Call Redialed: Andy Halliday: "Up The Rabbit Hole" at Theater for the New City
Andy Halliday, Photo Credit: Kevin CristaldiIt has been almost a decade since I first saw Andy Halliday Charles Busch's Times Square Angel at Theater for the New City. Over the years I've gotten to know Andy through the interviews we've done together. But this interview, about Andy's new play Up The Rabbit Hole, is the most raw & vulnerable I've seen Andy. With love, hope, and bravery, Andy really pulls back the curtain giving us a rare view into his life, both past and present, including the struggles and successes he has gone through.
Up The Rabbit Hole, directed by G.R. Johnson, is the story of a young gay man who, desperate to find answers to questions that consume his life as an adopted child, becomes obsessed with tracking down and connecting with his birth mother. His lack of identity in these formative years has led to a life of careless sexual exploits and reckless drug use. When he finally finds his mother, the answers he has been searching for his entire life finally give him the courage to combat his drug addiction and climb out of the darkness and Up The Rabbit Hole.
Up The Rabbit Holeis playing at Theater for the New City through October 15 only! Click here for tickets!
1. It's so great to catch up with you Andy on your new show Up The Rabbit Hole, a story of a young man who, desperate to find answers to questions that consume his life as an adopted child, becomes obsessed with tracking down and connecting with his birth mother. This production draws from your own life experience. What made now the right time to write such a personal piece of theatre? I love plays about dysfunction. If they’re well written, and they’re written from the heart, I identify with them. I learn something about myself. This play, Up The Rabbit Hole, has been in me for a long time. And after Nothing But Trash, I felt more confident as a playwright, and I also wanted to write something more naturalistic. This idea gave me the opportunity to do that.
2. What did you learn about yourself from writing this show? I learned that I get upset over the little things in life, the little things that in the long run aren’t worth getting upset about. I learned that I created a lot of stress for myself trying to be perfect. Always assuming that being imperfect kept me from fitting in, when in all reality, I just didn’t want to fit in. I wanted to isolate and protect myself from everyone and everything. I had a million excuses as to why I wasn’t successful as an actor. I blamed my failure on everyone else, rather than looking within, and seeing how I had sabotaged myself because of my lack of self-esteem. I was creating the failure, and to escape those feelings of inadequacy, I took to artificial substances to make myself feel better. But coming down from those "highs" only made my depression and self-hatred worse. I learned from writing this play, that I’m a completely different person than the one I was twenty-six years ago, and that I’m very grateful.
The cast of Andy Halliday's "Up The Rabbit Hole," Quinn Coughlin, Andrew Glaszek, Tyler Jones, Laralu Smith and Peter Gregus, , Photo Credit: Kevin CristaldiQuinn Couglin in Andy Halliday's "Up The Rabbit Hole", Photo Credit: Kevin Cristaldi3. What do you hope audiences come away with after seeing Up The Rabbit Hole? To be more gentle with themselves. More forgiving of people who have substance abuse issues. But also an understanding of how to deal with the addict. Understanding the meaning of "tough love" and how it can help the person you care about get themselves into some sort of program. To love one’s self, warts and all. And there’s no such thing as a perfect person.
4. What has it been like to watch this cast bring your story to life? G.R. Johnson and I have been blessed with an amazing group of actors who are helping to bring a story of my past to life again. This play is pushing a lot of buttons in me watching rehearsals every night. I think sometimes if I got to do my life all over again, if I had known better, would I have gone down this path? Well, if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be the person I am now. And I like who I am, and I love the people that are in my life. I had to go through this awful time, the lowest point in my whole life, to begin developing self-esteem. It is so good to see how much my friends care about me. I really cherish them and my new sober life. But as I said, this play has been a very emotional experience, and no matter how much I tell myself "it’s in the past," and it’s just a play about a young man searching through life to find the answers to who he is and how he got here, it’s still tough. The lead actor Tyler Jones, who’s so wonderful, said to me after a run through, "How did you live this life! I’m exhausted!"
