Conversations is a discussion series featuring Los Angeles theatre artists who are currently collaborating on a production. Today’s conversation is between the playwright and the director of NO HOMO, Brandon Baruch and Jessica Hanna.
Jessica Hanna: Brandon… talk to me about the impulse to start this play.
Brandon Baruch: It really did start as a joke. I had no clue what I wanted to write next. I had just come back from New York Fringe with Me Love Me… and there was something in the news, something about the phrase “no homo,” and I put on Facebook: “my next play’s going to be called No Homo,” and it got a billion likes.
Around that same time, I had scheduled to go for a hike with Jonny Rodgers, who plays Ash in the play, and I really wanted to work with him on something and I didn’t know what yet. And… we got to our hike and I was getting ready to pitch the idea of doing a project, and he asked, “Well, what’s the play going to be?” And I didn’t have anything prepared, so the first thing that came into my mind was NO HOMO.
And we kind of talked through it, and I totally made up the plot of NO HOMO on this hike, to Jonny.
Hanna: Really?! I didn’t know it was on the hike! That’s awesome!
Baruch: Yeah! Granted, that plot is not what the play became, but I made up the story, the pitch of what this play was going to be, in order to convince him to workshop it with me. But the idea of the play itself came from a deep friendship I had with my buddy Sto, who is a straight guy, and I am a gay guy, and… we had this really, really close relationship that you could call a bromance that was really just a beautiful friendship, and nobody believed me that we weren’t a couple. And I thought that that was really interesting, and that’s kind of where the idea for NO HOMO came from… what happens when two guys are just two guys, and society can’t accept the fact that it’s not a homosexual relationship?
Hanna: And so they fall in with society, or they try, or they think they should? Or that’s what they wrestle with? With what the parameters are?
Baruch: The early drafts of the script, before you came on board, I was absolutely convinced that they would never actually go anywhere with it. The whole point would be that they were firmly rooted in their sexuality, and it would all be about other people’s reactions to it. And as I started exploring the characters, figuring out who they were, I realized… oh, no, these guys are going to question things.
Hanna: When we were working in rehearsals… it came up for a number of people in the room as something that they had experienced, or knew of… And it was interesting to me, because I’m a little older, it seemed like a younger generation – this questioning of sexuality, and taboos of sexuality are changing in our society. I find it really interesting how… how our cast responded to it.
Baruch: …You know, I started doing research into it. There were coincidentally all these studies coming out just as I’m writing the piece, about “homosociality,” they call it. Which is a platonic relationship between two guys. A PHYSICAL relationship. And all these articles started coming out about how large percentage of men surveyed in the U.K. had said that they had cuddled with another guy — straight guys. And now that the idea of NO HOMO is kind of disappearing, where it’s not… people don’t care if they’re seen hugging another guy… You know, guys love hugging other guys. (laughing) We’re a very physical people. We love hugging everything.
Hanna: It’s good for you!
Baruch: It is! And so I think that the guys in the cast, especially since some of these guys are my friends, and I tend to become friends with straight guys, and we develop these close relationships that are not sexual, there’s nothing nefarious about it… but yes, we hang out. We go to the beach. We hug. We share beds.
Hanna: You love.
Baruch: We love each other.
Hanna: After you first then had the hike with Johnny, then you sat down and wrote it. …Were you thinking about it as a Fringe play?
Baruch: Yeah, my goal was for the Hollywood Fringe.
Hanna: Because you’ve written and produced three plays? Four?
Baruch: Four plays. Four new plays for the Hollywood Fringe.
Hanna: Right on.
Baruch: It’s a great opportunity to get your work seen. And it’s been really helpful to me. …So you came on board to our project after our first reading.
Baruch: What was your first thought when I called you? Because I was so nervous… when I left that message. I was so nervous. Because why on earth would you say yes?
Hanna: Oh, right on! Well, one of the things that I remember — that is very crucial to me — that I felt good about, was that you were totally up for working on it. Your work has grown leaps and bounds over the years. And this one in particular I thought was exponential growth. And that you were up for talking about it, that you weren’t being precious about it, and you were interested in continuing to work it and figure out what it was… and to make it shiny and funny. That, and we have a longtime relationship working together –
Baruch: We do, yeah.
Hanna: I also thought the Fringe was a good way to work on a new play without it being high pressure, because of the stuff I have to do at Bootleg, just because of financial stuff that you have to… not that there isn’t financial stuff in the Fringe, but it’s lessened so you can take the time to work, and not feel… guilty about it. It was a chance to work with some young actors, a couple that I did know, and many that I don’t, and it’s nice to work with new people, and people who are figuring it out, and coming up, and excited about what they’re doing. And that led us to a very long rehearsal process.
Baruch: Very long, yeah! (laughing)
Hanna: It was so interesting to listen to the first audience. And when it would hit… we knew it was good and funny, and then to have that positive reaction… and I think people were also surprised. I had a lot of people come up and say, “That wasn’t a Fringe play.” You know? “That was a full-on play.” And I was like, “Yeah. Yeah it is! Ha!”
NO HOMO is playing July 30 — August 23 at Atwater Village Theatre.
This comically tragic anti-love story tells the tale of Luke and Ash, two roommates who have been best buds for six years. All their friends and family are convinced they’re secretly a couple, even though neither man is gay. Or at least, they’re pretty sure they’re not gay. There’s only one way to find out…