Firebrand Theatre Company
Connect with co-founder Harmony France on
Connect with co-founder Danni Smith on
Written by Kelly Wallace
April 25, 2016
As soon as the press release came out announcing the launch of Firebrand Theatre Company, the first equity, feminist musical theater company, we knew we had to sit down with its founders, Harmony France and Danni Smith. So, we spent an afternoon tucked into the corner of Hoosier Mama Pie Company in Evanston to talk about feminism and musical theater. A few days later, I attended the opening night of Hazel at Drury Lane in Oakbrook, and I mentioned that I’d met with them to a friend. She asked, “Was it at Hoosier Mama?” Our feminist pie summit had been overheard, and she was just as excited as I was. As it turns out, Firebrand’s launch was unintentionally well-timed, at a moment when the Chicago theater community is beginning to have some real conversations about the importance of representation and diversity. Firebrand and its founders are about to start a whole lot more.
Kelly Wallace: The timing of all this is perfect. It seems like you’ve jumped into a moment where this conversation is happening in a lot of different places.
Harmony France: It’s very odd. Because we didn’t plan it. There’s a couple of weird things that happened, and it’s why we think we’re on the right path. My post about body image and inclusive casting that went viral; we’d already been planning the company when that happened. Then we had to push our press launch day by a day because Steppenwolf was announcing, so we pushed it a day, not knowing that day was International Women’s Day. Not intentional.
Danni Smith: It’s all very serendipitous.
HF: Well, it is intentional in the sense that this is the conversation we wanted to have. What isn’t intentional is the “jumping on a bandwagon” – this is already the direction we’d been heading in for for a long time, actually knowing we’re starting a theater company for the last six months. But everything is happening very fast and it’s confusing a lot of old, white men. Our community is demanding change at a very rapid pace and I think a lot of people are really taken aback by it. I think it’s the quote, “Once we know better, we do better”. That’s what everyone needs to do. Take away the blame, take away the shame.
DS: And the defensiveness.
HF: And the offensiveness. All of it. And just…”oh, okay, now I know better, so now I’ll do better.”
KW: Why Firebrand? What inspired the name?
HF: We were stream of consciousness trying to think of something. We thought of Greek goddesses; I wanted something very ancient. This has been around for a long time. We thought Athena, but that’s a little on the nose. Then I thought of Cassandra of Troy, who was the prophetess who no one believed, and one of my favorite books from when I was younger was Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Firebrand, where Cassandra is the firebrand. We liked it, and then looked up the meaning and it was like, “to incite change or cause radical action”.
DS: We were like…yup! There it is. That’s perfect.
KW: You just launched. Firebrand is here. How are you guys doing? What’s the response been like so far?
HF: It’s been overwhelmingly positive. Yeah. We’ve got support…nationally, not just in Chicago. Just people reaching out. LA, New York…
KW: This doesn’t exist anywhere else.
HF: It doesn’t exist anywhere. We’re the first one!
DS: The more we work on it and realize that, because we are so laser-focused with our mission, I think some people would get scared and say that’s very limiting. And for us, we acknowledge that we’ve not made it easy on ourselves. But that’s the excitement; it’s going to keep us really focused on what kind of work we’re producing.
KW: What kind of work do you want to produce?
HF: We definitely want to do full-blown musicals. It’s less about the type of musical and more about representation of women onstage, passing the Bechdel test, passing what we’ve started as the “Firebrand Test.”
The Firebrand Test:
— In this work, there are at least as many women as men in the cast,
— It lends itself to inclusive, diverse casting,
— It empowers women.
HF: We’ve both been a part of theater companies before. There’s something different with this one. People are donating their time to us in ways that I’ve never seen before. We don’t even have to ask. People are just approaching us. So I think we’ve really captured something.
