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Entries in Fresh Fruit Festival (2)

Friday
Jun162017

Call Answered: Doug DeVita: The Phillie Trilogy at Fresh Fruit Festival

Doug DeVitaI first came to know Doug DeVita when he was the Marketing Director of the Abingdon Theatre Company. He invited to me Abingdon's production of Marathon '33 where I met special guest Lane Bradbury, the original "Dainty June" in Gypsy starring Ethel Merman. Lane seemed to be the thread that kept us going, reuniting us for Lane Bradbury: Let Me Entertain You, Again which Doug wrote. I loved that show and am so excited to see Doug's latest play The Phillie Trilogy which will be part of this year's Fresh Fruit Festival July 19-23.

The Phillie Trilogy is about Phillie growing up gay in the "fabulous" 70s which was no picnic for the precocious "Phillie McDougal." Through nuns, priests, bullying classmates, parents – and years later the realization his best friend may not be the person he thought she was – he lived to tell the tales, with results no one bargained for. Including him.

The Phillie Trilogy will play in the 2017 Fresh Fruit Festival at The Wild Project (195 East 3rd Street, between Avenue A & B) on July 19 at 6:30pm, July 22 at 4:30pm, and July 23 at 3:30pm. Click here for tickets!

For more on Doug be sure to visit https://www.dougdevitaplays.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter!

1. I first came to know you when you worked at Abingdon Theatre Company as their Director of Marketing, but now you have switched gears and started writing more plays. Who or what inspired you to become a playwright? There were many roads I took to becoming a playwright; in addition to my career in the advertising world – which paid the bills – I was always concurrently involved in theatre. I’ve acted, I’ve directed, I was Artistic Director of the now-defunct Westside Repertory Theatre for a brief stint, and I even wrote reviews for OOBR (Off-Off Broadway Review) for a few years (until I realized I hated the person it was turning me into). It was while I was writing for OOBR that I developed a friendship with Carrie Libling, the head of Vital Children’s Theater, and she’s the one who cajoled, prodded, and pushed me into writing my first produced play – I wrote the book for a musical based on the enchanting Charles and Mary Lamb prose version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest; in the early 19th century, the Lambs wrote adaptations for children of most of the Bard’s plays, and they’re truly delightful. After the success of The Tempest, Vital commissioned another one from me (As You Like It), which was another success for them. I was then invited by another writer to collaborate on some more "adult" fare; I haven’t stopped writing since.

2. Your latest play, The Phillie Trilogy is going to be part of the 2017 Fresh Fruit Festival. Why did you want this show to be part of this festival? I’ve generally avoided festivals in the past; they’re a lot of work, they cost a lot of money, and I hate, loathe, and despise self-producing. But I’m a submission junkie, and last year I sent Fresh Fruit the script for my play The Fierce Urgency Of Now, not expecting anything. Well, it was accepted into the festival, and after a lot of hemming and hawing on my part (and some more prodding, this time from my friend Bob Ost, who’d done the Fresh Fruit Festival already and had a very positive experience) I decided, "What the hell, let’s do it." And it was a dream experience. They’re a smaller festival, so there’s a lot of attention paid to details, they’re a wonderfully warm, human group of people to work with, and the tone set by Executive Director Louis Lopardi and Artistic Director Liz Thaler invites you to really feel like you’re a part of something magical. There was no question in my mind – or in the mind of my brilliant director, Dennis Corsi ­– that we would submit The Phillie Trilogy this year. After several readings, and having won Scrap Mettle Arts Emerging Playwrights Program’s inaugural competition last year, Dennis and I felt it was time to see Phillie on his feet, and Fresh Fruit was the perfect place for this first steps. Again, there were no expectations we’d even be accepted, but we’re thrilled that we were.