Quinn Couglin in Andy Halliday's "Up The Rabbit Hole", Photo Credit: Kevin CristaldiPeter Gregus and Tyler Jons in Andy Halliday's "Up The Rabbit Hole", Photo Credit: Kevin Cristaldi5. When were you at your loneliest? I’ve always been lonely. It’s just something so ingrained in me. But you deal with it, by of course reaching out to friends and family. It’s easier said than done, for me at least. I’m a loner and I’m very protective of myself. I’ve built up walls that have taken years to break down. I take a long time to trust others, due in part to my chaotic upbringing. But a day at a time I’m able to open up and let people in a little bit at a time. I’m surrounded by such loving friends and family. I’m extremely lucky and grateful for the people in my life. And perhaps one day, a door will open in that wall, to let in "Mr. Right." Who knows.
6. When did you first decide you wanted to find your birth mother? How long did it take to find her? Was the meeting everything you wanted? Did you stay in touch with your birth mother after finding her? I’ve always known I was adopted. My adoptive parents believed that it shouldn’t be a secret. So it was an obsession of mine. I felt that because I was adopted I was always an outsider. My parents loved me more than life itself and did anything and everything for me but I felt like I was bought. My mother registered me with a free search agency in CT. I was working Off-Broadway at the time, and was in the beginnings of my habit, so I forgot about it. But I don’t want to give away what’s in the play.
And yes meeting my birth mother was everything I hoped for. It was surreal, quite unbelievable. She was a lovely, gentle woman and we stayed in touch till she passed away. She gave me a beautiful china rose, which I still have. It’s funny that it was a rose, because my adopted mother’s name was Rose.
Tyler Jones, Laralu Smith, and Andrew Glaszek in Andy Halliday's "Up The Rabbit Hole", Photo Credit: Kevin CristaldiQuinn Couglin and Tyler Jones in Andy Halliday's "Up The Rabbit Hole", Photo Credit: Kevin Cristaldi7. As a result of you finding your birth mother, you were able to combat your drug addiction and climb out of the darkness. What was the hardest part about kicking your drug addiction? What has been the best part about being clean? The hardest part was giving up a drug that gave me a false sense of security, happiness, self-esteem, courage and one that made me feel sexy. All of this could have been done with just a couple of bumps, but by the time I went into rehab, I was really broken, and it took months to get everything out of my system. It messes up your endorphins - the thing in your brain that makes you feel better - and putting artificial stuff in your system screws with these endorphins, and now they need that substance to work.
The best thing about getting clean was that I got my life back. I have my artistic career again, but it’s different now. I own it. My life and the way I deal with things is my way, and that attitude attracts positive, artistic people. Like my dear friend and collaborator G.R. Johnson. None of my new success as a writer would have happened without him. He’s my rock, and so talented, and he makes me laugh, and laugh. He’s one of the funniest people I know.
8. Since you felt a lack of identity, during your formative years, when would you say you found who you were? I began to find myself after I began to get sober. I had to face my demons head on. It gave me strength, and my new friends loved me and enabled me to love myself. But it took years, and I’m still not completely there. Maybe I never will be, but my life is much better than it ever was.
9. What would Andy of today tell Andy of yesterday? Love yourself. Be kind to yourself. See who your real friends are. Everything works out the way it’s supposed to. Don’t try to control everything. Life is as wonderful as you make it. You only got one honey….
Andy HallidayMore on Andy:
Andy Halliday was part of Charles Busch’s and Kenneth Elliott’s Theatre-In-Limbo Company from 1984 to 1991. He originated roles in the Off-Broadway productions of Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, Psycho Beach Party, Times Square Angel, Red Scare On Sunset and The Lady In Question, for which he won the "Scene Stealer of the Month Award" from Playbill, and Hirschfeld created a caricature of him in the role as "Lotte" for the New York Times. He wrote and acted in I Can’t Stop Screaming in 1991. In 2004, he formed Pocketwatch Films, Inc. and has written, directed, and produced six films. It is his mission to make films about gay men and women, and explore the realities of what happens beyond "coming out." Dealing candidly with sex, drug addiction, and aging, he endeavors to make films with heart, humor, and honesty that are also incredibly sexy. In 2011, he was featured in the Off-Broadway comedy Devil Boys From Beyond, directed by Kenneth Elliott. And in 2014, he wrote and starred in Nothing But Trash, which was produced at Theater For The New City and directed by G.R. Johnson. He hopes to continue to create theatre that explores important issues within the queer community.