more called Pay the Rider. Where's it playing?

Bryan Batt:

It's playing at the Signature Theatre. It's at the Jewelbox Theatre at the Signature, which is a 42nd Street in 10th. It's a great theatre complex. It's a modern building and there are three theatre spaces in this complex. There's a huge big lobby with a bar and couches and really spread out. It's a wonderful place because you can hang out. I love the theatre. It's a little bit. I think it's around 200 or something seats. It's very intimate. Acoustics are great, the seats are comfortable. There's lots of leg room. It's wonderful. It's the Signature Theatre on 42nd Street, right near 10th. I'm staying right down the block, so it all works out perfectly.

Bryan Hlavinka:

We've been speaking with Brian Batt about his upcoming play called Pay the Rider. Thank you, brian, for coming on. Queer Voices Thank you.

Glenn Holt:

This has been Queer Voices, which is now a home-produced podcast and available from several podcasting sources. Check our webpage QueerVoicesorg for more information. Queer Voices' executive producer is Brian Levinca. Andrew Edmondson and Deborah Moncrief Bell are frequent contributors. The News Wrap segment is part of another podcast called this Way Out, which is produced in Los Angeles.

Glenn Holt:

Some of the material in this program has been edited to improve clarity and runtime. This program does not endorse any political views or animal species. Views, opinions and endorsements are those of the participants and the organizations they represent. In case of death, please discontinue use and discard remaining products.

Glenn Holt:

For Queer Voices. I'm Glenn Holt.

The Laramie Project
Celebration of Life in the Play
Gender Identity and Relationships With Joan
Mrs Maisel, Film Production, New Orleans
Reflections on Theater and Favorite Roles
Queer Voices in "Pay the Rider"