DS: We’d make a list of like, ten people we could potentially ask to do something assuming that the first eight are going to say no. And then we’ll be…
HF: We’re actually – we’re not in trouble, but our next benefit, it’s our “Sung By Her” series, so basically we pick an artist and find some kickass women to do a tribute to that artist. So, the first one we’re doing is Pink. So we’ve reached out to more than what we would normally put in the show, thinking not everyone would do it, and then every person has said yes. So…
DS: You’ll get to hear more of Pink!
KW:You’re calling yourselves the first equity, feminist musical theater company. Why is it important to be Equity; what’s the importance in differentiating that it’s a union theater company?
HF: There are a couple things. One is because the shows we can produce are going to be so limited, by us, by our standards. If we need an Equity actor to play like, a random older character, we don’t want that to be a barrier too. We want to be able to have access to all actors. Plus, we don’t want to be unable to use someone because they’re union. The goal, eventually, is to pay everyone a living wage. That’s important to us too.
DS: We want to be a part of that, and I mean commercial in the sense of like, people that come to the theater and subscribe and are theater-goers, we want them to see this as a valid part of the conversation in musical theater. There’s something about people who don’t know the inner workings of Equity and non-equity and all that, there’s something about having that stamp to appeal to a more commercial base. It’s just – ultimately, it’s access.
HF: We want to be on the same level as any theater in the city. We want to be competitive with any theater in the city. We don’t really see ourselves as a storefront. I mean, we definitely still want it to be Chicago and have that feel and be in glorious intimate spaces, but also to have the professionalism, and the quality. That’s the goal.
KW: You both come from an acting background. Have you ever turned a role down because you were either offended by or couldn’t stomach the content?
DS: It’s an interesting conversation because…I certainly feel like it’s in the light now because of social media and the access we have to raising our voices. I am appreciative of being asked to think before I accept. It would’ve never occurred to me that I couldn’t accept that role or that I shouldn’t go in for that. So I don’t know that there’s anything I’ve turned down at this point, but I certainly have an awareness now.
HF: Yeah, I want to say that I’ve walked out of unprofessional situations. I think it’s kind of another reason why we started this company; it’s years and years and years of frustrated conversations on my couch. How we were being treated or having to dance around a male director’s ego or a leading actor’s ego.
DS: Or being tired of seeing each other every Saturday morning at whatever callback it was for the same one part that was available to us in that show.
HF: To the point that for years we were almost convinced we were the same actor. Which we are not, at all. But we were constantly up for the same roles. And it’s because there is not a variety. We are so different but we are enough alike that we fit into this one type, and it’s just because when you’re a man, in musical theater, you can play anything. When you’re a woman, you’re the virgin, the whore, the mother, or the hag. Those are the options.
KW: Now we’re seeing things like Lauren Villegas’ “Am I Right?” and my wonder becomes, at what point is it an actor’s responsibility to say no? It is hard to make a living as an actor; at what point do you have to say no to a job?
DS: I think there are instances in which it is very clear. It is, for lack of a better term, black and white. What I appreciate about Lauren’s website is that it’s a series of questions. And ultimately she says, at the end of that, if after asking yourself all of these things you feel like you can move forward, then do that. But just make sure you’ve asked the questions. I think that is a responsibility of actors to do that.
KW: Why Chicago? What brought you here? Why are you still here?
DS: I’m from Indiana. And I did a New York showcase and I visited L.A., and those were always like, the three options that we were given. You can go to New York, L.A., or Chicago. And I had a professor who was actually with Red Orchid Theatre, but she teaches in Muncie, where I went to school. And she told us, she encouraged everybody to go to Chicago right out of school. Because she said, Chicago is like street grad school, which I always loved. She was like, if you go to Chicago and you show up at auditions, you will work. You know? It may not always be at the Goodman or wherever, but you’re going to work. And if you go to work and you are respectful and you show up on time and you do your job and you’re professional, you’ll probably get the opportunity to work again. I think for me, I just see her people working. They are here to work on their craft. So much risk is taken here, particularly in the storefronts. There’s a glorious, rich storefront scene here. I love that any day of the week you can find something to see and celebrate. Monday’s not necessarily a dark day for everybody here.
