Playwright, Eternal Flamers!
The Ballad of Jessie Blade New York City Premiere – Downtown Urban Arts Festival May 19, 2017 at 7:00pm – Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street, Greenwich Village – www.duafnyc.com
About Eternal Flamer!
In this neon-coated, campy tribute to the 80s, pretty-boy Jessie Blade leaves his small Minnesota home for the bright lights of the city that never sleeps (…with the same person twice) only to get mixed-up in a labyrinth of plot twists, drag queens, sex, drugs, and open dance calls!
Tommy was born in North Carolina and raised in Northwest Indiana. He graduated from Indiana State University with a concentration in playwriting and directing. While there, he was presented with the Angel of the Year: Humanitarian Scholarship, wrote for Indiana’s Gender Hate and Violence Conference, and served as a judge for the Midwest High School Playwriting Competition. His children’s plays, THE BIG BAD BULLYSAURUS, PRINCESS PIGFACE, CHOOSE YOUR OWN OZ, and ALICE THE BRAVE & OTHER TALES FROM WONDERLAND, have all received numerous productions around the country. His one-act campy comedy, RAGS TO BITCHES: A BATTLE OF WITS & WIGS, recently won Best Short Play at the 14th Annual Downtown Urban Theatre Festival in New York City. Tommy holds an MFA in Playwriting from the University of New Orleans and resides in Caldwell (NJ) with his husband, Mark, and their dog, Darby. Tommy is a proud member of the Dramatist Guild.
Tommy’s Exclusive Interview:
How did you become a writer?
Sadly, it’s not that exciting of a story. I started writing short stories and plays when I was around twelve, and for better or worse I’ve never stopped. Writing has always been my way of escaping reality (as I’m sure is the same for people). Growing up gay and obsessed with Britney Spears in conservative Indiana wasn’t the basket of roses, so whenever I needed a pick-me- up, or felt like living in a world with a tad more color and little less bigotry, I’d hide inside the stories of my own creation. Obviously the written word is more to me than just a coping mechanism. I’ve always been drawn to the story-teller aspect of theatre; the ability to take a room filled with complete strangers, and through the power of narration, and some well-written lines and characters, transport them all on a journey that not only makes them think and feel, but also allows them to feel somewhat connected with the hitherto unfamiliar person sitting next to them.
Who are some current playwrights you follow and think should get more attention?
I follow quite a few actually, and thankfully, a lot of them are getting the recognition they deserve. A few of my favorite contemporary writers included Topher Payne, whose off-Broadway hit, Perfect Arrangement, has really been making a splash in the regional market. I also quite enjoy Philip Dawkins. His show, The Homosexuals, is one of my top-ten favorite plays of all-time. Steve Yokey’s works (The Wolves, Octopus) really strike a chord with me, as well as my idol and personal hero, Charles Busch.
This play and your last play featured drag queens. How did drag become such a vehicle in your storytelling?
Throughout history, muses have inspired different artists by assuming different forms. De Vinci had Mona Lisa, W.B. Yeats had Maud Gonne, Johannes Vermeer had The Girl With The Pearl Earring, and I have The Girls With The Tucked… you get the idea. Jokes aside, I’ve long been inspired by the early works of John Waters and Divine, and their unapologetic disdain for convention and political correctness. Drag, but nature, defies both, and while these last few years have seen numerous aspects of drag and ball culture inserting itself into the main stream (thanks in part to groundbreakers like Drag Race and Kinky Boots) at its gritty, grimy, sequin- covered core, drag is as anti-establishment as an art-form can be. The great RuPaul hit the (press-on) nail on the head when said “Ego loves identity. Drag mocks identity. Ego hates Drag.” As an artist, how could I not be inspired by such a chameleonic form of self-expression?
What makes a play great for you? Are there certain qualities that make a play better for you?
What makes a play great for me? Being entertained. I don’t care if it’s a show for children, adults, or anyone in-between – as long as I’m entertained in some fashion, regardless of the content of demographic, I’m happy. As far as the “certain qualities that make a play better for me” go, I’m pretty open to anything and everything. I love it when a show has a tightly wound plot, and you can tell that the writer/ writers put a lot of time and forethought into the show their crafting. I also must admit; plays and musicals that are peppered with little inside theatre gags really tickle my fancy. Nothing makes me happier than a nudge-nudge/ wink-wink moment with the audience.
If there was one thing that would make the theater industry better, what would it be?
Three words: Open. More. Doors. While I think it’s wonderful that repertory theatres and producers across the country are loyal to a select group of established playwrights, and are willing to mount almost anything bearing their name (regardless of quality), I can’t help but feel aggravated for insanely talented yet criminally underrated artist whose work deserves to be seen and heard.
By continuing the tired tradition of showcasing only a select few points of view and ignoring the rest, the industry is doing a disserve to both the artist that make it up, as well as the audience they’re attempting to entertain. This medium of theatre will only progress if boundaries are continued to be pushed and new voices are given the chance to speak.
As a creative person and a gay man, does that change your approach to theater and the stories you tell?
I suppose that as an LGBTQIA artist there are certain stories I’m naturally drawn to more than others. That said, the overriding message in all my work, regardless of its intended audience, is to tell a story of acceptance and love. Even my insult-laden comedy at last year’s Downtown Urban Theatre Festival, aptly titled RAGS TO BITCHES, ended with
What are you working on now?
I have a few irons in the fire, or as my grandmother used to say, “a few pies in the over.” My adaption of the classic Three Little Pigs fable, titled Hamelot: A Pig’s Tale, is being released through Big Dog Plays this Spring, and I’m currently working on an adaptation of Aladdin with a modern-day twist.