Backyard Fruit : a Q&A with Andy Corren
Next in our Open Mondays Series : Backyard Fruit.
What is Backyard Fruit? Tell us a little about the play.
Backyard Fruit was conceived over ten years ago as an homage to the many dignified women and men and those in between/on the other side, who were forced by the accident of their birth to live lives of social, sexual and geographic compromise. That is: stay quiet or in the closet.
The national debate on same-sex marriage has stormed across our country like an out-of-control wildfire of love. It has been a long time in coming, and is most welcome – unless you live in the former Confederate States of America. Some rural communities welcome these changes. But in most of the rural, Southern communities, where folks make it their business to know everybody else’s, the lives of gay people remain very much oppressed, ridiculed, hidden, or, worse, the target of outright hostility. Custom, culture & religion have for centuries dictated that men stay closeted; that closeted men marry; that Christian families expel their gay children; and that gay women stay in any type relationship with a man, even an abusive one. All of these things can be the sad truth of the daily life of a gay man or woman in my home state. The South is not a terrible place. But some pretty terrible things continue to happen there to gay people, most every day.
But some wonderful things happen, too. The courage and compassion and good humor that it takes to stay in the South, to live on that ground and thrive and fight for a dream of a better day – that makes these particular gay people my heroes. Honestly – I am not nearly as brave as they are. I fled. So I honor those who stayed, by writing Backyard Fruit.
Backyard Fruit is a comedy. Clay, Dibby, Cleopatra, Andy – hell, even old Senator No – they are not caricatures, or cutouts, or cultural cartoons. They are just real, live people that I encountered in my life growing up in North Carolina. This gallery of misfits faced their many indignities and seemingly hopeless outcomes with the quiet conviction of martyrs under fire. But because they are so glued to their families, their biographies and their histories – just like every single Southerner who ever was or will be born – they are particularly hilarious people, and so, so danged funny about their various predicaments. I love thinking of these characters, and where they are now. Clay was on the run to a better life. Dibby was finding that courage to unleash her hidden power. Senator No will definitely die alone in ignorance. But Cleopatra is going to smash the prison of her self-delusions and – what? This is a play about optimism.
Unlike their neighbors, their bosses, their churches and their families, the folks of Backyard Fruit are, at their core, yearning, loving and a tiny bit misunderstood. They really are just looking for love (yes, sometimes in the wrongest of places). They would never return the heaps of unkindnesses that have been shown them. After all, that would simply not be polite.
Who is Backyard Fruit for, and why is the story important?
I wrote this play for all audiences, all ages, all genders and all sexes. The story of the 13 year old Andy – that’s me. And what 13 year old can’t identify with wanting something you can’t have, or feeling something you can’t express? While I never set out to write a gay play, per se, I did write some gay characters, but these people are really just my own experience growing up in a really poor neighborhood, poor family, poor house, with a poor working mom. And, yes, some very friendly brothers who were actually strippers who lived next door. From there, I started to explore other folks I met on my journey out of North Carolina, and, well – I just took notes. So they’re all real people, in one way or another, so there’s no question in my mind: Backyard Fruit is a play for people, about people, who love talking about, and spying on, other people. You are peeking into the corners of some troubled folks’ lives, and while that’s not just a southern virtue, it is extremely nosy and often hilariously fun. People say the dangdest things when they think they are alone. I know I do. So when the curtain goes up, and all the lies are torn away, the secrets told, the closets opened – frankly, you can expect a lot of laughs, because when people have nothing left to lose, or hide, they go for it. They spill it!
What has surprised you most about writing this play?
The biggest surprise is how much joy it brings people. How deep the laughter can be. How lacking in cynicism folks are, when you show them a story that has heart AND balls. I will also say that there is something wonderful about this play, there must be, because I’ve been working on, performing it, re-mounting it, showing it all over the place, for quite a long time. It has had some workshops back east and here, and some wonderful productions in Asheville, North Carolina. It has a life of its own. It can’t be killed. That’s what’s so great about this play. I wrote it a hundred years ago, and it still wants to be heard. That is just awesome.
Tell us something we don’t know about you from your resume/bio.
A lot of folks don’t realize that I am a successful talent manager in Hollywood. It’s odd, I am aware, but I must point out that Anton Chekhov was a doctor until he died at the age of 44. He used to tell folks that ‘medicine is my lawful wife, and literature is my mistress.” Well, in my case, I am legally married to Hollywood, but theatre is my gigolo. Also: I have outlived Anton Chekhov. Take that, MISTER FANCY WRITER-DOCTOR DEADMAN.
Just for fun – where do you see yourself in ten years?
I dearly hope I am a married man to a tireless lover who makes effortless omelettes, renovating our second home in San Diego, and planning on how to spend all of my mother’s buried fortune, which I will have recently located in a dune on Ocracoke Island. She said she buried it out there, god dang it, and I aim to find it. I KNOW IT’S THERE SOMEWHERE.