HF: The quality of work, the risk. I actually grew up in New York. Basically, after being in the Navy for six years, I got out, and the whole time I knew I wanted to get out and be an actor. I auditioned for two schools, Julliard and Columbia College. There was just something about Chicago; there was something about Columbia. You can take a math class, but it’s art-based. Columbia is the craziest liberal arts school ever, and it really appealed to my brain, that had been in this very regimented thing for six years. And the thing about Chicago that has really come home to me after doing a Broadway national tour is what Danni said. It is about the art here. There are actually people here, we all have to make a living. We all have to pay the rent. But we want to be artists first. The show I did was so commercial, and I got to travel the world with it. It was an incredible experience, but all I wanted to do was come home and make art. That’s all I wanted to do. When you’re an actor, particularly musical theater, the ultimate goal for most everyone is Broadway. And I think doing that tour, I was like…oh, maybe that’s not my ultimate goal. Maybe my ultimate goal is that I want to help fix some of these inequities. I truly believe the longer we go on this path that this is my calling. This. Not to star on Broadway. But I want to make a difference. The kind of theater that makes me feel good. I’ve never been a hoofer. I’m not a dancer. I don’t dance in ensembles. Dessa Rose, which I did with Bailiwick in Chicago a few years back, was about slavery, or I did a play at Profiles Theatre, which was about 9/11. When it’s about something, an activist part of me gets lit up. I need that aspect in my art. I need to feel like I’m making the world better, and not just because they’re distracted for an hour. I want them to actually leave the theater thinking about something. There’s just no better place for that then Chicago. I’ve been all over the world and I just wanted to come home.
DS: I would say the word that I feel like always comes up among Chicago artists is “community.” I always hear people saying the theater community.
HF: We actually care about each other. We care about each other’s careers. Like, in a different world, we could have not been friends because we were constantly in competition with each other. Chicago lends itself to wanting everyone to win. If she wins, I win. There’s just that feeling of camaraderie that I haven’t felt anywhere else…if I am losing a role, I want Danni to be really, really good! It’s just what Amy Poehler says.
DS: Bitches get stuff done?
HF: Well, bitches get stuff done, yes. But “good for her, not for me”. In that…that wasn’t for me. And every time I have lost something that I wanted so desperately, as far as a role or something, something else has happened that has enriched me more than that initial experience ever could.
KW: You said you worked on Dessa Rose and had a lot of conversations about race. When you come into starting Firebrand, you are in a position of power. Your Firebrand Test for submissions specifically lists diverse casting as a priority for you. What does “diverse” casting mean to you? What do you hope this is going to accomplish?
HF: Quite honestly, we want to have as many different types of people and women as possible. It just enriches the conversation. I’ve been casting for awhile. When I was with Bailiwick Chicago, we always used inclusive casting. The first show I helped cast at Bailiwick was Aida, and we cast it with an almost all-black cast. And that’s not how Aida is normally done. And Lili-Anne Brown [the director] was like, well, they’re in Africa. And I hadn’t ever thought of that. And I was like…well, yeah! They’re in Africa. It makes so much sense if you really think about it. I don’t see it as, “oh, we have to make sure we have this many of this type of person,” I see it as a privilege to represent as many points of view as we possibly can. It’s so important to us. We are just looking for an open, inclusive community, and that’s how we’re going to pick our shows. We’re going to pick shows that lend themselves to diversity.
DS: It’s all about action. It’s like…just do it. Just DO it. We’re committed to going beyond that paragraph blurb, just speaking of our casting right now, you know the blurb. Where it says, “all ethnicities are encouraged to attend”, it’s like…we’re gonna go beyond that. That’s a token stamp. We’re putting it into action. I don’t know how else more to say it. We’re just gonna do the damn thing. It’s also important to us because we’re very aware that we are two white women starting a feminist musical theater company that is committed to inclusive, diverse casting. We didn’t want to be “whitesplaining”.
