Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Talking DEAR HENRY with Arthur Wooten

Arthur Directing Dear Henry
Several years ago I met someone on twitter and my life changed from watching his career, bouncing ideas off of him, and making a new friend. Arthur Wooten is a published author, playwright, director and has a one-man show coming up in New York City at the Duplex on Monday April 27, Sunday May 3 and Saturday May 9 all at 7pm. I’m thrilled that our company ASD Media is behind his show (which means I got to watch a rehearsal and loved it) and I wanted to ask him a few questions about this one man show staring Luke Doyle: DEAR HENRY.

Greg Allen: I feel like I've known you forever, but there is an entire world of theater you did before I ever met you as an author. Can you tell a little about your life on the stage?

Arthur The Actor
Arthur Wooten: I’ve always been a bit theatrical. Even as a kid I was putting on shows. I think the first adaptation I acted in and directed was Rumplestiltskin on roller skates. I grew up in Andover, MA and we had an exceptional musical theatre program. We put on full-scale productions of shows like Hello Dolly, The Music Man and in Mame, as politically incorrect as it is now, I played Ito, the Japanese houseboy. I was so disappointed that I wasn’t cast as Patrick Dennis until I realized that Ito got all the laughs. 

GA: Did you continue this love affair into college?

Arthur - 4th from Left
AW: Yes. I attended Umass at Amherst and my love of theatre really took off. The first musical I did there was Dames At Sea but I was also cast in several plays such as: Queenie in Fortune In Men’s Eyes and as the contestant in Adaptation/Next. Between my first and second years I auditioned and was accepted into the Off-Off-Broadway theatre company in Ogunquit, Me. It was WAY Off-Broadway. Over the course of 13 weeks we did 12 different musical in rep/rotation. If it was Tuesday I was Kenneth in Call Me Madam for the matinee and Jimmie in 110 In The Shade in the evening. One night I had a nightmare that I was on stage and didn’t know what show we were doing. But then I realized it wasn’t a nightmare, it was real life. Someone pushed me onstage and said, “Sing, If I Hear A Waltz!” The next summer I was cast in Wonderful Town and Crazy Girl for the Festival of American Theatre at Penn State. And the following year I moved to NYC, enrolled in HB Studios, met Bob Elston who truly took me under his wing and taught me all that I know about acting. I went with him from HB to be a founding member of The American Renaissance Theatre. I joined Equity shortly afterwards being cast in a production of How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying at Coachlight dinner theatre. Remember dinner theatres? They were big in the 70s and 80s. I did shows like Man Of La Mancha and six different productions of Sound Of Music including a bus & truck to 97 cities with Sally Ann Howes.

Arthur as Friedrich
GA: I did my share of dinner theater too, Arthur. I have always admired your versatility from writing LGBT themed books, to women's fiction to a children's book (heck - some may say I copied you!) What do you feel is the common denominator/strong point in all of those?

AW: Truth, honesty and overcoming extreme odds with a self-deprecating sense of humor.

GA: I was lucky enough to have you launch a play reading series at a theater I manage this past fall (and have read almost all of your plays). You and I always talk about screenplays versus stage - so tell us how DEAR HENRY came about as a stage work.

AW: It was my friend and illustrator of my children’s book Wise Bear William, Bud Santora, who brought up the concept of adapting Dear Henry to stage. At first I was stumped. I thought of Dear Henry as a sort of gay version of the play Love Letters. But upon brainstorming I realized there was much more here than just reading the letters which first appeared in reFRESH Magazine in London when I was their humorist. Slowly, the piece evolved to what it is today, a one-man play with a beginning a middle and an end with an  arc.

Luke Doyle rehearing DEAR HENRY
GA: The rehearsal process is such a great time to really work a piece, make changes, etc - what has been some of the great moments of working with actor Luke Doyle on this project?

AW: Luke is fearless. I told him upfront that our working process was a place to be completely unselfconscious and an opportunity to experiment without feeling stupid or judged. Every rehearsal has felt like an intense workshop, with tweaking and the discovery of new choices. 

GA: I've been fascinated as you would share major shifts and changes as the piece evolved. What do you believe (under the comedy of the piece) is the core of DEAR HENRY?

AW: Hope. Hope for something better. Hope for acceptance. Self-acceptance. The ability to stop listening to others and follow your heart. Hope for true love, which is a theme that runs through much of my work.

GA: You are trying this out at the Duplex with 3 performances. If there were wishing well in front of you...what next steps would you wish for? (Let's put it out to the universe!)

AW: This is a one-person play with one simple set with no special effects. This is a producer’s dream. My wish is to see it segue to Off-Broadway. And I know it will have a strong life beyond New York. Whether it be in Los Angeles, Provincetown, MA or the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The show can fit in your pocket and go anywhere.

GA: Last thoughts on having your baby up on a NY stage where every person will judge and critique it and then be nice to your face afterwards?


Luke & Arthur after rehearsal
AW: Well, I’m going to second guess your reaction when you come running up to me saying you love it with a huge smile on your face. In truth, although this is a story about a gay man and a very unique relationship he is in, everyone whether they be straight, lesbian, bi, transgender will relate to the issues that are tackled. I mean who doesn’t suffer from some sort of misophonia?

Learn more about Dear Henry on ASD Media's website and get tickets in advance to any of the three performances!

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