"The Phillie Trilogy" 2017 Fresh Fruit Festival cast, Front: Maeve Press (Barbie), Daniel G. Cunningham (Keith/Jude), Bonale Fambrini (Phillie). Back: Carole Monferdini (Older Grace/Lina), Karen Irwin (Younger Grace/Barbara), Terri Kelsey (Veronica/Sheila), David Sabella (Pete/Philip).3. The Phillie Trilogy tells the tale of budding writer "Phillie McDougal" and the struggles he went through growing up gay in the "fabulous" 70s including the realization his best friend may not be the person he thought she was. How do you think "Phillie's" realization about his friend will affect his future friendships? Not a clue. The play ends with that question, actually; I’ve been asked many times what happens to "Philip" and "Barbara," and my answer is always the same: "Not a clue. What’s your fantasy?"

4. What do you think made "Phillie" able to survive all the hurt he encountered throughout his life to keep going as opposed to giving up? His wit. And his ability to realize that even though he had a contentious relationship with his parents – who definitely raised him with a barrage of mixed signals – they ultimately gave him, albeit reluctantly on the part of his father, the freedom to become who he was meant to become.

5. What were some struggles you went through growing up gay? I was bullied mercilessly in high school; I had lit cigarettes tossed at me, I was locked into lockers, I was followed on the street by schoolmates shouting taunts at me, the gym teacher called me a tub of shit in front of the entire school during an assembly…After I graduated, I left that school and never looked back. It’s interesting to me that I have a lot of friends from grammar school – kids I haven’t seen in over 40 years – who’ve looked me up on Facebook and we’ve reconnected, but very few from high school have sought me out, nor I them. And I’m absolutely fine with that.

"The Phillie Trilogy" ​Scrap Mettle Arts Reading, October 2016 Front: Zachary Clarence as "Phillie McDougal," and Kevin Ligon as "Pete McDougal" Back: Diane Chen as "Barbie," Karen Irwin as "Veronica McDougal"6. What was the most "fabulous" thing about growing up in the 70s? The Broadway shows and performers I got to see: the original casts of A Chorus Line and Chicago, Angela Lansbury in Gypsy and Sweeney Todd, The Andrews Sisters in Over Here!, Madeline Kahn in On The Twentieth Century, Irene Worth and a very young Meryl Streep in The Cherry Orchard, Frank Langella in Dracula, George C. Scott and the brilliant Jack Gilford in Sly Fox...so many wonderful experiences! (Such a gay answer! HAHAHA!) I also loved the grittiness of New York City; many of my relatives were shocked my mother allowed a 14 year old to go into Manhattan by himself, but she understood that the city, and seeing Broadway shows, was my refuge. Being a Manhattan native herself (she was born and spent her early childhood in Hell’s Kitchen), she passed on her street smarts to me, and was confident I could take care of myself. I miss that city. Mostly I miss being able to navigate quickly through Times Square. But there was something about the scrappy, dirty, slightly dangerous New York City of the 70s that was giddily exciting, something that’s sadly missing in the somewhat sanitized yet far more dangerous version we’re living in now. New York in the 70s was like one of those seedy but entertaining carnivals: you had to be careful but if you knew how to negotiate around some of the smarmier aspects, you were fine; today it feels more like that candy-coated, brightly-colored, but terrifying island "Pinocchio" barely escapes from in Disney’s animated classic.

7. If Doug today could tell Doug of his youth three pieces of advice, what would they be? You’re better than you realize, you’re smarter than you realize, and listen to your mother. Yes, she’s a pain in the ass, but you’re more like her than you want to admit, and deep down you know she’s right, dammit.

Doug DeVita, director James Phillip Gates, and the 2017 staged-reading cast of "The Phillie Trilogy" produced by The Great Griffon / Seeking The Queer Voice Reading Series at 13th St. Rep 8. If this show is based upon any of your life events, what would you say today to those you bullied you in school? How do you react now to someone who may say an off comment about being gay? 

1: Yes, that’s you in the play. [Gives a "Bronx Cheer"]

2: Fuck off. (My husband is convinced I’m going to be shot some day).

