Recovering from a vicious hate-inspired physical beating, a gay artist takes a euphoric journey through his memories, as he tries to reassemble his shattered body and mind, in a work that is beautiful, visceral, sensual, blazingly honest and darkly humorous.
What motivates you to keep working each day?
I have always done it. When I was tiny, I would round up kids in the neighborhood and write plays. I had a Shakespeare reading group when I was 10 and we would record Shakespeare plays that we read out loud and perform for our parents and friends. It is who I am. It is what I do. It is my touchstone. When you asked me this question, I thought of Yayoi Kusama. She gets locked up and it’s kind of like that for me. It’s my way to process being in the world, and it’s madness if I don’t do it. It gives me structure and it’s my way of processing experiences. It incorporates research, reading, meditation, and visual arts…all I know is that when I don’t do it, things are not good.
What is your creative mission? How does Marrow stand out from other LGBTQIA+ work that is already out there?
I saw this exhibit by Peter Hujar recently and he said that he identifies as a photographer who happens to be gay. I identify with this in the sense that I am a writer who just happens to be gay. I don’t even think of myself as a gay writer, although I am aware that this is work is wildly gay - a huge queer piece! In this day and age, I still get people yelling “faggot,” at me in the streets of NYC. I am always trying to shine a light and remind people that love is love.
What makes you and your practice as a writer and creative unique?
I never took a proper writing class, but I know the theater inside-out. My experiences as an actor-turned-writer give me a unique perspective. Similar artists who I admire are Moliere, Athol Fugard, and Sam Shepard.
What effect do you want Marrow to have on the audience - what would you like them to come away thinking/feeling? What do you know about the people who enjoy Marrow and have seen it in the past?
I have homophobia and a republican horror story within my own family, like so many others. All of my plays are about justice, but it’s not intentional. A lot of my work has characters who are artists trying to find their voice. There is an element of my work that is in your face, and unpleasant at times. I do like turning people's gazes to where they may be afraid to look - illuminating experiences that would otherwise be unseen.
I think that when you get to know someone it is hard to hate them. I feel like you really get to know the main character in Marrow, especially through the moments of rehab and the direct address elements. It is a window into the soul of someone who is struggling.. You get to know a person, who happens to be gay, and realize that all that they want is to love.
I have learned that the audience for this play is larger than I initially imagined. This character travels between worlds and the audience ends up getting swept up in his experience. It has the power to change hearts and minds. Viewers are bound to see themselves in him. If I could, I would take busloads of people from Florida to watch it (referring to the current don’t say gay bill).
Over the years of development, I have had lots of people in the medical field and families of hate crimes and brain injuries tell me how much they appreciate this work. A writer that I really admire named Erin Courtney came to see the workshopped production at the Episcopal Actors Guild. It meant a lot when she said that it was some of the best use of a direct address that she had ever experienced. I appreciate that seeing work like this makes it harder to hold onto hate someone because they are gay.
Is there a story behind the inspiration for Marrow or the creative process that you could share? Is the work based on a specific real-life incident or an amalgamation of incidents, which provoked a response?
The idea for Marrow came when I was doing my first play in San Francisco which was about Robert Mapplethorpe. It was directed by John Stix. Mapplethorpe got good reviews and was extended. I was moved from the hotel to the home of a well-known dancer, who was hosting me. It turned out that he had been gay-bashed with a lead pipe. He told me about his re-learning to walk and talk. He was beaten so badly that he didn’t even know who his boyfriend was - and that was the jumping-off point for me. His telling me “ I had to re-meet my partner,” really stuck with me - all because he was gay. That is a huge price to pay for being who you are. The title Marrow came to me because it is a play about a person being assaulted for being who they are to the very core.
Did you collaborate with anyone of note to bring Marrow to the point that it is now?
This development made me think of Michael Jackson's strange loop on broadway. He has been working on that musical for 16 years, and I have been working on this play since its first draft in 2006.
The process of writing the play was pretty quick. I wrote it was a multi-character piece that both Donald Byrd and Craig Lucas were fans of early on. They both passed the play onto the Intiman theater when Bartlett Sher was the Artistic Director. The play was going to happen, but Bartlett left and the theater folded. This play ended up getting me a McDowell fellowship, which was an amazing experience, and subsequently had several workshops.
Donald Byrd is the Artistic Director of Spectrum Dance. He never forgot about Marrow and wanted to use my text with his dance company in a piece that was being created in response to the tragic Pulse nightclub shootings in Orlando, Fl. I suddenly felt a mission to help wake people up as a way to save lives. For Donald's production, asked me to take my play and channel it through one voice. His creative prompt to me was the 1990 film called Jacob's Ladder. I decided to go back to Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis. I had seen it multiple times; the production with Isabell Hupert at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and the TR Warszawa production at St. Anne’s Warehouse. Both of these were extremely influential in how I decided to take my full play and turn it into the version that it is now.
Donald told me that he was looking for a male Madea to play this part. That is how you (Craig) came into this production. You were brilliant because you had actually prepared the entire play for the audition and as a result, he hired you on the spot. It was pretty remarkable. You ended up winning the Gypsy Rose Lee Award for your performance in Seattle and this play received special accommodation from the Relentless Award. That experience was a strong reminder that this text does have the ability to connect with people. The version that was created at Donald’s prompting, is an open template, holding a lot of space for the director and the performer(s).
When the play came to Melissa Firlit who approached it with the precision of a scalpel. She is up there with some of the greats I have worked with. She brought a new sense of detail, play, and humor to the work. She also collaborated with the musician/sound designer Matthew Bittner to create a world that stands on its own in a new and exciting way. It keeps evolving and changing.
Brian Quirk is a New York-based playwright. Selected plays include: MARROW (Edinburgh, partof (IM)PULSE, Spectrum Dance/Seattle Rep); WARREN (Boise Contemporary Theater, Seven Devils); MAPPLETHORPE/The Opening (Provincetown Playhouse, New Conservatory Theater Center, Sixth@Penn, Popop Studios-Bahamas) ; NERINE (PlayPenn, id Theater); SUMMERLAND (N.Y.U. workshop) ; Mary/HUNTER, (Thingamajig workshop); THE JUNIPER (Thingamajig workshop) Brian is a 3 time MacDowell colony fellow, member of The Dramatist guild and of id Theater’s playwright group. Brian has received the Robert Chelsey award, the Erik A Takulan fellowship from Djerassi, a Leon Levy Foundation Grant; a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Grant from MacDowell, the Jane G. Camp Fellowship from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts; and a Ucross Foundation Fellowship. Alum of the Actors Studio/PDU, and Project Y Playwrights group.
Marrow was developed with support of Axial Theatre, Artistic Director, Howard Meyer and thanks to a Fellowship at The MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire.
A new version of the Marrow was commissioned and produced by The Spectrum Dance Company, Artistic Director Donald Byrd, Executive Director Tera Beach, in partnership with Seattle Repertory Theatre as (im)Pulse
Marrow, directed by Melissa Firlit, was presented at The Space UK, 2019 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Flying Solo Productions and Resolve Productions
Marrow then received a developmental workshop at Lehman College, directed by Rick DesRochers.
Marrow was additionally developed through the Episcopal Actors Guild Open Space Grant, NYC, 2020
Special Thanks: Jodi Adams and Assembly Festival Team, The Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts, The Episcopal Actors Guild and the NYC Department of Health.
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