Seraphim Past Interviews

John Fisher lays it down

In 1997, Seraphim Director Demetrius Martin interviewed John Fisher, a local playwright, actor, and director. Mr. Fisher, through the graduate program at UC Berkely, had made the most of his time and resources allotted through Cal.


FEARLESSLY CAMP: A profile of John Fisher

Through his writing, directing, acting, and producing, John Fisher has reminded us how much fun it can be to go to the theater. In his musical version of Medea, Mr. Fisher creates campy musical numbers with half-naked college boys, gutsy and intelligent college girls, a touch of drag, hilarious satire and more revealing plot lines than Euripides ever intended. In his critically acclaimed Combat! An American Melodrama, Fisher traces the roots of the infamous sexuality question given to recruits in the armed forces. Incorporating much of the information found in the book Coming Out Under Fire: A History of Gay Men and Women in World War II, Combat! spins a web around historical and fictional characters that tugs at the most stoic of hearts.

Within five years, Fisher has written and directed six plays and reworked five others. Medea The Musical is enjoying an ongoing run at San Francisco 's Stage Door Theatre. His other plays include, as one critic says, the "fearlessly titled" A History of Homosexuality in Six Scenes and The Joy of Gay Sex. Almost all have resulted in accolades: University of California Regents' and the Wheeler Fellowships; The Pearl Hickman Grant; Bay Area Theater Critic's Circle, Outstanding Achievement Award for Best Original Script (The Joy of Gay Sex); the Will Glickman Award for Best New Play 1996 (Medea, the Musical ); and the Mark Goodson Prize (1992, 1994, 1995).

Fisher, who lives with his partner of eight years in the Haight - Ashbury District of San Francisco, recently made a formal agreement with manager/producer Charles Joffe, formerly of Rollins and Joffe (the group whose clients included Woody Allen and David Letterman). Their plans for the future include a Los Angeles run for Medea, The Musical, and possibly a film version of The Joy of Gay Sex.

Q: Where did you get the idea for Sgt. Tower (Combat! An American Melodrama)? Was it full metal jacket like some reviews claimed?

JF: i guess. It was more like Sands of Iwo Jima? John Wayne? I mean the abusivness was a little more Full Metal Jacket or, what was the other one? An Officer and a Gentleman. The whole thing is rather absurd : somebody who takes their squad through basic training , then goes over seas with them? It dosen't work that way, right? But that's the way John Wayne does it in Sands of Iwo Jima. And he's a real creep in that, and he great!

Q: The speech of "why does sgt. tower have one testicle" ...

JF: Oh the testicle speech.

Q: did you just sit down one day and decide I'm gonna write about a testicle?

JF: Yea, I was just trying to think of something obtuse and wierd. I was trying to freak out a bunch of people, make them sort of wonder about you. I thought also this guy must be incredibly repressed, right, he's a gay marine. So this is his opportunity to talk about, esentially, being a fag without ever actually saying "I'm a fag" to his recruits. So this is his form of self expression in a world that won't sanction it.

Q: It just comes out of the blue, and surprises alot of people. You expect the drill sargent, because we've seen enough films, to be- out there. But this was completely different, something new. It makes sense now that you say he a gay marine and he has to be closeted to a certain degree.

JF: oh yeah. He's always talking about his body and about their bodies. And he makes them go through basic training in their underwear. Even when forced to issue them uniforms, he only gives them the pants so they're still in their bare chests. It took the whole first act just get them into a uniform. He's into this whole homo-erotic charge of combat and basic training.

Q: Some believe that the armed forces are the perfect place for a gay man. I've heard it said that San Francisco 's gay population comes from being a port-city where, after WWII, the navy just dumped the sailors off after their tour of duty.

JF: San Francisco was born in the forties as a gay mecca , really. That's what's so interesting about Stonewall dominating gay history, as if San Francisco didn't exist. There's this whole east coast bias about how the gay movement was created in 1969 --which just such nonsense-- with Stonewall . It's complete regionalism. It really New York writers and journalists dominating gay history, and its really not the case at all. There was a huge gay movement here fighting its own battles at exactly the same time, even before.

Q: The loudest voice. Its the same thing now, really, because they dominate the market in many ways.

JF: Oh yeah. I guess with Randy Shilts you begin to have the biggest gay writer of non-fiction and he's a San Franciscan. That's really turned everything around. Alot of these historians now are San Francisco based.

Q: Do you think they're finally sitting down and doing the writting they haven't been, or just getting the recognition. . .

JF: I don't know what happened. I don't quite know what it is.

Q: I mean, you're right. There seems to be a large group of people based in this area that are all of a sudden getting this recognition. And it isn't recent writting.

JF: No

Q: Alot of it is related to the Aids Virus.

JF: I don't know. I think that the Aids virus certainly lent a new seriousness to all of gay history. Alot of the writers are New Yorkers who just moved out here. Alot of writers just got sick of New York as a place to live. I think San Francisco's gay community is alot more hospitable. Socially, San Francisco is alot nicer of a place to live than New York . New York is a really screwy town socially. There is still alot of closeted behavior in New York for people who want to penetrate the uptown set. It's amazing the number of fags that work in the ballet and the opera who are totally closeted. These are incredible role models and you never hear anything about their sexuality for years.

Q: It seems silly because people expect it from those professions. . .

JF: Yes, exactly.

Q: Why are you hiding, you're not fooling anybody. . .

JF: Yeah, there's this whole myth that comming out would ruin their careers.

Q: You bring this up in Medea, the musical where Paul mentions doing a production of Hamlet with a closeted gay director.

JF: I spent alot of time working with directors who where gay who never did anything that had to do with gay anything. They were actually kind of adverse to it. They though it was sort of tacky. You know, to do Shakespeare and have gay interpretations, "oh no no no. that's tacky"

Q: Camp.

JF: Campy, right. What's wrong with that? Its camp, so who cares? "oh, that's distasteful." Its ridiculous, you're gay. I don't know. Not that every director has to turn his sexuality into a political statement on stage, but its ironic to me the number of people involved in entertainment and just the posity of treatments of gay lifestyles. Even Craig Lucas --although his record is quite abit better than most-- but, Its very strange to me in his case beacause his most lucrative movie was a movie about homosexuals. And yet he won't really write another one. Right? And it seems, sort of, in his case, almost bad business not to write about it.

Q: Craig seems to write nice plays. In Missing Persons one of the characters belives in "being nice." That's kind of him. His plays are very sweet. It may just be his style of writting.

JF: That's what was so great about Longtime Companion in that it was about all of these gay men dying of Aids, but it was nice, it was a nice story. It wasn't like these men having this big problem with dying of Aids or being gay, they were just gay men in the midst of a tradgedy. It was very believible to me, and my experience of personal tradgedy.■

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