HF: It’s a very complicated and nuanced conversation and feminism has a history of not being the most inclusive for other races. We’re very aware of that too.
KW: What made you hit that point of “enough is enough”?
DS: It truly has been a conversation we’ve been having for years, that other women have been having too. For me, the turning point was for the past six months I’ve been going through this process…I was close to having the amount of points to take my Equity card but somewhere in my mind, it was still in the distant future. Then I was offered a contract at The Paramount for A Christmas Story and they were like, we need to offer you an Equity contract because of the amount of non-equity we have to use. All of a sudden, it was like, we’re gonna do this. And it made me sit back and reflect on the past ten years of my life in this city as a non-equity actor and the incredible experiences that I’ve been able to have. It’s not that that isn’t available in Equity but the opportunities and the kind of work that’s produced at houses that have to maintain a subscription base and a lot of money…some of those glorious shows for actors where you get to dig in and work on something…they’re usually non-equity storefronts. That’s where those risks are taken. I was having this pain in my heart of…I feel like it’s time to go Equity and give that a try and give myself a chance to be paid a living wage to do what I do. But where can I find my heart again too? And it was in helping others. It was in taking action and this theater company happened because we were like, we need to act. We need to do something about it.
HF: It came from conversations not just about theater. It came from conversations about the war on women, about inequities in the political situation right now. And both of us have come to points in our careers where we’ve been like…this is such a vain thing, what are we doing? Shouldn’t we be helping the world? How can we do that? And what we came to is…well, this is what we do, this is how we help the world. We’re not politicians or heart surgeons or any of these things. I make art. But what if we make art with a socially-conscious mission? Then we can change the world, in our way.
KW: One of the things that you said is important is feeling like you’re creating a safe space. How do you do that and create an environment where people can express themselves without worrying about being judged for it?
DS: I think it’s all about communication. I had an incredibly positive experience with a show called The Wild Party (LaChiusa) and the very first get-together that we had, our director Brenda sat there with us and said, “I care about all of you as people first. You are a person to me before you’re an actor. And so I want to acknowledge that if there’s ever a point in this rehearsal process where you don’t feel safe or you feel like I can’t quite go there today, because today is not a good day, just know we can have that conversation.” And so just for her to have that conversation with us and establish that right away, it empowered everybody to jump off the cliff together. Everybody dove in and I swear it was because of that initial meeting of, let’s take a few minutes and acknowledge that we’re all human beings.
HF: I think for actors to feel comfortable and not “diva out”, ’cause I’ve done it and I’ve felt a certain way…is they need to feel respected and safe. Those are the two things. And there are so many situations where actors are just treated like scenery, y’know, where as Danni said…they’re not treated as people, as humans, as employees, as people with rights. So I had a similar experience with Dessa Rose where it’s about slavery, so that first day, we talked about race. We talked about it for like five hours. It was instructive and made us all feel safe with each other, that our opinions weren’t taboo, and we could speak honestly about things. I think you can have, even if it’s just a half-hour “come to Jesus” with the cast, it’s important to feel like you’re respected, to not feel scared. I always – as an actor, I was terrified I am going to be fired every day until we open the show. Every day, when I was in nun bootcamp for the Sister Act tour, I thought I was getting fired every day. And part of that insecurity is just…actors are insecure beings, in general, but part of that insecurity is being treated like, “Oh, you’re so lucky to be here. There’s so many people who would like to have your spot.” And that’s probably true, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have worth. Even if there are ten people that could fill my spot, I still have worth, you still chose me. So treat me with the respect that I deserve as a professional.
DS: There are a lot of little things that add up too, like something as simple as…if you don’t think you’re going to realistically use that actor until an hour into the rehearsal…don’t call them until an hour into the rehearsal. If you’re not paying that actor a living wage to be there, try to at least respect their time. Use them as much as you can. If we need to have a conversation that’s about the company or something logistically that’s not working, rather than having that in front of the actors, say “take a five” and have a pow-wow. Little things that you’d be surprised not every company feels that way.
