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San Diego's Compass Theatre Presents "Q Plays"

by Mark Gabrish Conlan/Zenger's Newsmagazine Thursday, Sep. 04, 2008 at 4:51 PM
mgconlan@earthlink.net (619) 688-1886 P. O. Box 50134, San Diego, CA 92165

On Sunday, September 7, Compass Theatre (formerly 6th @ Penn) at 3704 Sixth Avenue in Hillcrest is formally launching its new season of “off-night” productions — performed Sunday evening through Wednesday instead of the “on-nights” of Thursday through Sunday afternoon — called Q Plays. These are five widely varied scripts that have one thing in common: all revolve around Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and/or Transgender characters. Hairdresser on Fire runs from September 7 through October 8. Performances are 7 p.m. Sundays and 7:30 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. To order tickets, or for more information, call (619) 688-9210 or visit www.compasstheatre.com

San Diego's Compass ...
hyatt.a.jpg, image/jpeg, 774x1110

JOSH HYATT:

Compass Theatre’s New Director Stages First in “Q Plays” Series

interview by MARK GABRISH CONLAN

Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

On Sunday, September 7, Compass Theatre (formerly 6th @ Penn) at 3704 Sixth Avenue in Hillcrest is formally launching its new season of “off-night” productions — performed Sunday evening through Wednesday instead of the “on-nights” of Thursday through Sunday afternoon — called Q Plays. These are five widely varied scripts that have one thing in common: all revolve around Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and/or Transgender characters. The first play, Hairdresser on Fire by Pittsburgh-based playwright Scott C. Sickles, is a romantic drama about a young Gay artist, Lawrence, forced to choose between his art, his friends (including an ex-partner) and his new boyfriend.

The play is being directed by Compass’s newly appointed managing artistic director, Josh Hyatt, a health-law attorney in his offstage life and a long-term veteran of community theatre who moved out here 2 1/2 years ago from Miami. After about a week of phone tag — Hyatt’s day job sends him out of town a lot — Zenger’s connected with him for an interview backstage at Compass. Other works in the Q Plays series include the musical Backwater Blues, co-written by the theatre’s associate artistic director Michael Thomas Tower with David M. Newcomer; Bad Night in a Men’s Room Off Sunset Boulevard, about Transgender people and closeted Gay movie stars; Dancing the God, a Lesbian-themed mystery; and Vamp, described in the theatre’s flyer as a “supernatural vinyl-clad-girl-meets-girl romance.”

Hairdresser on Fire runs from September 7 through October 8. Performances are 7 p.m. Sundays and 7:30 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. To order tickets, or for more information, call (619) 688-9210 or visit www.compasstheatre.com

Zenger’s: Let’s begin with just a little about you: your background, how you got into theatre and what you’re doing here.

Josh Hyatt: Right now I’m acting as the managing artistic director for the Compass Theatre. I have been involved with theatre probably for the last 15 to 20 years as an actor, director, producer. I’ve been an artistic director for another theatre in Miami, and when I came out to San Diego I did one or two shows, got cast and started doing some commercial film work, a little bit of television work, up in L.A. But I liked San Diego, so I decided to stay down here and focus my efforts in this area.

I applied for a position to Compass to direct one of their plays in a new series of Gay-themed plays called The Q Plays. In the meantime, I was cast in a show called Searching for Mr. Right at Diversionary Theatre in February of this year. We re-ran the show in May, with me as director. I got hired on to do Hairdresser on Fire, which is the first play in the Q Plays series. Then I was asked to do a second show, which opens in January; and then they asked me to be the artistic director. That’s kind of a fast and quick history.

Zenger’s: So you got promoted from the director of one show to the director of two shows to the artistic director of the whole theatre, before an audience has ever actually seen one of your productions here.

Hyatt: At this theatre, yes. In the past I have directed approximately 15 to 20 shows. Most of them have been musicals. But I’ve done a lot of regular plays as well. In fact, they asked me to be the artistic director to help them not only with the artistic vision of the theater but to help them in the organizational process. We’ve been in the process of revamping the theatre and in its operational structure.

Zenger’s: Could you tell me a little about Hairdresser on Fire? Was that your choice, or had the theatre already decided to produce that before they brought you in?