9. What do you hope audiences come away with after seeing The Phillie Trilogy? Since this has the word trilogy in the title, will there be two more plays after this? Second question first: It’s actually not a "trilogy" in the strictest sense; although I wrote the play in a traditional three-act structure, only the first part, titled Checking The Basement For Leaks, can stand alone as a short play; indeed, in that format it has had productions in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Washington State. The title actually refers to the books the adult "Philip" has written; in order to clarify this (and inspired by the inspired graphic design created by Christina D’Angelo), I’m mulling a title change to Phillie’s Trilogy after this production closes. So no, there won’t be any more plays with these characters.…For the time being, at least.

What do I hope audiences come away with? I hate this question.…I want them to be entertained, first and foremost…I want them to laugh their asses off one minute and then gasp in recognition the next…I want them to have a theatrical experience that allows for a spirited post-show discussion about what they’ve just seen, perhaps over a few martinis or beers...that’s the best answer I can give without falling down that rabbit hole of self-important playwright pretension.

10. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent better every day? I try every day to be a little less judgmental, a little more forgiving, and a little less controlling. Coming from a long line of judgmental Catholic control freaks, let me tell you: It’s a bitch.

Doug DeVitaMore on Doug:

A member of the Dramatists Guild of America, Doug’s play The Fierce Urgency Of Now was produced at the 2016 Fresh Fruit festival, where it won four Fresh Fruit Awards of Distinction, including Outstanding Play, Outstanding Production for director Dennis Corsi, and two Outstanding Supporting Performance awards. Other work includes The Phillie Trilogy, which won Scrap Mettle Arts Inaugural Emerging Playwrights Program competition, and was chosen to inaugurate Great Griffon’s Seeking The Queer Voice reading series in January 2017; The Gruesomely Merry Adventures of NELL DASH, An Irrepressibly Sensible Capitalist With A Vengeance (Winner of two Winterfest Competition ’17 Awards: Best Set Design, and a Best Director nod to Dennis Corsi); and Just A Rumor (co-written with Gary Lyons) which was a semi-finalist at the Eugene O’Neill Playwright’s Conference and has had readings at New York’s Abingdon Theatre Company and London’s Menier Chocolate Factory. His ten-minute play, Checking The Basement for Leaks (the first play in The Phillie Trilogy) has been performed at the Gallery Players Black Box Festival in New York, The Driftwood Players Short Works Festival in Seattle, Ramapo College in New Jersey, and The Warner International Playwrights Festival in Connecticut. He has also collaborated with actress Lane Bradbury (the original "Dainty June" in Gypsy, starring Ethel Merman) on her one-woman show Lane Bradbury: Let Me Entertain You, Again, which was performed at the Strasberg Institute in Los Angeles, and at Feinstein’s/54 Below in New York.

Doug belongs to both The 9th Floor Playwrights Collaborative and The 36th Street Writers Block (formerly Abingdon Theatre Playwrights Group 1) in Manhattan.

He has also worked as an Art director/Copywriter for such advertising agencies as Grey Global Group, J. Walter Thompson, and N.W. Ayer, and was the marketing director for Abingdon Theatre Company for four years. He is currently an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Advertising Design Department at F.I.T. in New York. Please produce his work so this part of his life can become a (sometimes) pleasant memory.

Saturday
May282016

Call Answered: Michael Raver: Fire on Babylon Fresh Fruit Festival

Michael RaverAs much as I love getting to interview my idols, I equally enjoy interviewing new talent. It's exciting to talk to them about early projects and learn about their hopes and dreams. Michael Raver is a playwright and actor on the rise. This past April, his play Riptide, received an industry reading in New York city. His latest play, Fire on Babylon, was nominated for The Robert Chesley/Victor Bumbalo Foundation Award for Playwriting, as well as being named a semifinalist for The O'Neill Conference in 2015. Now, Fire on Babylon is making its New York City premiere in the Fresh Fruit Festival from July 12-17 at The Wild Project (195 East 3rd Street). Click here for tickets!

