"Call Me Adam" chats with playwright and lighting designer Brandon Baruch about his new play NO HOMO which will be in the 2014 NYC International Fringe Festival from August 9-17 at The Players Theatre in NYC (115 McDougal Street). Click here for tickets!
NO HOMO is about Luke and Ash who have been inseparable for six years. Their friends and family are convinced they're secretly a couple, even though neither man is gay. At least, they're pretty sure they're not. There's only one way to find out...
1. After an extended sold-out run in Hollywood, your play, NO HOMO will be part of the NYC International Fringe Festival from August 9-17. What made you want to write this play? The initial inspiration for NO HOMO came from a real life relationship. I am gay, my best friend is not, my friends and family were convinced we were a couple, and no one was willing to believe otherwise. I found it frustrating (and, also I loved it) that my super-liberal, progressive friend circle could not understand the concept of a fierce but platonic relationship between two men. I started paying attention to the way society perceives and talks about such relationships, and the closest thing I could find in mainstream entertainment were stupid "Bromance" comedies. I realized I had stumbled on a story that hadn't been told before, so I started exploring the narrative possibilities of two men who fall in love but aren't sexually attracted to each other.
2. What do you hope audiences come away with after seeing NO HOMO? I hope NO HOMO will enable audiences to reconsider the relationships in their own lives. And maybe help people be more open with the people they love.
3. What excites about having NO HOMO in The NYC International Fringe Festival? How do you feel this festival will nurture your show that another one might not? It is a huge honor to be a selected participant in FringeNYC, one of the more prestigious theater festivals in the country. I was born, raised, and still preside in Los Angeles, and my writing reflects that. FringeNYC will allow me to present my play to both New York and International audiences, which, while intimidating, is also a fantastic opportunity to gain greater exposure.
4. What has been the best part about watching this cast bring your show to life? I love my cast. LOVE MY CAST. They are all such fantastically playful people, and they have found so many moments in each scene that I probably never would have stumbled upon on my own (a heap of praise is also due my director, Jessica Hanna, who steers the cast with a steady, finessed hand.) 3 of the 6 current NO HOMO cast members have been workshopping this play with me since I first started writing it nearly a year ago. Working with actors who are so closely connected to their roles enabled many new discoveries during the writing process. The cast is also very generous and always willing to take last minute cuts or script revisions as I continue to find nuances in the script. Oh, also, these people are funny. They are able to pull off punchlines that really shouldn't work because they approach each moment with honesty and sincerity, then slam it with perfect timing.
5. Who or what inspired you to become a playwright? I went to school with the intention of studying acting, but I realized after a few years that it wasn't the direction I wanted to take my life. I started taking classes in Playwriting and Directing, and I fell in love with both crafts. I think I enjoy playwriting so much because it's an artform where you can never know at the start of the creation process what the end product will be. Editing a script is an incredibly complicated process - often, in order to enable a moment I want in Scene 7, I have to go back and plant the seeds for it in Scenes 2, 3, and 5, but this affects a plot point in Scenes 6 and 8, and so on. I love when the play I'm writing surprises me by taking the story in a direction I never anticipated. I am also fascinated by the gamut of mannerisms and speech patterns you find in any select group of people. My whole life, I've always naturally tuned in to the quirky vernaculars of those around me (for example, one of my friends has started saying "this and that" in every other sentence as a sort of post-millennial form "yada yada," and I'm obsessed), and I take great joy in creating new ones for my characters. One of the first stages of creating a new play is figuring out how my characters talk. Initially, that's more important to me than what they say. I also enjoy being funny, but I'm not interested in stand-up, sketch, or sitcoms. Playwriting allows me to make people laugh while also moving them and making them think.
6. In addition to being a playwright, you are also an accomplished lighting designer. What do you get from being a lighting designer that you do not get from being a playwright? The greatest advantage to being a professional lighting designer is that I work on a ton of different pieces of theater, often two or three at a time. I encounter all styles and genres, scripts both brilliant and terrible, so I've basically spent the last 7 years of my career auditing a crash course on what makes a good play. Many of my aesthetics as a writer (particularly how I structure my plays and the stories I choose to tell) were birthed sitting behind a tech table. I started lighting professionally immediately after college (because I knew how and people were willing to pay me for it), but I didn't start writing again until nearly three years later. I got to a point where I was reading so many terrible (or nearly good, which is the same thing as terrible) scripts that I decided "hey, I can do this better." I was incredibly wrong (chalk it up to impetuous youth), but about five years later I feel like I finally figured out how to write stuff good. The other upside of being a lighting designer is that it allows me to approach storytelling from the opposite direction I take with playwriting. When I design a play, I must communicate the story using no words or sound - I can only manipulate the audience's journey through abstract gestures. It's a fun and unique challenge.
