BWW Interview: Shawn Handlon of YES WEED CAN Says There Are A Lot Of Laughs To Be Had Here
Planet Ant Theatre is reviving their original musical comedy, Yes Weed Can, with a new script and performing the production April 20th - May 12th at Ant Hall in Hamtramck. The original musical satire that tells intertwining tales of conspiracy and redemption. It follows the journey of Tammy, who is compelled to wrestle with the legal ramifications of the legislative vilification of cannabis, while chronicling the scheme of a powerful few who bamboozled America into outlawing a beloved, common crop for personal gain. "There are a lot of laughs to be had here. I don't yet have the empirical data to support this claim, but previous versions of this show have literally averaged a laugh a minute," said Shawn Handlon, co-writer and director of Yes Weed Can. "I expect this iteration to do the same, making the cost of your experience pennies per laugh." BroadwayWorld Detroit had a quick chance to talk to Handlon about Yes Weed Can currently running at Ant Hall.
BroadwayWorld Detroit: As the co-writer of the show, Yes Weed Can, how do you describe it?
Shawn Handlon: I describe this show as a satirical story of marijuana in America.
BWW Detroit: What inspired you write it with Jaime Moyer?
Shawn Handlon: We wanted to write this story because it occurred to us that most people today don't know the history of cannabis in America and that they only know it as it was depicted in a massive propaganda campaign nearly a century ago, for example "Reefer Madness." They don't know that at one point, it was a common, multipurpose crop in this country or that it was a crop that early colonists were required to grow. They don't know the suspicious manner in which it was originally banned and that the Nixon administration doubled down on that ban as a way to target his enemies - liberals and people of color. They don't know that the studies of marijuana's effects on society never supported the propaganda that led to its ban. We wanted, in our own small way, to try to inject these truths into the mainstream by presenting them within the context of a fun, satirical musical.
BWW Detroit: For fans of the original, what will they love about the revival?
Shawn Handlon: As this run represents the play's third draft, it's just a better show. The script is tighter. The story is easier to follow. Ineffective jokes have been reworked or eliminated. New and updated bits have been introduced. The characters are better developed. There are more songs. The heart of the show they loved is the same, but everything else about it is stronger.
BWW Detroit: Tell me what it was like to debut your show here, run it in Los Angeles, and now revive it back in Detroit.
Shawn Handlon: It was obviously a thrill to take the show to another city. To me, it felt like a more valid test of the material. I sometimes worry that the overly positive reactions to original shows I present in Detroit may benefit from our collective desire to be more supportive of locally grown products. LA doesn't really care about Detroit nor would it have that predisposition to support a Detroit-made musical comedy, and yet reaction to Yes Weed Can in LA was overwhelmingly positive.
BWW: Detroit: Why do you think this is an important story to tell and revive it now in Detroit?
Shawn Handlon: We chose to revive it now in the wake of Jeff Sessions' announcement that he would ramp up the drug war, including ending the Obama administration's deprioritization of enforcing the federal marijuana ban in states that passed laws that allowed for limited decriminalization. Also, as it looks like legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes will be on the ballot in Michigan come November, we wanted to play a part in the public discourse leading up to that vote.
BWW Detroit: Do you think it caters to a certain type of audience given the topic of cannabis - either people who are for or against it the legalization of it? Or do you find it to be a show that anyone can come enjoy and more so opens up a conversation?
Shawn Handlon: If you are someone who unswervingly subscribes to the notion that cannabis is a dangerous drug that has no place in society, you may not enjoy this show. I'm not even talking about liberal versus conservative, because many on the left and the right are actually on the same side of this issue. This show is about looking beyond the rhetoric that has swirled around the issue from the very beginning and seeing the bigger picture. We tried very hard not to make the material come off as preachy. We sought only to present the history of cannabis and the consequences of its ban in a humorous way to demonstrate to open-minded individuals that this ban might not have been and may not presently be in the best interests of this country and its citizens.
BWW Detroit: Do you have a favorite moment in the show?
Shawn Handlon: This is like asking a parent to pick a favorite child. I love every part of this show equally, but I will say that my favorite aspect of this version is this - as the show has evolved, it has come to reflect the new trend in American politics. We the people have become disgusted with politicians who ignore the will of the people in favor of corporate and special interests, and we are deciding to support populist candidates who shun cooperate dollars in favor of grassroots support and crowd funding. The founding fathers designed the constitution so that the next American revolution would not have to be a violent uprising. Then next revolution can happen when the downtrodden majority decide that enough is enough and show up en masse to the polls to vote for people who really want to make this country what it promised to be so long ago.
BWW Detroit: Why should someone come see your show, Yes Weed Can?
Shawn Handlon: People should see this show because it's a fun, reasonably priced night out. It seems to me that people are working harder and harder to do more with less. Every day, it feels like there is some new horror story in the news that makes us want to cry. We need laughter now more than ever. There are a lot of laughs to be had here. I don't yet have the empirical data to support this claim, but previous versions of this show have literally averaged a laugh a minute. I expect this iteration to do the same, making the cost of your experience pennies per laugh.
Yes Weed Can is currently running through May 12th at Planet Ant Theatre in Hamtramck. For more information and tickets, visit www.planetant.com.