I’ve conducted a handful of interviews since I began writing for Seattle Gay Scene, primarily with drag queens and musicians and now I’m very happy to add an actor and a director to that list. Annex Theatre is producing Women in Peril this spring and I’ve managed to grab Craig Trolli, one of the stars and the co-writer of the play, and director Jason Sharp for an interview that’ll make your mother gasp for air. Women in Peril runs April 29 through May 20 at Annex Theatre in Capitol Hill and tickets are only $10. So come out and support your local arts, peeps!
B.Michael Peterson: What made you sit down and write a comedy based off Lifetime movies from the 1990s?
Craig Trolli: I had wanted to do a parody play that blended together the storylines of some of the weirdest movies I remembered watching with my mom back in the early 1990s. There was the Kate Jackson’s stolen baby comes back as Ricky Schroder but he’s not her son and she’s pregnant and he bashes her head into a mirror. There was Lady Killer with Judith Light, where the stalker tells her she’s better in bed than her daughter. There was Tracey Gold as a serial killer in Face of Evil…the Betty Broderick movies with Meredith Baxter-Birney…and every Tori Spelling movie! My mom and I watched these movies, plus all the night time soap operas.
BMP: Do you consider yourselves LGBTQ theater artists?
Craig: No. But, the Bad Actors have been called “queer” before – just never artists!
Jason Sharp: Back in February of 2006, Bad Actor Productions produced a late night comedy series called Capitol Hill High at the now defunct CHAC (currently home to Velocity Dance Center). I played a hipster-rocker-wannabe named Red and in his review for The Stranger, Adrian Ryan noted:
“Jason Sharp played a straight guy with such skill that I didn’t recognize him for the first 15 minutes.”
With one clever sentence, Adrian Ryan outed me in the press and extinguished the dreams I may never have had of pursuing a perfectly legitimate closeted acting career in Hollywood with aspirations of marrying into Scientology and brokering a top notch PR team to manage my closet for me. But it was not to be. Perhaps I owe Mr. Ryan a debt of thanks for helping me to affirm my identity as a gay man. That said, I don’t really consider myself an LGBTQ theater artist. [AUDIBLE GASP!] I very rarely play gay characters or work on plays and theater projects that are specifically gay-themed and I don’t have any personal mission to spread the gay. I’m a theater artist first, and, regardless of sexual orientation, it’s long been a suspicion of mine that there’s always been something intrinsically gay about theater, from the Greeks to Charles Ludlam to David Mamet.
BMP: As artists that identify themselves a part of the LGBTQ community, in your opinion, what purpose does LGBTQ oriented theater provide for this community?
Craig: Forcing the local media to review our “gay plays”. Fuck you, we may be in drag, but we’re going to kick asses AND dance to Paula Abdul songs!
Jason: I think every minority and diverse community enjoys seeing itself mirrored and represented by the arts and pop culture even at the risk of being stereotyped. I think this kind of theater proves to be a fertile environment for performing new, raw material and turning the public on to emerging new artists and diverse performance disciplines.
I know I attend LGBTQ-oriented theater and theater in general to be inspired and transported and somehow provoked to think.
BMP: What was your first theater experience as an artist and what made you become professional theater artists?
Craig: I raised my hand in 3rd grade to play the part of the witch in Hansel and Gretel and the teacher laughed. I was so shy and I would use puppets to do my book reports and hide behind a curtain and do all the voices. But it wasn’t until final semester of high school that I had to take a speech class and took acting. It was either that or *shiver* debate. And that was that. I did drag on the side until the two merged years later, because I couldn’t get cast in other people’s shows and because women secretly have ALL the best roles in Hollywood!
Jason: Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved the act of playing and slipping into another guy’s skin and committing to his perspective in front of a live audience, so I suppose I was called to this profession. I don’t feel like I really became a theater artist though until the freshness seal on my college acting days was broken. I moved to Seattle in 1998 and got involved with an environmental theater company called EXITheatre. We created a series called 7 Strangers which parodied MTV’s Real World show. We staged it in an actual residential house and we had scripted and improvised scenes running simultaneously throughout the house. The audiences were free to wander around room-to-room, beer-in-hand and watch what they felt compelled to watch. It was a powerful lesson in engaging the audience. I studied theater arts at the University of Iowa where they taught us to envision creating our plays for a theater with no seats, a theater that must engage the passersby and keep them engaged. Like any actor or performer, l am heavily romanced by the relationship between actor and audience. That’s where the story of every play is truly told.
