BWW Interviews: Brian Shnipper on Creating STANDING ON CEREMONY: THE GAY MARRIAGE PLAYS
Standing On Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays, which opened at the Minetta Lane Theatre on November 13, assembles some of America's most illustrious and Award-winning playwrights, including Mo Gaffney, Jordan Harrison, Moisés Kaufman, Neil LaBute, Wendy MacLeod, José Rivera, Paul Rudnick and Doug Wright, all responding to one of the defining issues of our day -- the on-going battle for marriage equality throughout the United States - in a heartfelt, funny and altogether illuminating evening of short plays that celebrates the courage to be in a relationship - any relationship.
Conceived by Brian Shnipper and directed by Stuart Ross, Standing On Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays features a rotating cast of the best actors from theater, film and TV. The premiere cast includes Craig Bierko (The Music Man), Mark Consuelos ("All My Children"), Polly Draper ("thirtysomething"), Harriet Harris (Thoroughly Modern Millie), Beth Leavel (The Drowsy Chaperone) and Richard Thomas (Race).
Shnipper recently took time out of his busy schedule to chat with BroadwayWorld about the show’s LA origins, moving it to the East coast, the writers involved, and more!
So what exactly is STANDING ON CEREMONY?
It’s a collection of short plays about gay marriage in America, by Doug Wright, Paul Resnick, Wendy McLeod…a bunch of different playwrights.
The show just made its off-Broadway debut, but it has much longer history on the West coast. Can you just take me back to how and why the whole thing came about?
Well it all started in 2008. It was right before the election, and we were about to gain our first African-American President, but on the other hand we were about to lose Prop8- I live in California, so we were voting on that. And I was sitting in the kitchen of the house that I share with my partner, and my dogs were at my feet, and I thought ‘How am I any less normal, or any less deserving of any rights given to any straight couple in this country?’
So I started calling playwrights that I was friends with and that I had worked with, and I started asking if they were willing to write a short play on the issue. Then I directed the very first benefit performance of it in 2009 in Los Angeles. That was very different in structure- it was 35 actors with a different cast for each small play. It was Debra Messing and Jason Alexander and Alfre Woodard- a whole bunch of people!
And then Stuart Ross became my producer, and he produced that performance and he said, ‘Why don’t we bring this to New York?’ Then I directed a benefit performance at the New York Theatre Workshop in 2010 in the same way that I had done it in Los Angeles. That one involved Matthew Broderick and Kathy Najimy, and we also gained a few playwrights because Paul Rudnick and Doug Wright are on their board and they wanted to write a piece for it.
So it kept evolving and changing, and then we went back to Los Angeles and we brought it down to six actors, which is the way it’s done now. They all take on all nine or ten plays, depending on which plays are performed that night. And now we’re in New York!
You were a pivotal part of creating the show and getting it on its feet in LA, but you’ve been able to take a little more of a backseat role with the off-Broadway show. What has that been like for you?
Yes, Stuart Ross is directing this one. You have to hand it over at some point and give it to the world. It’s like letting the foster parents takeover! I came for previews, but I didn’t want to breathe down their necks. It’s his production, and I definitely let it be his production.