HF: I mean, I have a military background. So rule number one is that you praise in public and you admonish in private. Like, that’s rule number one. And I can’t tell you how many theater companies I’ve been to where they’ll pick on someone or call someone out in front of the whole cast. That kind of stuff isn’t needed. And specifically because we’re actors, I think it gives us a great insight into how actors want to be treated. We just want to take care of our employees, and not just our actors, all of our employees. We just want to make them feel as safe and respected as possible. It makes for better work. When people feel good, they give you their best.
KW: Who are some of your influences? Who do you look at and see inspiration in?
DS: I feel like I see it more in my people here, in our community; I see it in my friend, Harmony. I look at Jeanine Tesori or a Michael John LaChiusa, who writes gorgeously for women.
HF: Lin-Manuel Miranda.
KW: And even something like Hamilton sounds like a huge risk on paper. Who do you have in your head with a stronger image of whiteness than the founding fathers?
DS: We’ve all seen the paintings, the portraits.
HF: The marble busts.
KW: And then you say, okay, let’s cast a multicultural rap musical about them. The idea just sounds outlandish to people, and then you see it. The opening number wasn’t even over and you’re not even thinking about the fact that these people aren’t the same race as the people they’re portraying.
HF: It’s a suspension of disbelief. It’s part of theater.
KW: I mean, you can buy a singing crab in The Little Mermaid but you can’t buy that Thomas Jefferson is played by a black man?
DS: That’s such a good point.
HF: It’s a wonderful point. And the thing is that I keep stressing this to people that we’re pitching things to…as a businesswoman, it doesn’t make sense to not be inclusive. It doesn’t make sense. This is an audience that has probably stopped paying attention to you because you are not representing them onstage. As we spoke about in the 2014/2015 season, 68% of the audience on Broadway were women. It makes good business sense to tailor to women. So it’s just a little backwards to me. I think in every way. All it’s gonna do when we make theater more inclusive, is include more people. More people are going to see themselves onstage. It’s the future of theater.
DS: If we want theater to be for everybody, it needs to be by everybody.
KW: Now, on Facebook, you wrote a post that went viral about commenting on women’s appearances. In theater, and especially in casting, how do you not comment on women’s appearances? That’s a world where the shorthand can be…
HF: It can be gross. On the other end too, I cast a show once where we were auditioning guys and they were being objectified. It’s tricky because you almost need to go back to the text. Every time. Does the text specifically say that we need a 5’8″ blonde with a 36/28/36? Maybe it does.
DS: Does it say specifically caucasian? Does it specifically black?
HF: Does it say specifically one gender, even? So that’s kind of how we’re gonna increase our canon. We’re going to really look at texts and looking at what can we get away with, quite honestly. It’s almost a challenge to ourselves of…how diversified can we get?
DS: How can we break the preconceived norm of what that show is “supposed” to be? And just go back and commit to breaking down that barrier and seeing it with fresh eyes.
HF: We have to be so creative with musical theater because it’s just not there. Even the shows that are…it’s so funny that I say that Broadway is revolutionary right now because that’s so not normally the case but it is. With Hamilton and Fun Home and even Waitress, there’s some really inclusive stuff.
HF: But we’re not going to get those titles for a very, very long time. So in the meantime, we have to think outside the box of how we can bring change and how we can make this better within what we have to work with.
DS: While we continue to foster new work…
HF: While we foster new work. We don’t want to be behind! Why should we be behind New York? We’re Chicago. Are you kidding me? This is the hub! This is where you go for exciting, brave theater.
KW: And even when you put on this great work, you’re still in the position of having so many men in power who get to comment on what you’re doing…Waitress had that article in the New York Post that Michael Riedel wrote about Diane Paulus and her “merry band of feminists”…
HF: Oh yeah! The piece I’m writing is a response to that.
