"It is really a funny play but at the same time but it also kind of an indictment of the institution of theatre."
by Michael J. Roberts
Michael J. Roberts is theatre editor for the ChicagoPride.com covering Chicago's diverse arts and entertainment scene.
Pavement Group's newest production is the World Premiere of "Girl You Know It's True". The plot focuses on a middle aged, male, caucasian, playwright who has not been able to get any of his plays produced so he creates a radical new identity for himself which is that of an African American, lesbian in a wheelchair. Suddenly his plays are huge success. This is told in tandem with the infamous Milli Vanilli scandal and questions of ethics and identity raised in hilarious but thought provoking manner. ChicagoPride.com spoke with Pavement Group's Artistic Director David Perez about the play and about the playwright, Bixby Elliot, who is quickly emerging as one of the most prolific gay playwrights in the country.
MJR: (Michael J. Roberts) Hi David! Your latest project sounds fantastic. Tell us a little bit about the premise of ‘Girl You Know It's True' and how you came upon the script.
DP: (David Perez) Well, ‘Girl You Know It's True' tells the story of a playwright who can't get his worked produced. He comes up with the idea to fictionalize his resume and portray himself as a Black, lesbian woman who is in a wheelchair. Theaters across the country start accruing an interest in the playwright's work. One theatre in particular, the New York Theatre Company, decides to do a World Premiere of his play and he is left without the accolades. While we are telling the story of this man who compromises his ethics to get his plays produced, we are also telling in backwards time, the whole Mili Vanili famous lip syncing scandal.
MJR: It sounds like it is a new take on the classic morality play.
DP: Yes, the play questions the intentions of creating a piece of work and how we as a society tend to fantasize the context of work rather than the content. How in the pursuit of our dreams, we can erode our ethics. It is really a funny play but at the same time but it also kind of an indictment of the institution of theatre.
MJR: When did you first hear of this play?
DP: ‘Girl You Know It's True' was written by Bixby Elliot who is definitely a bold and dangerous new voice in the American theatre. I was on About Face Theatre's XYZ selection committee for new works a few years ago and met Bixby. He had his first play, ‘Blueprint', produced very successfully and had written another play that ended up being a finalist in several new play competitions.
That other play was called, and I quote, ‘Abraham Lincoln Was a Faggot', in which the title alone is just ferociously jarring. Even though I found that play to have a lot merit and saw a lot potential in Bixby's voice as a playwright, I didn't find ‘Abraham Lincoln Was a Faggot' to be right for Pavement Group. So, I kept in contact with Bixby and he told me about the premise of the new play he was writing, which was ‘Girl'. I kept pestering him to send me the script and at one point literally begged him to do so. He relented and within 24 hours of reading it, we decided to produce it! "Girl You Know It's True" is exactly what Pavement Group does. It is a play that asks a lot of questions but does not answer them. It actually requires you to be present as an audience member.
MJR: Did Bixby sit in on the rehearsals and give a lot of input?
DP: We flew Bixby in for the workshop last November, which was great. We started rehearsals without him but he joined us in Chicago last Sunday. He will be with us through the last week of rehearsals and through tech. I also must say that I know I picked the right people for the cast because they are truly collaborators and have no ego about them. It is about the betterment of the play as whole. This play is being negotiated right now. It changed last night; it will change tonight! Every time we work on this play it is like being on quicksand, which makes the process very exciting. There are, of course, some pragmatic challenges. But it is very exciting that as a company that we get to create the first incarnation of a new piece of art.
MJR: Tell me about the lead character and the ethical compromises he makes to be successful?
DP: Well the play starts off with Bixby (the character's name as well) in his early 40's, living in New York City with his partner and he is stuck. He is unable to get his plays produced. That is compounded by being in a relationship where he is not "seen". It's a loving relationship but it is also one where we negotiate through the play whether his partner actually believes in him. One of the things the play argues is that you actually have to have someone believe in you to make it. If someone else believes in you, then you can believe in yourself. The arch that he goes through is that he takes liberty with his identity and compromises his ethics to get his work made. It is a series of small decisions made in haste that turn into a huge erosion of his ethics. He loses his identity and literally vanishes into the play and becomes a non-active participant in his life. He squanders for one true constant in his life; that being the profound love he has for his partner. The play essentially poses the question of much of ourselves are we willing to give and at what cost, to be successful. The play doesn't answer that question, put it poses it and lets the audience decide for themselves.
MJR: Does the play pass any judgment of Milli Vanilli or are they viewed sympathetically?
DP: I would say that the play is indicting of everybody and it is also compassionate for everyone. In this play we are always rooting for Milli Vanilli but we have to be in conversation with their deception. I think what the playwright does well is that he creates a balanced argument for the characters. Everybody is terrible, but they have a heart. The play does show another side to what happened. Milli Vanilli created a world-wide audience but one thing the world never acknowledged was that they were only 18 years old when they signed their contract to perform. They were kids that worked in Wendy's and had no business skill. I don't want to give to much way but who we lose our identity to our greed is definitely at the forefront.
MJR: Since Pavement Group is still a young company, what is your vision for it has it grows?
DP: That is a great question. The ideology needs to remain the same. That is, the biggest ego in the room is the play not the person. We are not picking plays just for our ensemble. We are picking plays for the community. The play has to feel vital and has to be in conversation with the community that supports us. We have been operating under that model since we were founded five years ago and will continue do so. We are also an immersive theatre company from the way we design to the way to do our lobby and marketing. We are asking people to re-imagine their experience with theatre and we are trying to make contact with people to don't like going to theatre. We want to re-introduce people to this art form where they can actually find a little bit of their own life up on that stage.
MJR: It is great to have a theater company that respects their audience. Thank you David, and I can't wait to see the play!
DP: Thank you, Michael! It is definitely going to be a great night at the theatre!
"Girl You Know It's True" runs through May 13 at the Chopin Theatre downstairs studio, 1543 W. Division St. For more information and ticket purchase visit pavementgroup.org.