Chat w/ Dan Fishback

The down and dirty:

Go see Dan Fishback’s new play:

You Will Experience Silence

at Dixon Place

April 17 & 18 at 10pm; April 21 & 22 at 8pm

So I caught opening night last weekend – my first event at the new Dixon Place -which looks beautiful. Earl Dax, curator of the HOT! festival introduced the show by hawking his PussyFaggot tote-bags, designed by East Village Boys.

The show was funny, quick-witted, and well performed by the playwright, Dan Fishback. I was a little hesitant going in, expecting an over the top identity-politics narrative – addressing gay issues i’ve heard over and over, and Jewish issues that I can’t find an entry point to. Dan dives right into those identity-driven issues, but negotiates the contemporary through a historical lens, offering new insight, while re-telling a beautiful story.

Dan and I e-chatted about the project and his work.

JH: You have quite a few different artistic practices. By choosing a theatrical production for this project, there’s a big focus on language and story telling. What brought you to choose this form of playwriting/acting? Can you speak to the tools and limitations you see here over other forms you work in (music, dance, etc)?

DF: I mostly work in theater and songwriting, but I approach the two forms in totally different ways. Songwriting lends itself to small, intimate moments, whereas theater (or at least the theater I like) lends itself to big, global ideas. So when I write a song, I’m usually taking a tiny, personal emotion, and making it bigger – unraveling it to be as expansive and detailed as possible. When I write a play, I’m usually taking a really big idea, and making it smaller – connecting it to the tiniest human moment possible. “You Will Experience Silence” is almost entirely about that interchange between the global and the personal, so the medium was never in question. I think I could only ever explore these ideas properly in a theatrical format. They’re too big for a song.

JH: This piece is dealing with contemporary queer issues, woven thru a deep historical and cultural perspective. I see an interesting contrast between the exhaustive history of the Jewish culture, and the spotty history-transfer across queer generations (i.e. intense age-ism, a population not linked thru familial ties, etc). What has been your process in negotiating these two identity-driven histories?

DF: You’re so right about “spotty history-transfer across queer generations!” Queer history and Jewish history aren’t very similar at all, but I do think Jewish history has a lot in common with queer PERSONAL narrative. After the Jews were exiled from their homeland, they could only maintain a sense of identity through a narrative of trauma and redemption. They had to tell themselves stories about themselves, in order to continue feeling like a cohesive group. Many queer people grow up experiencing a similar sense of disembodied narrative – a sense that life is defined by desires and fantasies, instead of physical experience or physical intimacy. In a way, young queer people are in a sort of physical diaspora — disconnected from the real world and forced to create imaginative private worlds where they can thrive and be safe. I think it’s this sense of diaspora – of a struggle to return to physical reality – that makes Jewish and queer identity feel similar to me.

JH: I’m obsessed about queerness and the recession. Any musings you’d like to share?

DF: As soon as Queer Eye for the Straight Guy debuted several years ago, I became petrified that queerness in America would become associated with wealth and materialism, and that, if a recession hit, we would be scapegoated just like Jews in Germany. Now that the recession is here, and mainstream gay culture is still defined by consumerism, with working-class queer people just as invisible as ever, I am kind of mortified. I think the best thing queer America can do for itself is remind the world that WE ARE JUST AS POOR AS EVERYONE ELSE!

JH: Your character often calls the White House – the hold message lends the title of the play. Do you do the same in real life?

DF: I’ve called the White House many times, and, at some point in the message-leaving process, the voice does say “You will experience silence while you are waiting.” I have not, however, called since Obama was sworn in. I almost don’t want to know if they’ve changed the message!

JH: What’s next for you?

DF: In June, I’ll be going to the MacDowell Artists Colony to start working on my next theater project, “The Material World.” It’s going to be, vaguely, about Madonna and Britney Spears studying Kabbalah together. It may or may not also involve me and Max Steele as slutty 18th century Eastern European Jewish peasant girls. When I get back to New York, I’m hoping to return to a solo album I’m recording with my good friend Casey Holford, of the band Urban Barnyard. We started recording in freaking 2005, and I think it’s time we finally finish the thing.

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