Hyatt: The season was picked before I was brought in. The first thing that drew me to the show was the title. I think Hairdresser on Fire is just a great title, and you can’t pass that up, even though it does not involve a hairdresser or anything to do with fire. Later I found out that there is a song by Morrissey called “Hairdresser on Fire,” but its lyrics really don’t have much to do with the show. It’s a fascinating title, but it really has nothing to do with the show. I asked the writer why he picked that title, and he said it was a title that just stuck in his head and he really liked, even though there was nothing directly connected to the show with it. That kind of quirkiness I like.

I got a chance to read the play, and I loved it. It’s a romantic drama, and it centers around a lonely young man who’s a kind of struggling young artist. He’s got two very close friends, one female, one male, and his male best friend is someone he had actually dated at one point. They were no longer dating, but he still holds a flame for the lead character, Lawrence. Then Lawrence meets Alan, a gentleman who seems to be Mr. Right. He’s an attorney, he’s handsome, he’s very charismatic. But as the play progresses, he starts finding some very significant faults with Alan, which lead to the finale of the show.

It’s basically the story of a relationship gone bad, but with the strength of friends behind you to help you along. It’s a very funny play, and we have a great cast with really nice, strong chemistry. It’s in nine scenes, no intermission — so it’s in one act — and probably will run about an hour and 25 minutes.

Zenger’s: Though you didn’t choose the production, you said you were attracted to it. What about it really grabbed you?

Hyatt: I think the relationship with the friends. Everybody’s been in one of those kinds of relationship where you sit back one day and go, “What in hell was I thinking?” And this was definitely one of those relationships. The connection with the friends I thought was very strong. I joked with my actors to give them perspective; I said, “You have friends who help you move, and then you have friends that help you move bodies.” These are the kinds of friends that help you move bodies and are there with you through thick and thin.

I’ve been in contact with the writer, Scott Sickles. It’s very nice to have the opportunity to talk with the writer, to make sure you can maintain the artistic integrity and intention of the writer, and get some questions answered. He will be here to see the show.

Zenger’s: Were you involved with the casting?

Hyatt: Yes, I cast the show.

Zenger’s: What were you looking for, and what made you decide on the people?

Hyatt: Since Lawrence, the lead, is kind of an artistic Bohemian type in his late 20’s, not really polished. I was really looking for someone who had that more Bohemian disheveled look, but still was very focused on his art, which is the primary love of life. Alan, the boyfriend, is more of a Wall Street type, very sharp, very clean, the kind of person you would see would be very meticulous at home, and a very controlling kind of individual. It took a very special kind of actor who could pull those kinds of elements together.

Briony, the female friend, is a Wiccan, a little younger, more vivacious, but strong, an incredibly strong female character. The other friend — Niles, the one he had dated — is a little older, is in his late 40’s, and for him I was looking for more of a refined, meticulous kind of guy, almost a New York jet-settish type guy, with a lot of emotional flaws in him.

We have two other characters who play multiple roles. One of them is the brother of Alan, the boyfriend, who is really warm and compassionate and tries to keep the family together as much as possible, even though his brother dislikes him. Then we have a character actress who’s playing two very wild, fun roles. She plays an art gallery owner who’s kind of crazy, a little New York jet-set type of crazy lady; and then another character named Zinnia who for all intents and purposes is the kind of person who is really wealthy, but doesn’t have any connection to the real world and just floats around. She’s really silly and creepy, all at the same time.

The casting was very difficult. We had some very wonderful people audition for the show, and really started looking at chemistry between people and types. It was very difficult, but we did find a very strong cast, very good character actors.

Zenger’s: So who are they, and how many of them have worked here before?

Hyatt: Actually, believe it or not, only one of the actors have worked in this theatre before. The other ones are new to this theatre. The one who’s worked here before is the gentleman who’s playing Alan. His name is Bill Shore, and he was in Orange Flower Water, I believe, this year. Lawrence, our lead, his name is Blake Peret. He’s a theatre student right now, and the friends, the female’s name is Krissy Tobey. She does a lot of musical theatre. She’s got a very strong musical theatre background.

Niles is played by Neil McDonald, who is a Shakespearean actor. He does a lot of Shakespearean work, a lot of classical work, and actually he will be in our Britannicus also. He will be playing Brutus in Britannicus, which opens in October. So it’s nice to bring in new blood and new energy into the theatre, so we can get an opportunity to divulge new talent to the world.

Zenger’s: Tell me about the Q Plays series in general: whose idea was it, and how did it come about.

