Monday, November 28, 2016

I Interview Playwrights Part 894: Bryan Renaud



Bryan Renaud

Hometown: I''m from Sugar Grove, IL which is outside of Aurora.

Current Town: I've been based in Chicago since 2013.

Q: Tell me about Barney the Elf.

A: Barney the Elf is a big, gay Christmas show! It's a musical parody of the film Elf with a queer twist - instead of being kicked out of the North Pole for being a human, Barney is kicked out for falling in love with the sexy delivery elf. We kind of pitch it as a 'Weird Al' musical - lots of Broadway and pop songs you'll know, with new lyrics to fit our story. It's a fast, fun, over-the-top comedy with a social justice twist. We hope to show that fun theatre can still make you think. I co-wrote the musical with Emily Schmidt. Barney premiered last December and sold out almost completely, and is being remounted by The Other Theatre Co. now through the new year.

Q: What else are you working on now?

A: Emily and I are also currently hard at work on our next project, Strangest Things! The Musical. Lovingly ripped-off from the hit Netflix series, we're only using 80's hits you'll know and love. Strangest Things! opens on March 3rd, 2017 at the Greenhouse Theater Center in Chicago for an open run. We are also working on a small sketch comedy show for Random Acts Chicago which will run on 12/12 & 12/13 as a fundraiser for the company, called Awkward Family Gatherings.

Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A: When I was a kid, I did a lot of childrens' theatre at a place called First Street Playhouse in the suburbs of Chicago. The owner, Julane Sullivan, presented incredibly imaginative productions for and by kids, and this was where I really blossomed as a performer and learned to check my painful shyness at the door. The theatre also presented fully-produced seasons of productions, and hosted a sketch group called Gag Reflex, and I fell in love with the idea of presenting live sketch comedy, like Saturday Night Live. I was blown away, and Julane gave myself and a few others the resources to start our own troupe. This lasted for seven years and was really where I began writing, and my writing for that company led to my first play commission, Twelfth Night of the Living Dead.

Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?

A: If I could change one thing about theatre, it would be the under representation of marginalized voices. Even progressive theatre companies produce seasons almost exclusively written by white men - and yes, I'm aware that I am one of those. More companies need to produce work by women, people of color, trans writers, and the like. Shortly after my first play, I had a second commission. I ended up departing the project when I realized I had been hired to tell the stories of women of color. That is not my story to tell. Female writers of color exist. Why aren't they being hired more often to tell their own stories?

Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A: Where do I begin? Tracy Letts showed me that theatre can make you extremely uncomfortable in the best way possible. I have also consumed the writings of Edward Albee and Sam Shepard over and over...I never stop learning from them. The entire Steppenwolf Theater Co. would also have to be on the list.

Q: What kind of theater excites you?

A: The kind of theatre that excites me is anything that keeps me guessing. I'm totally willing to overlook flaws in a production if they are doing something wholly original. I tend to love site-specific theatre, and new adaptations that turn the classics on their heads. I love comedies that sneak up on you and suddenly pack a punch. I love plays that successfully tackle current events, and plays that force you to question things inside yourself.

Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A: My advice to playwrights: just write. Write. Write. Write. You'll never find your own distinct voice if you don't do so, and you'll be shocked by what you end up spitting out. I never saw myself writing a single full-length play...and now I've written six in three years. Also, don't be afraid to self-produce! There can be such a stigma about this - as if you're funding your own production it's somehow less legitimate. If no one else will take a chance on you - take a chance on yourself. Put on a reading in any space that you can afford. Make good friends in all aspects of theatre, and be a good person to work with. You never know who you're going to need to turn to for a favor. Just get your work out there, and eventually, the right person will see it.

Q: Plugs, please:

A: Barney the Elf is presented through The Other Theatre Co., where I am also the Associate Artistic Director! www.TheOtherTheatreCompany.com

Many of my works are published and licensed through Chicago Dramaworks! www.ChicagoDramaworks.com.

Strangest Things! will premiere in 2017 from Random Acts. www.RandomActsChicago.com

Personal site: www.BryanRenaud.com

Twitter/Instagram: @therealrenaud
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