More Interview after the jump AND a cute photo of Jason Sharp! JUMP, dammit!
BMP: What does the meaning of Women in Peril speak to you?
Craig: Just because you’re a weirdo, it doesn’t mean you’ll get along with every other weirdo! You may even try to maim them!
Jason: Women In Peril extracts all those familiar exploitative extremes which we’ve seen depicted in Lifetime television movies for women. Anyone who has ever watched one of these movies, especially those movies of the 1990s, knows to brace for any number of predators and victims, life-threatening stalkers, eating disorders, psychotic killers, completely unbelievable plot twists and amnesiac epiphanies, not to mention the really bad 90’s hair and fashion. These awful movies share a common extreme feminist perspective which typically distorts its characters and subjects, and it’s this distorted perspective which we hold up to the light before we vandalize it in Women In Peril.
BMP: Is Meredith a serial killer? Or just possessed by a demon?
Craig: She’d say “I’m a survivor”. Then she’d slam your head into something hard. Mostly, though, she’s a middle aged closet case, which fuels her rage. But, unlike that saying “villains never think of themselves as bad”, I say, fuck that, Meredith knows she’s a bad guy and revels in it!
BMP: What do you want people to gain when they walk away from this late-night show at Annex Theatre?
Craig: “Those Bad Actors put on a fun fucking show and why haven’t I seen one of their shows before?!? When is their next one? Who can I get to come back with me to see Women in Peril again?!?” Most importantly: that drag acting means more than wearing sequins and having people yell, “Fierce, girl!”
Jason: I want our audiences to leave the theater with side-cramps from laughing so much first and foremost, and the next time you get held hostage by your girlfriend, your mom, your gay room-mate and have to sit through another Lifetime movie and maybe cry it out together, you’ll remember our comedy Women In Peril and you’ll smile as if you’d just been told a dirty joke in church.
BMP: One of the performances lands on the night of Mother’s Day! Would you bring your mother to this show on Mother’s Day?
Craig: My mom is totally coming to visit, just to see this. She loves my shows! She tells me how beautiful I look up there…although maybe not with this character, so much…
Jason: Oh absolutely! And I’ll be sure to video record the show one night and force her to watch the DVD repeatedly every time she visits from now on. It’s the best Mother’s Day date I can imagine. Bring Mom to the Industry Night May 16 at 8pm because we all know Mom’s not going to stay awake for the 11pm late shows!
BMP: It would not be a Lifetime movie spoof without the drama of Tori Spelling, the blood of Meredith Baxter, or the nail-biting dance moves of Judith Light. Will we experience such a diverse collection of aesethetics in this theatrical presentation?
Craig: We dance to 90s music! We use a gun! We punch, choke, slap and swing kitchenware at each other! We are going to take cat fights to the next level! And probably make you feel a little grossed out by your own genitals!
Jason: To begin with, the leading ladies of Women In Peril are Judith, Meredith and Tori and all played by men. The main action tells a story we can follow but with some extreme shifts from drug experimentation to break out dance numbers to violent shoot outs with campy production values and a certain 90’s charm.
BMP: During the rehearsal process, what is your favorite and fondest moments to date?
Craig: I love that we have 3 kinds of rehearsals: dance, fight club, and regular. But, I think learning how to beat the shit out of my friends was the most awesome!
Jason: Hands down it was learning from our fight choreographer Maggie Ferguson-Wagstaffe that the actors must begin every fight sequence standing “Penis to Penis.”
BMP: What is your worst?
Craig: Well, I forgot what I was told about moving my finger out of the way…
Jason: I can’t think of a “worst” moment just yet, but I’m trying really really hard not to give my actors line readings or treat them like meat-puppets.
BMP: Is there any regret in writing this play, or working with the artists on this project?
Craig: Bad Actors has always been about friends having fun entertaining people and making new friends along the way. Regrets? That Netflix doesn’t have MORE of Judith Light’s TV movies available!
BMP: If you were given one day to change the world, or be transported to a desert island, which would it be?
Craig: Change the world, because I live in fear of sand fleas!
Jason: I’m too pragmatic to believe I could change the world in one day, but I’d gladly be transported to that island on Lost. So what? Don’t judge.