Monday, February 13, 2017

Spotlight On...Max Vernon

Name: Max Vernon

Hometown: New York City

Education: NYU BA for Gender & Sexuality studies (Gallatin), MFA in Musical Theatre Writing (Tisch)

Select Credits: The View UpStairs, KPOP (Ars Nova, opens August 2017), 30 Million (Keep Company), Show & Tell (Civilians R&D Group, Jerome Foundation), Nincest (Book & lyrics by Jen Silverman)

Why theater?: I think Musical Theatre is the great American art form. When it's bad it feels truly soul killing, but when great it is transcendent- it is visual art, dance, music, performance, writing all rolled into one so it has the potential to resonate on all cylinders. Since we are constantly bombarded with information & stimulation, it can be hard for us to get off our screens. Seeing theatre forces us to lean in and focus. The way I see it, a good TV episode or movie you might stay in your head for about for a week or so; great theatre sticks with you for years.

Tell us about The View UpStairs: The View UpStairs uses the story of the UpStairs Lounge Fire to have a multi-generational conversation about our where our society is headed & the queer community in particular. Since 1973, how has the world changed for better or worse? Which battles have we won, which are we still fighting? The main character, Wes, is someone whose relationships are transactional- someone who thinks in order to be loved he needs a following. Over the course of the show he has to learn that what he's really seeking is community, and to make connections that are transformational.

What is it like being a part of The View UpStairs?: Being involved in this show right now is keeping me sane. We are being gaslighted daily by our President. Every day we read the news and there is some fresh horror. But we are speaking truth to power with this piece in a very balls to the wall, unsafe way. We are saying we are here and we are NOT going back to the way things were 40 years ago. We've got hustlers,  copious cocaine usage, hustlers, busted drag queens, and a fuck-ton of distorted guitar. This ain't Seussical, but for those whom the show speaks to, I think they are going to feel seen. Really seen. And hopefully motivated to go out and carry the torch.

What inspired you to write The View UpStairs?: I was a queer studies major undergrad, and I was going so far down the rabbit hole in my studies, reading Donna Haraway's "Cyborg Feminism", and all this stuff with Foucault and Butler, etc. But 6 years ago when I first learned about the UpStairs Lounge Fire, not one of my professors had heard of it. And before Pulse, this was the worst attack against the LGBTQ community in US history. So I was like, "why am I reading this 500 page dissertation on the ontology of Fisting when no one knows 32 people died in this gay bar...why aren't we reclaiming this story?" Growing up I never felt like I had any queer elders to mentor me, I kind of had to figure out how to exist in this world on my own. So there was a desire with The View UpStairs to travel back to the past and see what lessons I could learn there. How do we stay connected and vibrant and also outraged; how do we survive and fight oppression? I also just wanted the opportunity to write a badass rock score with some Stevie Wonder clav.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I love theatre that challenges and provokes. That makes your jaw drop and laugh at things you think you shouldn't be laughing at. I like glitter, fantasy, sequins and feather boas as much as the next theatre queen, but I want to get the ratio right. Hair, Hedwig, Rocky Horror, Passing Strange- all those musicals speak to me. My inspirations are all over the place- I love Siouxsie Sioux as much as Sondheim. Mama Cass, Vogue ball culture, Erykah Badu, X and 80's Los Angeles punk. Right now I'm having a Roberta Flack moment.

What’s your favorite showtune?: Probably "Rose Tint My World" from Rocky Horror.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: I'd love write a musical with Dennis Cooper or Jodorowsky. Or to score a horror movie with some cheesy 80's synth soundtrack ala Argento's Suspiria.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Ben Wishaw or Ezra Miller. "Existential Life Crisis Lullaby."

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: I would love to go back in time and see the original Follies.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Go see the Broadway transfer of Lynn Nottage's Sweat, and Kirsten Child's Bella at Playwrights Horizons later this year.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: A stiff drink and a stiff...something I shouldn't put in writing ;)

What’s up next?: The View UpStairs opens at the Lynn Redgrave Theater on Feb 28th (previews start feb 15th), then my other musical KPOP starts previews at Ars Nova in August.

For more on Max, visit www.maxvernon.com and https://www.facebook.com/MaxVernonMusic. For more on The View UpStairs, visit https://www.facebook.com/TheViewUpStairs

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