Head First, a new play by Dennis Bush and directed by Lester Thomas Shane; starring Cooper Koch and Austin Larkin joins the Stonewall50 Fresh Fruit Festival as a featured event. The show will run Monday, July 15, 8:30 pm; Wednesday, July 17, 6:00 pm, Friday, July 19, 8:30 pm; and Saturday, July 20, 8:30 pm at The WILD Project 195 East 3rd Street (between Aves. A & B) New York City. https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/527
Kyle’s got a true story to tell you… at least the parts he was conscious for are true. Seizures, sexual assault, humor, love … a romantic comedy according to Kyle. When the effects of a traumatic brain injury start to surface, every part of Kyle’s life seems out of control – including his sex drive. Struggling to get control of his life, Kyle needs to start with his boyfriend, or maybe his best friend, and also his roommate … and then there’s the sailor with “special skills.”
Award-winning playwright/screenwriter Dennis Bush (“(Mary)Todd” and “…Where You Eat”) explores this subject matter from a new and refreshing vantage point.
We figured an accomplished writer who is brave enough to explore such subject matters would provide us with a great interview. We were right.
Tell us about yourself.
I’m been a professional writer for more than 30 years. I mainly write plays, screenplays, and short fiction, and I also do a lot of script/dialogue consulting (often referred to as “script doctoring”). I’m based in Phoenix, but I’m frequently in New York and elsewhere. I have the most wonderful husband known to humankind, and I have an extraordinary group of friends and chosen family that support, encourage, and inspire me. I have had the very good fortune to have worked with exceptional, astonishingly talented actors throughout my career, and the two actors (Cooper Koch and Austin Larkin) in Head First certainly fit that description, as well. I have also had several of my plays directed by Lester Thomas Shane, who is smart, funny, kind, and nothing short of brilliant.
Tell us about this play.
While some of my other work has had characters dealing with things I’ve faced in my life, Head First definitely has the most autobiographical elements of anything I’ve written before. So, writing it was a combination of peeling away layers of protection and privacy and allowing dialogue and situations to flow out of me without squelching or filtering them. Traumatic brain injury and sexual assault aren’t typically components of a play that’s also funny, sweet, and romantic, but they’re all very much involved in the journey Kyle (played by Cooper Koch) takes in Head First. It’s a two-actor play, but the Second Actor (played by Austin Larkin) plays several characters, including Kyle’s best friend, college roommate, and boyfriend, among others.
Where do you get your inspirations? Is it just from life or do you have a “plan?”
Inspiration comes from all over the place. I try to interact with the world from a place of gratitude and abundance. I look at every person I meet as a chance to learn about them and about myself, and every situation offers those opportunities, as well. I had just finished the world premiere run of my play A Matter of (Limited) Time, in early October. One of the characters in that was inspired by Dan Foster (an amazing actor who was part of the Outstanding Ensemble Performance award-winning cast of my play …Where You Eat in last year’s Fresh Fruit Festival) and his incredible father. Another of the characters was inspired by my changing perspective on some painful experiences in my teen years.
So, as the show was wrapping, I was returning to the script to incorporate the little tweaks and things that had been added during rehearsals and the run. At the same time, I was reflecting on the Kavanaugh hearings, and, then, I got an email from one of my publishers telling me that a theatre company that had licensed a run of my play Asylum was asking for permission to cut any references or allusions to a character’s rape. I was struck by the ease with which they were asking to remove something so life-changing for that character and the ease with which they were rationalizing it away. And I realized that it wasn’t all that different from what I’d done with some experiences in my own life.
For the next month or so, I was working on a project that put some distance between me and my unexpected personal revelation. But, even when one isn’t consciously thinking about something, it’s still lingering in one’s head. And on November 17th (I still have the dated notes on my phone), the first line of Head First washed over me. It was sharp and clear and explicit and I stopped what I was doing and wrote it down. And, as I was finishing the first sentence, another sentence started, but it was in a different character’s voice. A few days later, I sent the first four and a half pages to my work-in-progress readers with a note that read something like, “I think this is a new play, but it’s not the new play I need to be working on, so I’m not sure what’s going on in my head.” A couple days later, I was working on my play About Her (which was the new play I was on deadline for, since it was set to premiere two months later), and, simultaneously, was writing Head First.
In terms of that, once the idea is there, how do you write … what’s the creative process?
I often hear sections of dialogue in very close to final form. Depending on the project, I’ll sometimes do an outline or use scene cards or structure notes, and, sometimes, I just let the character’s journey lead the process. When a character is speaking so clearly, the narrative flows almost like channeling the thoughts rather than consciously thinking about them. There was one section, in particular, in Head First, when it felt like the Second Actor character, in the form of Kyle’s roommate, was taking control of a situation that was important for Kyle to face but, also, for me to face. That was new and definitely unnerving, but, also, valuable for me on many levels.
In general terms, I tend to have the most creative flow late at night, between 11:00 pm and about 2:30 am. That can be a challenge, when I have a very early morning, the next day, but, when the work is flowing, no writer wants to shut that off just for a bit more sleep.
Who do you feel is your “audience?”
I’m continually surprised to discover how broad my audience is. Just when I think a piece is going to resonate with a specific kind of audience, a bunch of people in the audience who don’t fit that mold come up to me after the performance and talk about how much they connected with it. That was very true with (Mary)Todd at the Fresh Fruit Festival in 2014 and 2015. It was true with Mouthy Bitch at the Cincinnati Fringe in 2015 and at Las Vegas Fringe and Hollywood Fringe in 2016. It was true with …Where You Eat, last year. I’m amazed at the number of conservative places all over the world that do my edgy one-acts Asylum, …and others, Below the Belt, Seen and Heard, Drift, Find Me, Nightmare, and Ritual, and others. And the unlikely folks who use my play Fetal Pig in workshops and seminars. What all that has taught me is that if one’s work is compelling, specific, and comes from a place of truth and passion, people will connect to it.
I’m looking forward to the run of Head First at the Fresh Fruit Festival. Cooper and Austin are doing breathtakingly beautiful work. It would be lovely if more people would get to see those performances in another incarnation beyond the production in the festival. I’m working on two new plays – one of which will have its world premiere in Toronto, later this year, and two screenplays. A Matter of (Limited) Time and About Her, my 41st and 42nd published theatrical texts, will be released this fall and available for performance licensing, then, too. And I have my coaching (writers and actors) and consulting work that goes on throughout the year.
The Fresh Fruit Festival is presented by All Out Arts to celebrate the LGBTQ community’s unique perspective, creativity & diversity, and to build links between the LGBTQ artistic communities, be they local or international. The Fresh Fruit Festival encompasses theater, performance, poetry, comedy, spoken word, music, dance, visual arts and some talents that defy categorization. Artists come from around the city, nation and, indeed, the world. Australia, Canada, Philadelphia, Chicago, Seattle, Boston, San Francisco, San Diego, France, Mauii, Israel, Italy, the Philippines, the United Kingdom, and all of New York City’s boroughs and suburbs have been represented.