DS: It was infuriating on multiple levels too. Like, why can’t women have that conversation? Why can’t we dive deeper into this stuff with musical theater? Why is it only in plays that we can address tough topics?
KW: And women buy most of the tickets…
HF: 68% of them! The article is ridiculous anyway. He used The Color Purple as an example of what we should be striving for, rather than the domestic abuse in Waitress. Have you seen either show? The Color Purple is definitely about domestic abuse. Like, quite definitely. I didn’t even understand what that article was about. It infuriated me. It was so confusing. That last line about, “leave domestic violence to Tennessee Williams and David Mamet”…I mean, my blood was boiling.
DS: I just want to ask him…why?
HF: Why can’t a woman tell her point of view in a situation like that? Why is that not as important? Just…all the questions.
KW: And can’t a show be both things? Can’t it be a hopeful show and be about domestic violence?
HF: It is! You saw it, I saw it. I think it’s very uplifting at the end.
DS: And aren’t most shows about reflecting on human nature? At the core of them, it’s about reflecting on how we get through everything we get through in this world, what brings out the best in us, what brings out the worst in us. So it’s an examination of that and I don’t think that you can only have one or the other. Life isn’t that way.
HF: I also don’t think musical theater should be exempt from that conversation. Why can’t musical theater be effective, life-changing theater? It is!
KW: To reference Tennessee Williams and David Mamet completely erases musical theater from the conversation.
HF: Yes! It deletes the art form, entirely. Like musical theater isn’t worth that kind of heavy material. Some of my most profound experiences have been in musical theater. There is something about music that can touch emotions in us that nothing else can.
KW: And this isn’t to pile on to Michael Riedel. He’s hardly the only culprit.
HF: It’s just society.
DS: I think that’s another goal of our company too. In this world, I think it’s harder for women, that we’re pitted against each other. It’s easier to tear each other down, it’s easier to leave a snarky comment and not be held accountable. Something you would probably never say in person to somebody’s face. In this world of crazy, we can create a place where we lift each other up and we create opportunities for each other. There are always going to be people out there trying to tear it down. So, it’s incredibly important to us to try and make something good.
KW: One of the things that’s important to us is the idea that there’s not one way to be a feminist.
HF: We talked about that, we didn’t know if wanted to use the word feminist or not because it’s so loaded. It has all of this baggage attached to it. And finally we were like, what else is there, we don’t have another word for this yet. Hopefully one day we don’t need this word, but when we talk about feminism, all we’re talking about is equality. That’s it. At our launch party, we did a gender bender concert, and so many conversations were started from that. We picked a show that’s typical all-male with one female character and we turned it. It was all women and one male character. People came up to me and were like, I didn’t even notice that it was weird that this is all guys until you flipped it, ’cause it looked strange. People aren’t used to seeing it.
DS: Or hearing the words in a new way, of something they were maybe very familiar with and there’s the potential to unlock that by simply casting a woman.
HF: It was just very interesting, all of it. And on the other end of it, we cast a man to play a role that is very vulnerable and has moments of weakness, and when do you see a man do that in musical theater? So, it was really interesting. How did the story change, how did it stay the same? But people didn’t come up to us just to say, “Oh, that was awesome!” They wanted to talk to us about that stuff. I think that’s our ultimate goal. To get this conversation going.
DS: A lot of people play devil’s advocate with us about feminism and running a feminist theater company and we just want to say, stop playing devil’s advocate and just play advocate.
KW: There’s this idea that a show about women, by women, is a “women’s musical” as opposed to a show about men by men is universal, it’s for everyone.
HF: There’s also this expectation that if it’s a woman’s story, it’s everyone wearing pink or eating cupcakes or something. It’s this certain thing; it’s a chick flick.
DS: “I had to go see some rom-com with my wife; it’s my duty.”
