2022-23 season

2022-23 season

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Keeping It Gay: Director Michael Smith Leads “Bees”

Cast and crew of As Bees in Honey Drown, with director Michael Smith (front row, second from left)

In your typical romantic comedy, the usual storyline is boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and then realizing the error of his ways, boy regains girl just in time for a happy, sappy ending.  By contrast, As Bees In Honey Drown (coming to the Farmington Players February 8-23) is not your typical rom-com. As director Michael Smith explains, “It’s more boy tastes fame, boy gets screwed by fame, and boy accepts that fame is not what he really wants! It’s topical and will seem very current given the thirst Americans have for social media and twitter hits and Instagram followers. As one character says, ‘the new becomes old before we find a newer new.’”

As the director of Bees, Michael definitely relates to the play’s themes and characters: “This play includes several well-written gay characters which — as a gay man and a writer — I find particularly gratifying. The main character — Evan Wyler — is both a writer and gay, and is in a particular place in his development as a gay man that every gay man will recognize: the ‘sleep around’ phase. It happens to all of us. You come out, you accept who you are (at some level or another) and you play the field. Every gay man does it and, if they don’t, they will not develop properly in my view. It’s a required release of sorts. Most move on from there into healthy relationships.” 

When we first meet Evan, he has shelved his romantic side in favor of his art — his writing. Michael explains the importance of this: “When Evan finally tastes fame — the buzz, the hype — it seduces him. Fame in this case is played by Alexa, the femme fatale. So the gay man is seduced by a woman, then loses his identity completely. When he finds it again, he is changed and ready to accept who he is.”  In his own life, Michael can relate to Evan’s decisions “to a point. I’ve been with my husband Frank for 28 years, and embarked on a writing career about seven years ago. I did not put my relationship on hold — rather, I embraced and cherished it. … I chose my romantic life over my artistic life and I did so with zero regrets.”

In directing Bees, Michael focuses on character development, saying, “this script is incredibly well-written: funny, engaging and with multi-layered characters. It’s often easy for an actor to play the character on the surface — what he does, his emotions — but it takes a real actor to play that AND the subtext beneath it. Every character — every person — has subtext to what they do. … Douglass Carter Beane, the playwright, infused many of these characters with deep subtext. Fortunately, we have the actors to play them!”

“The single most gratifying thing about doing this show is knowing that I have a huge pool of screamingly talented people to help me. That is the benefit of working with the Farmington Players. You have a vision, you put the vision out there, and everyone embraces it and makes it happen. It’s a lot of work, but the finished product will be tremendous — and totally impossible to accomplish without everyone who helped!”

Michael grew up in ultra-conservative Midland, Michigan, which he calls “a great place to go to public school but you want to get the heck out of there once you graduate. It’s no place to be gay. I studied graphic design at Western Michigan, so I learned to be collaborative on projects early. It’s a skill that makes directing easier and much more rewarding.”  Seven years ago, he quit his design career to focus on writing: “I discovered that I have an affinity for it. I love creating anything, and forming characters, situations — even whole worlds — from nothing has been the greatest challenge of my life.”

As Bees in Honey Drown has three remaining performances at the Farmington Players Barn Theater from February 21 – 23.  The show is proudly sponsored by Ameritax Plus.  Tickets are available online at farmingtonplayers.org or by emailing boxoffice@farmingtonplayers.org or calling the Barn box office at 248-553-2955.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Don’t Let Hosanna Phillips Con You: It’s Good to Be Bad

Hosanna Phillips as the conniving Alexa Vere de Vere
works her charms on writer Evan Wyler (Joshua Lisiecki)
PHOTO: Jan Cartwright
Alexa Vere de Vere is a flashy con artist.  She seduces her victims with the prospect of fame and fortune, or as she puts it, “the hum, the buzz, the hype, the flash, the fame”. One Variety reviewer called her “the absolutely fabulous whirlwind who blows through the delightful, pointed comedy As Bees in Honey Drown…. Alexa is a smart and very funny vivisection of the greed for fame, glamour and the good life (or at least a new life).”
In the Farmington Players production of Bees, Hosanna Phillips plays Alexa, who she describes as “a fantastic character because, whether you want to hate her, love her, or pity her by the end of the show, she will have made you think about something. As an artist, that is all you can really hope for in a character.” Hosanna loves playing an antagonist character and discovering the real person inside, saying, “Almost always, you will find that they started off as a victim of something (even if their victim status is only in their own mind). Any well-developed character is in some way a relatable human being, and I love to discover what it is about a character that drives them to be how they are.” For example, Alexa justifies conning artists because she can’t respect an art world that values its creators only once they’re dead.  
Hosanna loves Bee’s theme of “fame and fortune vs. substance and how our culture often places image over achievement. It makes you think about what really has value in life, and why it is that we place value on the things we do. Many times, what is mainstream is not what is meaningful, yet it is so easy to get sucked into [the hype]. This show has challenged me as an artist to examine the things that I invest my time and money on. … While fame is not intrinsically bad, chasing only the limelight will often leave you empty.”
The show also examines the question of “What Is Art”?  Hosanna asks, “What makes something art? Is art for the consumer, or the creator? Is art eternal, or fleeting? What is the value of art (monetarily, and otherwise)? As an artist myself, this theme is especially relevant. Many of Alexa’s negative points about the art world are sadly valid: the industry can chew up and spit out its creators. Artists and critics can be cut-throat, critical and back-stabbing. … On the other hand, art is expression, it can be beautiful and healing. When you have the true drive to create, there is nothing that compares... Artists and their work will continue to be valued subjectively, but the more we open our eyes, the more we will see.”
Hosanna grew up in West Michigan and recently moved here with her husband. She previously worked at Zeeland Christian school where she cultivated her passion for working with youth.  In addition to theater, her loves include her two toy dogs, and learning crafts such as the knitting loom.  As Bees in Honey Drown is Hosanna’s first Barn experience: “I have been grateful to meet more people in the area since I haven’t been living here long, and the whole cast and crew have been amazing to work with. I am grateful to be able to stretch and use my acting muscles after neglecting them for so long, and I have been blessed with a great group to do so with.” 
As Bees in Honey Drown has nine performances at the Farmington Players Barn Theater from February 8 – 23.  The show is proudly sponsored by Ameritax Plus.  Tickets are available online at farmingtonplayers.org or by emailing boxoffice@farmingtonplayers.org or calling the Barn box office at 248-553-2955.