7. What's the best advice you've ever received? My playwriting professor in school used to always say "Theater problems are happy problems." I have to remind myself of this every day. Yeah, sometimes theater can be exhausting and grueling, but how many people actually pay their rent doing what I do?
8. What have you learned about yourself from being a playwright/lighting designer? I think there's one understanding I've gained about myself that can apply to both trades: I have a penchant for grand, dramatic gestures. But I can only get away with them if I stay true to the emotional core of the moment. As such, honesty has become an important of both my creative and personal life.
9. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? Oh man, I was just having this conversation with one of my friends the other day on a hike in the Hollywood Hills. Okay, here's what: I want to be able to talk to birds the way Aquaman talks to fish. I have no intention of using this power to fight crime or to save the world, or anything stupid like that. No, I really love birds, and I want to be able to communicate that to them so they'll come hang out with me. For example, there's a flock of around 50-100 wild parrots that often visits the trees next to my apartment building, and I just want to say "Hey guys, here's the deal. If you come over to my apartment, I'll give you some dried sunflower seeds and some peppers and some fresh fruit, or really whatever you like, and then you can chill on my shoulder and I will give you so many head scratchies! All I ask is that you don't poo inside. And I'll leave the window open, so you're free to do whatever - don't worry, I'm not gonna kill or maim or trap or eat you. I just want to give you head scratchies." (In this scenario, birds are very trustworthy creatures.) I want this. For real.
10. How do you want to be remembered? I want to be remembered through witty quotes. Like Oscar Wilde with his "either those curtains go or I do" deathbed speech which he never actually said on his deathbed. That's probably the best thing: I want to be remembered for things I didn't even say, simply because I was so witty that people are totally willing to believe I said them. And if people are still performing my plays a hundred years out from now, that'll be rock star.
11. Favorite way to stay in shape? Hiking and lifting.
12. Boxers or Briefs? Boxer briefs and trunks.
13. If you could be any original flavor life saver, which one would you be? Pineapple. Everyone knows that's the money flavor.
Brandon Baruch is a theater artist living in Los Angeles. His original plays include The Defamation of Helen Keller; Penguin Pan; Deicide: a Sorta Musical (for which he also provided music and lyrics); Top That!; and 2013's Me Love Me, which was performed in both the Hollywood Fringe Festival and the New York International Fringe Festival and was lauded by critics as "a smart, satirical look at the moments of human crisis that erupt in the haze of LA drug culture" and "both funny and disturbing as it steers us down paths that make the viewers shift in their seats."
Brandon is also an accomplished lighting designer, and his design credits include Queenie Pie (Long Beach Opera and Chicago Opera Theater); The Second City’s A Christmas Carol: Twist Your Dickens and Twist Your Dickens Re-Loaded! Re-Twisted! (Kirk Douglas Theater); bare - A Rock Musical (The Hayworth Theater); eve2 (Bootleg Theater); Lost Moon Radio - America (South Coast Rep Studio Series); The 33rd and 34th Annual LA Weekly Theater Awards (Avalon Hollywood); Spring Awakening (The Arena Stage at Theatre of the Arts - Ovation Award Nomination); and Ken Roht’s Same-O, A 99 Cent Only Eclectic Ballad and Calendar Girl Competition (Bootleg Theater). New York Designs include Me Love Me (The Players Theatre); The Hat (Steve and Marie Sgouros Theatre); Someone’s Trying To Kill Me (HERE Arts Center); and Wildboy ’74 (Walkerspace). Brandon's design can also be seen in the film The Bloody Indulgent and in HBO's Cinema Verite. Brandon is company lighting designer for Lost Moon Radio and staff lighting designer for the Hollywood Fringe Festival.