HF: Exactly. And it’s not necessarily the case, you know? And so…we just wanna be human. We just want to be equal. It’s just exhausting. Every day, reading some nonsense like the New York Post article or what’s happening in the political campaigns…
KW: I don’t know any woman who didn’t watch even the Democratic debate and say…wow, I’ve been that person who’s had a finger pointed in their face, maybe that’s not how you engage with someone. No matter who you’re supporting, you see the double standard.
DS: They even did it on Scandal a little bit.
HF: I haven’t seen the last couple!
DS: Well, Mellie’s running and they’re practicing debates and it’s all of that.
HF: I love that. Obviously as a theater company, we can’t endorse anyone or anything like that. But what I will say is that all of that trickles down. If we’re gonna treat a woman as accomplished and respected as Hillary Clinton this way…then you’ll treat any woman this way. We all have these silent rules. We see it played out on a national stage in this situation, and we’re not under scrutiny, but even now, when we have to do business dealings with a man, I find myself having to correct my corrective behavior, if that makes sense. You think, “I could charm my way out of that if I want to”. You think of all those things. We’ve figured out how to get what we want, as women, without actually saying what we want.
DS: You have to tell yourself that it’s okay just to ask the damn question.
KW: Things like the word “just”, that you don’t even think about. You diminish the things you’re asking.
HF: Or, “does that make sense?” I do that a lot.
KW: “We don’t have to do this, but…”
HF: It’s all those ways that we’ve learned to try to get what we want, without just saying what we want.
DS: And it’s not just with men, it’s with other women too.
KW: Even women are raised in the same society that men are raised in. We grow up being told to compete with other women. That’s hard, even for women, to escape.
DS: We both acknowledge the whole “seeing is believing” aspect of things. When we’ve talked about Star Wars, seeing a woman and a black man as our leading characters, in Star Wars…
HF: But then you can’t find her doll!
DS: I remember reading some blog post, it was a Dad talking about his daughter, saying here’s why Rey is not a great example for my daughter. It was the whole anti-argument of…well, my daughter doesn’t need Rey to tell her she can be anything she wants to be. It’s like, actually sir, we do need to see that. For some of us, we need to see it to see that it’s even possible.
HF: When I was a little girl, when I would play Star Wars, I was a jedi. I mean, duh. Obviously. So, I’ve always known I’m called to be a jedi. But when you’re kids, there aren’t those rules, you learn them.
KW: People reacted the same way when J.J. Abrams talked about putting gay characters in Star Wars. And the reaction was that they were just trying to check the boxes…not really.
HF: No! And I think we need to stop that way of thinking. That like, oh, we need the tokens. I don’t think of it that way. I think of it like…it’s really important that we represent everyone.
KW: How is it more outlandish to be gay than to be an alien?
DS: It’s the singing crab and the founding father!
HF: It’s so absurd to me. It’s 2016. I look around at some of the stuff that’s going on, and it’s what feeds, and support feeds us to stay motivated because this is hard but I think the other thing that feeds me is looking around and being like, “No. This is 2016. Absolutely not.” It’s all crazy. We say every day that we have a lot of work to do. We’ll be talking about some of this and just stop and be like…we have a lot of work to do.
DS: We can do this, though.
HF: As clichÃ© as it sounds, we’re just trying to make a difference.
DS: Be the change.
HF: I’m tired of bitching about it on my couch. I want to fix it…we’re trying to do things that…I mean, take all the activism away. We’re also artists that want to make really good art.
DS: We want to make really, really good theater.
KW: You have to balance the entertainment without losing the socially-conscious aspect of it. People want to go to a show and not feel like they’re being lectured.
HF: It’s a delicate balance, we talk about it all the time, how to get both things across? I don’t care if you came in the door because you believe in the cause or if you came in the door because you heard that show was awesome. I want both groups of those people to come in the door and see the theater. And maybe the people who heard the show was awesome are gonna leave with a little bit of that conversation started about activism and feminism. And maybe the people who came for the activism are going to see this great show.