1. Your latest play, Fire on Babylon, is getting ready to be workshopped in the Fresh Fruit Festival this July. What excites you about having Fire on Babylon in the Fresh Fruit Festival? I’ve been working on this play since 2012. After the years of pushing this play uphill, it’s exciting to get it on a proper stage. There’s something magical that happens between the process of doing a reading and fully staging something that is pretty indescribable and I’m so happy that we’ve finally moved the play to that point.

2. Fire on Babylon tells the story of two New Yorkers each locked in personal crisis, while the city is having one of its own: the 2003 blackout. What made you want to set this show in the confines of 2003 blackout? Someone asked me that a few days ago and I honestly can’t even remember. Isn’t that terrible? I do vividly remember that blackout and how, when it first happened, everyone panicked that we were being attacked again. But as soon as the word spread that it was an outage, it became this huge out-breath for everyone. People’s lives paused. Everyone, particularly in New York, got to take a pause from the chaos for a hot second. The two characters in Fire on Babylon are afforded that same opportunity. I’m someone who sometimes needs to be derailed in order to see clearly. It’s uncomfortable, but it can be so revitalizing.

Michael Raver and Jeffrey Hayenga in "Fire on Babylon", Photo Credit: Lloyd Mulvey3. What do you relate to most about your character, "Christian"? T hat he’s manipulative. I’m kidding. And I’m not (laughs) Seriously though, I think he’s got a questionable value system, which is something I at one time could identify with. Thankfully these days, life has me in a much more discerning place with what I spend time thinking about and doing. He sticks his foot in his mouth, which I can absolutely relate to. I have a propensity for letting my emotions take the driver’s seat sometimes, which "Christian" definitely does. But I try not to judge him too much because it’d make the task of playing him impossible. I’d be winking and nodding to the audience rather than letting Jeffrey honestly rake me over the coals.

4. In this show, your character get into a psychosexual situation with an older man (a couggay if you will). Has there been a time in your life when you've been involved with an older man? If so, what did you learn from that experience? I’ve never exclusively dated someone who was as far away in age as "Hugo" is from "Christian." When I’ve spent any time with someone older than me, regardless of the circumstances, the second that there’s some kind of parenting happening on the older person’s part, I want to run for the door. It can feel patronizing. I’m all about being a student to someone else’s teacher, but romantically, I get the itch to step away as soon as I’m being placed into a surrogate child role. I get that the father/son roles are easy to recognize in Babylon but the play isn’t really about daddy issues. The same way that it isn’t about a midlife crisis either, despite it centering on a middle-aged person in crisis.

Michael Raver and Jeffrey Hayenga in "Fire on Babylon", Photo Credit: Lloyd Mulvey5. How do you feel the generation gap of these two characters comes into play? The play feels, in some ways, like a pendulum swinging back and forth. The "cat and mouse" thing that’s going on is fun because at any given moment, the roles switch back and forth. Sometimes really quickly. They start the play off in very quintessential behaviors that are indicative of stereotypes for their age. "Hugo" is the rambling older man archetype. A bit of an absent-minded professor. "Christian" is a quiet, potentially simple younger man. But they spend the entirety of the story playing against what might be the obvious behavior for someone of their respective ages. When things get physical, when things get verbal, when things slow down or when things speed up between them, the instigator isn’t always the person who you might assume it’d be. The age gap also proves a really important point: no matter our age, life still can happen to us. At any time and without warning. We can always be embarrassed, feel lust, get confused, lost and also be found and feel love.

6. As the play unfolds and the blackout happens, press notes, say secrets are revealed. What is one secret you have been holding onto that you would like to let go of and finally reveal? Oh shit. I have no idea. I’m a pretty terrible liar so secrets are actually kind of hard for me to keep. I draw a pretty distinct difference between secrecy and privacy though. Privacy is great because I see it as a loving and protective concept. Secrecy is awful because it denotes that there’s some shame somewhere. Shame is harrowing and I’m not into it. Not at all.

