10 October 2012

Justin Sayre

Justin Sayre is best known as the creator and writer of the hit downtown comedy variety show The Meeting* and it’s annual benefit, Night of A Thousand Judys. He has also performed at Comix, “Our Hit Parade” at Joe’s Pub. Justin has contributed a to the Radical Faerie Digest – one of the oldest gay publications in the country. In 2011, two of his short plays were presented by the “Fame and Shame on the LES” performance series.

An evening of his short plays, Justin Sayre Is Alive and Well… Writing – called one of the “Top 10 Events on the New York Stage” by the New York Daily News – sold out two shows at Ars Nova in April. In June, Justin co-wrote and narrated a new adaptation of Stravinsky’s “The Soldier’s Tale” for the Greenwich Music Festival, which was called “a thought-provoking, atmospheric performance” by Greenwich Times. He will be hosting a reading of his New Play, The Click of the Lock at the Cherry Lane Theater presented by {Your Name Here} Theater Company in New York this coming Tuesday, the 16th of October.

I interview the wonderfully talented Justin Sayre for our second installment of queer icons for October's LGBT History Month. As an acclaimed actor, writer, and director Justin has made his mark in the art world with his intelligence, sharp wit, and of course his dashing good looks. My interview with him not only vividly shows how truly remarkable this man is, but also how blessed I am to know and call him a friend. I mean, come on! Who could ask for anything more?

My dearest Justin, what is the where, when, why, and how of your experience with coming out of the closet?

Believe it or not, my coming out was a long and arduous task. Not for the world of course, everyone I knew, or came in contact with identified me straight away as a faggot, but perhaps that was the problem. I deeply resented that everyone could know something so deeply personal and private about me in an instant. And especially something I was uncomfortable with.  I really sort of trickled out, my friends at 19, teachers, colleagues,  slowly. My mother and father last, who I think if I remember correctly, said, "Finally!" But all that, lead me to understand that coming out, is an activity, an "ing" verb, right there. We do it everyday. Everyday, I assert to the world at large that I am a gay person. That I am proud of it, that I see as a great blessing in my life, and that it is a central fact of my identity.

You are, quite possibly, one of the most charming and intelligent people I've had the pleasure to know.

I doubt that very highly. I imagine that if I am anything, I try to be interesting. I read a book about Diana Vreeland, who I'm mad for, and Diana as a young girl wrote out a list of the great qualities of a popular girl. When she looked over the list, she wrote at the end, "Well then I must be that girl." And that is what she became. I think we invent, it's the great gift of our humanity. So when I was a child, I wanted to be an artist, I wanted to make people laugh, I wanted to create so much in the world and I wanted to be loved. I wanted to be that girl. So I became it. In my way.

As for intelligence, while I enjoy the compliment, I don't have a clear understanding of what that is. I know things, of course, I have facts at my disposal, but is that the marker? My mind works as it does, and because it is the only one I will ever have it is all I will ever know. I am much more fascinated by the minds of others. Have you ever talked to a plumber? Riveting! I think there are so many people, with so many kinds of "intelligence." Don't you just want to find out about them all?

Now that I've gotten that out of my chest... do you remember when we first met at a radical faerie gatherette in Vermont? I've been hard-pressed to describe what that community is all about to both friends and acquaintances, care to help me out with this one?

Yes of course, how could I forget. Dear Elle, once seen you are never forgotten. And once known you are always held with love.

The Radical Faeries, I strangely get asked this question so often and the funny thing is I don't even know if I am one. The Radical Faeries were born out of the Gay movement by Harry Hay and his partner John Burnside in the late 1970's. It was a response to the sort of assimilationist element in gay culture. Also it came out of a need to see each other, gay men, as something beyond a one night stand. At the core of the Radical Faeries is what Hay called Subject to Subject interaction, seeing the other as whole and complete, as the vital element of their own world, and relating to them on equal footing, rather than momentary tumbles.

But I think the truth of the Radical Faeries is in the name. You will forgive me but I have said this before. Being a Radical Faerie is exactly that; Radical in the sense, that your view of the world is based on possibility not restriction. To be Radical, one is willing to throw open the windows of the mind and let in the light, unafraid of what you will find there. That’s freedom, that is the wild Yawp of Whitman. And a Faerie is the unknown. The element of magic, the spark of wonder, the joy of awe; plus maybe a little sequins. A Faerie something mystical, something unnamable that cannot be captured, but is. That's a Radical Faerie to me.

What influences and informs your work and creative process?

My goodness, I have no idea! No, I imagine if I had to say one thing, it's story. I love a story. I love knowing more and understanding more. I always learned that understanding was the first step toward love, so in way, I see story and the telling of stories as a way to connect with people, the way you fall in love with them. I feel like that connection is the most important thing in the world.

But the story pops up for me everywhere. In music, in painting, in dance, it's not just words on the page you know. Leonard Bernstein looked for the story, as did Martha Graham, as did Jack Benny.  And Oh my God, Judy Garland.

At the root of everything I do is story and connection. It's really all I know. But when I am really stuck, I look at my picture of my hero, Eva Le Gallienne, that says "The Theatre can never be a machinery for getting, it is a manner of giving." And I get back to it.
"I deeply resented that everyone could know something so deeply personal and private about me in an instant. And especially something I was uncomfortable with."
The LGBTQI community has come a very long way over the last few decades but nowadays seems and feels divided in the restricting labels we place on ourselves with the bears here, muscle gays there, twinks giggling over in that corner... what do you think that has done for the queer community at large?

Well I think we have drunk the Kool-Aid, in a sense. We have fought for so long to be equal, we have forgotten that equal does not have to be the same as. We, as gay or queer or transgendered people, have been bestowed with a great gift. We are able to see and experience the world in a new and exciting way and to follow our hearts past the rules society has placed on us. Our difference is our greatest strength. Our variety is our greatest asset. But we all want to be the same? Why? Because Gay people whether we all want to admit it or not, have wanted to fit in all their lives. They want to be just like you, you being the normal, the boring. Any difference is vilified in some way. Twinks are vapid. Muscle queens are all big mean sissies. Bears are all fat oafs.

We practice the rules of the larger society inside our small group.  I say this, of course, belonging to none of these groups. And happily so. I don't know what I would be? I was called a bear once with my beard, and I simply replied, "No, Darling, I'm a mink."  I do identify as a blouse though, that's a feminine top.

But I see this divisiveness all the time, in slight ways as well. Men asking each other online if they are "Masc." What the hell does that even mean?! "Bottom" being used as a derisive term. Racism, out and out, terrible racism abounds. It's all sort of gross.

It is all ways of putting people in boxes so that we don't have to honor their humanity, so that we don't have to deal with them as equals. But we forget that that works both ways. What we do to each other the world at large is doing to us. Perhaps if we lead by example, saw each other as equal, as vital, as interesting, as whole, we would not search for a label or a derogatory nickname, we could call each other, and know each other simply by what we call ourselves. We could change things.

Shall we start now? Hello my name is Justin Sayre. Sometimes people call me Elizabeth Taylor.  Does that answer your question?

It most certainly did! You can catch the next edition of Justin's show The Meeting* on October 18th at 9:30OM at The Duplex. The October edition celebrates Funny Girl!

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