Friday, July 03, 2015

Local playwright gets an Emerald City production with Theatre22

Amy Wheeler (Tom Marks)
A locally written play will open next weekend, produced by Theatre22, a newer company that has already created a track record of solidly mounted and well-chosen stage plays. This outing, they’ve chose Amy Wheeler’s play Wizzer Pizzer: Getting Over the Rainbow.

Amy lives on Whidbey Island where she is the executive director of the famous writing retreat Hedgebrook. She wants everyone to know that, “Whidbey Island now has its own fabulous Queer Pride Parade that's happening on Sunday, August 2nd at 2:00 PM in Langley. More information is at and we'd love for Seattleites to come out and celebrate with us.”

Amy has written a solid handful of plays that have been done in prestigious locations such as Portland Center Stage, Bay Area Playwrights Festival and Greenwich Street Theatre in New York. Her first play, Intersection, was turned into a short film! In addition, she’s taught at local schools like Cornish and Freehold.
The description in the press release about Wizzer Pizzer says, “Somewhere over the rainbow, gays are checking themselves into Dr. Marvel's Reparative Therapy Clinic, where an ex-gay, ex-lesbian couple teach them to be born again straight.” The play draws heavily on The Wizard of Oz.

In an interview, Amy describes what made her think of The Wizard of Oz and link the story to that icon. She says, “I often also work from myth. The Wizard of Oz is a myth coursing through the gay culture from my earliest consciousness. We identify with this search for somewhere we can belong and for home. We create family along the way which I think Dorothy is doing.

“And there’s all the iconography with the rainbow… it’s so much part of the culture anyway. When I was writing the play I was aware of how often some version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow would come on the radio, or someone would reference the Yellow Brick Road in a conversation.

“Years ago, I remember my mom asking me why the rainbow was the symbol for gay pride. I told her it’s a symbol that the community uses to identify each other or gay friendly businesses. That was a surprise to her at the time.

“I grew up in Oklahoma and didn’t come out till adulthood. (I explained that) the story created a safe space for us to recognize each other and find a safe way to connect.”

Amy describes the thematic substance of the plays she writes, and how this one began for her. ”I’m always dealing with issues that I think are relevant and that I see going on in the culture. I’m gay and that’s a lens that I see everything through and experience life through. A lot of my plays do deal with sexual and gender identity. We’re living in such an interesting time when that’s evolving so quickly.

“It doesn’t mean all my plays are about gender and sexuality, but identity and diversity are always a part of it. It’s so important as theater artists that we deal with the intersectionality of identity. Race and class, gender identity… it feels important to me to be approaching that, paying attention to the complexity of what it means to be human in the 21st Century.

“Very often plays come to me in a dream state, so I started with an image with a guy in drag performing Somewhere Over the Rainbow and having it go terribly wrong. The journey of the play became the reverse Dorothy story – became Dorothy’s journey in surprising ways.

Wizzer Pizzer deals with the dark night of the soul in one guy’s life but humor opens it up to allow me to skewer different perspectives where I see homophobia in the culture. I can use humor to make it dynamic.”

And how does the play reflect current reality? Amy says, “I’ve always wanted this play to be produced in Seattle, because it’s the ‘Emerald City’ and it’s my home. Producing it with Theatre22, we’re in such a different (historic) space (than when I first wrote it) – we have marriage equality and even President Obama has said we should do away with reparative therapy. But homophobia still exists in a lot of places in this country. On Capitol Hill (Seattle), people are still being attacked for being gay.

“When change starts to happen, the forces against that change become even more virulent and violent. It’s because we’re evolving and entering a new time of equality and acceptance and love. But just because we can now get married, it doesn’t mean that homophobia goes away.”

Amy is very excited working with Theatre22! “They’re a dream to work with and are such a gift to this community. They produce a play every year celebrating Pride. They made a special point of having more plays by women. Half of their season is by women. It’s a fantastic cast, including Eric Mulholland who I’ve been able to work with, and there is a depth to his performance because the character is in his bones. I’ve been wanting to work with Rhonda Soikowski and Alyssa Keene for years.

“They are so passionate, this company. They very much want to realize my vision of what’s on the page. That’s a gift to the playwright. To have talented skilled people bring it to life, so I’m absolutely thrilled with it.”

More information and tickets can be found at PWYC Preview Thursday July 9, 2014, 8:00pm, July 10-August 1 at 12th Avenue Arts. Thursdays are pay what you can.

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