Michael Raver and Jeffrey Hayenga in "Fire on Babylon", Photo Credit: Lloyd Mulvey7. Press notes also state that the character of "Hugo Thomas" is a recluse. Was there ever a period when you were a recluse and if so, how did you emerge back into the world? When I was about fifteen or so I was dealing with a lot of things and stayed in the house for most of the summer of that year. Wasn’t eating much either. My poor family didn’t know what to do. I’ve had plenty of moments where I’ve wanted to drop off the radar. It’s a hard thing for us to do, right? We’re addicted to our phones and our computers. And I get it. We like feeling connected to each other. Communication is one of the great advantages to being human. I’m also temperamentally highly sensitive so the idea of being without connection to other people can totally freak me out. I do also need the balance of alone time and as surprising as it might seem to people who see me as extremely talkative, I have plenty of long stretches where I don’t open my mouth at all except to eat or brush my teeth.

8. In addition to writing this play, you are also starring in it. How do you divide actor/playwright when rehearsing and performing the show? Do you ever blur the lines or are you able to keep things pretty separate? I think the only thing I need is a clear picture about the story I’m trying to tell and to be directed by someone who wants to tell that same story. And trust. Respect also goes a long way on both parties. Thankfully, I have a truckload of respect for Paul Mason Barnes and I’m greatly relieved that he’s trusting me to wear both hats. I’ve taken the "kill your darlings" concept to heart as a writer and am not precious about any one, single line. I check for accuracy as opposed to better-ness. As long as the text in the script is accurately telling the story, then I’m all for it. As a castmate, Jeff Hayenga has been super helpful with that too. Neither of them are afraid to tell me that they don’t like a certain line or that something needs to get cut. At the end of the day, my job as a writer and an actor still have to deal with one very important bottom line: is this the truth?

Michael Raver and Jeffrey Hayenga in "Fire on Babylon", Photo Credit: Lloyd Mulvey9. Who or what inspired you to become a playwright/performer? I love this question. I never thought there was anything odd about wanting to do more than one thing. It wasn’t until I got out of school that I was ever given a "should" or a "you can’t" by anyone about it. For some reason, culturally, we celebrate Bob Dylan, Sting, Alanis Morissette and Lady Gaga for writing and performing their own material. Richard Pryor wrote his own jokes. The performers on Saturday Night Live are expected to write sketches. But there has long been a stigma against actors writing work that they perform. Shakespeare did it. And thankfully, the multi-hyphenate thing is starting to normalize a little more. Thank you Lin-Manuel Miranda. Thank you Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen. Thanks Kate Hamill. Renaissance people. I respect when playwrights don’t want to perform their own work. But I think to dogmatically say that it’s not possible to be in my own play is a bummer. Trust can go a long way.

10. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent better every day? Staying in the present moment as much as possible. I think I’ve got my head up my own ass a little more than I need it to be. I have moments of being an ostrich and I’d be willing to let some of that go. I’m down for it.

Michael Raver, Photo Credit: Paul GregoryMore on Michael:

Michael Raver is an actor, playwright and journalist. His performance as a young "Richard Feynman" in the film How We Built the Bomb received rave reviews. His Off-Broadway debut was in Ellen McLaughlin's adaptation of The Persians with Tony Randall's National Actor's Theater. His most recent television appearance was on TURN: Washington's Spies. As a playwright, his adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray was produced by Sonnet Repertory Theatre at the Signature Theatre Center in 2012, and a reading of his pre-WWII adaptation of Chekhov's The Seagull was seen at the Pearl Theatre Company. He has also served, for three years, as a judge for the Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBT Fiction. He regularly contributes cultural arts journalism for Classical TV, as well as pieces for Hamptons York Monthly, Dance Magazine, Cool Hunting and Nature's Post.