Hyatt: I wasn’t involved with the inception of The Q Plays, but the concept behind Q Plays is to open up, to find Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender-themed plays. They run “off nights,” which means that they run Sundays through Wednesdays rather than the traditional Thursdays through Sundays. This allows us to appear not to have any competition at all with Diversionary, which we’re not. Diversionary has a very special base, and we’re hoping to expand that and to provide new Gay- and Lesbian-themed plays to the community.

One of our plays, which is Bad Night in a Men’s Room off Sunset Boulevard, which opens in January — which happens to be the other one I’m directing — has a Transgender character in it, which I’m very excited about. We rarely see theatre that has Transgender characters involved.

Zenger’s: You mentioned that these are the off-night productions, which has been a major tradition of this theatre. What’s going to be happening on the “on” nights?

Hyatt: Hairdresser on Fire is going to be running with Troilus and Cressida, which is my Shakespearean piece. They run Thursday through Saturday night and Sunday matinee, and then we run Sunday through Wednesday nights. The one running with Backwater Blues is Britannicus, the story of Nero, Britannicus and his mother Agrippina. In January we’ll be running, opposite Bad Night in a Men’s Room, we’re going to be running American Buffalo, a well-known David Mamet piece, very strong, dramatic piece. The rest of our season is still being decided, for the others.

Zenger’s: You guys have done Mamet before. I reviewed Glengarry Glen Ross, which I think is the most successful show this theatre has ever had. It was held over twice.

Hyatt: Most likely. A lot of people in the theatre love Mamet. I certainly do. His work is a little harsh, but it’s a lot of fun.

Zenger’s: I remember the first time I saw anything by Mamet, I had read these reviews praising his “well-turned dialogue,” and I told a friend of mine, “Is that what you have to do to write ‘well-turned dialogue’ — just make every other word an obscenity?”

Hyatt: Well, it’s true. Part of what he does, though, is that it feels natural. When you see characters that he has written in the environments in which they live, that is — the phrasing, the style of speech, is so dead on it’s really, really remarkable. I got to see Glengarry Glen Ross on Broadway, with Tom Wopat and Alan Alda and Liam Neeson, and it was really spectacular. It’s just a spectacular show. So I’m very excited about American Buffalo, I’m very excited about it, and I’m hoping we can pull in some more Mamet.

The problem is he doesn’t write a lot of things for women. He tends to be more of a misogynistic writer. But you definitely love or hate Mamet. That is 100 percent true. Some people really hate Mamet because of the style of writing and the characterization.

Zenger’s: You said that at least part of the next season is still under construction. What are you looking for in terms of what you would want to do here?

Hyatt: We’re looking at devising themes for our seasons, to make it a little bit more sellable as well as interesting for the community to come in and see. We’re doing plays where there’s something really fundamentally wrong with the person, and there’s a story line developed around them. American Buffalo is a good example of that. Some of our other pieces that will be coming up are good examples of that. The other show that we have confirmed for sure is Killer Joe, which is a dark comedy. I have not had a chance to dive into Killer Joe yet. I’ve skimmed through it. It looks very interesting. It was selected before I came in. But it looks like it’ll be fun. I love comedy. Comedies are my favorite things in the world. And I like dark comedies. I like comedies that make you think, and I also tend to like thrillers, because to me those are the kinds of things that will bring people in and keep them interested in the theatre and its process.

We’re looking for something that will be interesting for the community to see, partly stuff that may not necessarily be 100 percent commercial but will have either titles or some kind of hook that will make the community want to come in and see the shows, and just be completely amazed or interested by them. Definitely it has to be something that’s good, well written, with well-constructed story lines. We will be having probably one to two classical pieces. One of those may be a Shakespearean play.

Zenger’s: You know, you mentioned classic work. Are you going to continue to do Greek plays?

Hyatt: We’ll see. That’s still under consideration, but definitely not out.

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David Lowe, Blake Perret and Gigi Palomera in Compass Theatre’s Hairdresser on Fire.

by Mark Gabrish Conlan/Zenger's Newsmagazine Thursday, Sep. 04, 2008 at 4:51 PM
mgconlan@earthlink.net (619) 688-1886 P. O. Box 50134, San Diego, CA 92165

David Lowe, Blake Pe...
hairdresser_on_fire_2.a.jpg, image/jpeg, 600x900

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