Technically, it all started the day my friends stood me up
at this place called The Velvet Lounge, our weekly hangout.
I was so pissed that--over a rum and coke--I began to write
a scathing expose on our twenty something lounge life in NYC.
I wrote it and put it away.
Six months later, my friend (and soon to be producer) Karrie,
came over one day, saw Divine sitting on my end table and
asked to read it. At the time I didn't know her very well
and she was the first person, outside of one or two close
friends, to read the piece. She read it, connected with it,
and a few weeks later approached me about producing the one
Even though my initial intent while I was writing Divine
was not to produce it, I knew how I wanted it done. I wanted
it to take place in an actual lounge space where the actors
would interact with each other and with the audience. This
would enhance the viewing experience because, as the play
unfolds, the audience is actually having the "lounge
experience" with the characters (Lounge Theater as we
called it). Many in the audience will have put on their best
tank top, or donned their best muscle enhancing gap sweater,
will buy a drink, trying to stay cool and get some before
the night, or in this case before the play, is over.
At first it seemed impossible to do because as a full time
film student, I didn't have much extra time. Now, I need to
go back a minute because before Divine was even a topic of
discussion, Karrie and I had spoken about starting a website
with articles on entertainment and diversity. It was something
we saw as doing waay down the line. But when we decided to
do Divine, we knew that the website would be a great vehicle
for advertising. It seemed destined to all happen sooner than
later. So what started as a show and an idea became the vehicle
for dilateworld, the website and non-profit organization dedicated
to diversity in entertainment.
After we agreed to do the play, Karrie's first task was to
find venues where it would take place. We knew we wanted two
separate locations, one in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn.
We secured Black Star Lounge, a cute spot in the East Village,
pretty quickly. Our Brooklyn venue though was far more difficult.
We searched for a neighborhood that would even want to see
a play about five African-American twenty-somethings moaning
about life. We did not want an entirely white audience nor
did we want an entirely black one. We strived to find something
in between, something close to impossible in NYC.
We stayed in the hood and asked some Fort Greene venues,
but to no avail. We wandered through Park Slope and finally,
begrudgingly agreed upon Williamsburg. Now, there is nothing
wrong with Willy B. It is quaint and filled with artists and
web designers but it isn't
diverse. Still, we wanted a clientele that
would be excited about the piece and we knew that we would
easily be able to get a following there. The first venue we
went to said yes. We agreed on dates and were all set.
The next step was figuring out how we were going to actually
do the production. We knew we had no money so we couldn't
pay anybody. We had to depend on the kindness of folks and
prey upon the immediate desire that most actors have for exposure.
We had a director, my friend Lauren, from college. I knew
she wanted to direct more and I believed it was important
to have someone that I knew and trusted guiding the play rather
than take a chance on a stranger who might be bitter about
not getting paid. Plus she is a dramaturge so I knew that
under her guidance, we would have a tight piece.
Getting actors was my job and I had no idea how difficult
that was going to be. I knew that I envisioned specific people
but did not realize how hard it was to find what I wanted.
The women were easier. I simply raided Columbia University's
casting files for African-American women and--much like a
lounge in the springtime--women came out in droves.
Men were harder to find. (But why should casting a man be
any easier than finding one?) We thought that the hardest
part to cast would be Jason, primarily because he is an African-American
man who at the end of the piece we find out is having an affair
with another man, Omar. We saw a few people, but the problem
was that once the actors found out that the character was
having an affair with a man, they played him as this queenie
guy. I never saw Jason that way. I saw him as someone who
was questioning but I never put any labels on either Jason
or Omar. Thankfully though, we found Jason and Omar and they
were two actors who were not afraid of exploring the sexuality
of those characters. Patrick became the hard part.
Patrick was supposed to be the attractive, suave guy. I thought
finding him would be cake but after our first round of auditions,
we didn't find anyone. We were getting desperate. And then
another wretch in the plan: Karrie and Lauren had been hiding
something from me but they couldn't wait any longer. Our Brooklyn
venue called Karrie and confessed that they had not read the
play when they initially agreed to do the show. After reading
it, they didn't want to do it because of the gay content.
A bit of background. In the first draft of Divine, Omar and
Jason share a kiss. I cut it because it did not feel organic
to who these characters were. At this point, we were without
a Brooklyn venue and a Patrick. (Know that I really, really
want to tell you the name of this venue but slander is a real.
Understand though that it is KILLING me.)
Was Divine going to happen? I had my doubts -- then finally
things started to look up. Our Patrick walked into a later
audition wearing a sexy black turtleneck, spouting rhetoric
and sleepy eyed. We were finally cast!
Then Karrie had some more good news. She got 212-POSTCARDS
to do our postcards for free! But we were still without a
second venue and time was running out. One night, my friend
Danielle and I had a drink in Willy B and she took me to this
new club she liked. Over sake, I lamented the terrible state
of things and as we brainstormed we looked around and realized
we had found it: the Brooklyn venue was to be this very lounge,
After a couple rehearsals, our new Patrick was doing well.
We had a new venue, the postcards were at the printer - everything
was going well...too well. Then, one night Lauren called me
frantic. Our new Patrick had gotten a big, paying gig. We
were Patrickless yet again; the show was three weeks away
and the postcards were being printed with the other actor's
name on them!
There is a moral to the next phase of this story -- never
assume your friends have fewer connections than you do. Karrie
and I were lamenting to our friend Kim about our Patrick woes.
Kim just busts out with two actor's names. Who knew? We called
them and one called back. We needed to set up a meeting. I
walked into Starbucks and skipped over the pleasantries-
Where is he? I ask.
He's over there. He's reading it. Lauren says.
He's perfect. Karrie says.
Why because he's breathing? I say.
Go say hello.
I didn't really want to. I looked into the crowd and saw
him reading the book in the corner. He smiled at me and I
knew. Thank God. I think. Thank God.
Patrick was cast and though we had to put labels on all 5000
of the postcards with the new Patrick's name, we were happy
with our now complete cast. Everyone was great and I realize
now everything came together the way it was supposed to be.
This was actually going to happen. And happen it did.
So after packed performances, I feel a great sense of pride
and accomplishment over the show, mainly because we pulled
off something that none of us thought we could. I learned
the true meaning of collaboration and Karrie and I realized
we were crazy enough to try to do this again and again. Will
we ever learn. . .?