Review Fix chats with playwright Dennis Bush, who breaks down his new production, “Head First.”
About the Production:
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. His director, Lester Thomas Shane, won Best Director, for Bush’s “(Mary)Todd” Abbey Howard serves as production stage manager. Head First contains adult language and sexual situations. Learn more at www.headfirstbydennisbush.com
About The Fresh Fruit Festival:
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.
Review Fix: What was the inspiration for this project?
Dennis Bush: I was wrapping up the world premiere run of my play A Matter of (Limited) Time, 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.
Review Fix: What’s your creative process like?
Bush: 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.
Review Fix: What makes this different or special from other works in this genre?
Bush: 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. It’s funny, emotionally raw, and explicit. A reviewer once said that my work, “lives at the intersection of hilariously funny and heartbreakingly tragic.” Head First certainly knows the way to that intersection.
Review Fix: What did you learn/are learning about yourself through this process?
Bush: 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.
Review Fix: What are your ultimate goals for this for the future?
Bush: I’m looking forward to the run of Head First at the Fresh Fruit Festival. Cooper Koch and Austin Larkin 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.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Bush: 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.