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BWW Interview: HI, ARE YOU SINGLE?'s Ryan J. Haddad Asks, 'Do You Think I'm Sexy?'

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in association with IAMA Theatre Company presents this streaming-on-demand beginning 9:01pm January 31, 2021.

BWW Interview: HI, ARE YOU SINGLE?'s Ryan J. Haddad Asks, 'Do You Think I'm Sexy?'

Writer/performer Ryan J. Haddad has taken his many unpleasant dating experiences and fashioned them into his one-man show HI, ARE YOU SINGLE?, which posits the question, "Why can't you find a person with cerebral palsy sexy?" Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in association with IAMA Theatre Company presents this streaming-on-demand beginning 9:01pm January 31, 2021.

Already in rehearsals for another show, Ryan squeezed some time in to answer a few of my queries.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Ryan!

HI, ARE YOU SINGLE? premiered at The Public Theater's Under the Radar Festival in January of 2017. When did you start writing this?

My autobiographical plays, particularly my solo work, tend to begin as individual stories or anecdotes on a common theme. I wrote and performed the first story that remains in HI, ARE YOU SINGLE? around January/February 2014, during my junior year at Ohio Wesleyan University for Dr. Ed Kahn's Theories of Performance class. Around the same time, I started turning in personal essays in various English classes that I thought would translate well to first-person performance. Even though the forms and mediums were different, I saw it as a form of workshopping the material. I collected various essays and performance excerpts throughout the summer and fall, then began writing the script in earnest in fall/winter 2014-15. This culminated in the first public performances in late-March 2015, as my senior project or capstone at Ohio Wesleyan. The script has grown, changed, evolved, and matured exponentially since then, thanks especially to my director Laura Savia, who came onboard the summer after I graduated. There is a wealth of new material, but the essence of each story from those original college performances remains in the play all these years later.

BWW Interview: HI, ARE YOU SINGLE?'s Ryan J. Haddad Asks, 'Do You Think I'm Sexy?'What lucky stars brought Woolly Mammoth in Washington, D.C.; IAMA in Los Angeles; and you in New York together to present HI, ARE YOU SINGLE?

Maria Manuela Goyanes, Woolly Mammoth's artistic director, was a producer at the Public in New York when we did HI, ARE YOU SINGLE? in Under the Radar. She became a fan and champion right away, and when she got her current job she was determined to find a way to bring the play to D.C. We were slated for summer 2020, but everything changed because of the pandemic, and we ended up going digital. I have been connected to IAMA for over a year, so when Stefanie Black, co-artistic director, asked me to do a solo piece for their digital season, I thought this would be the perfect pairing.

Where and when did you tape this production?

Election week 2020 on the Woolly stage in D.C.

What was your initial reaction to being last year's recipient of IAMA's Shonda Rhimes Writing Commission?

I mean, wow. I have not met Ms. Rhimes, but to be awarded a commission in her name, I . . . I have vivid, visceral memories of watching Grey's Anatomy in the living room with my mom. Crying, shouting, laughing, crying again. I remember the years when the main characters died (or left the show) and my own life events that surrounded those (fictional) losses. So I have long admired her storytelling, and the representation she champions through her work. This playwriting commission demonstrates: a) a dedication to theater itself, at a time when the art form is so starved and strapped, and b) a way to ensure that underrepresented voices get the chance to grow and flourish.

BWW Interview: HI, ARE YOU SINGLE?'s Ryan J. Haddad Asks, 'Do You Think I'm Sexy?'What does this honor entail?

I will be writing a new, multi-character play under IAMA's guidance and supervision. They will help me navigate at least two drafts of this new script, and then they will host a developmental reading or workshop with actors, which is essential to the playwriting process.

What would be your three-line pitch for HI, ARE YOU SINGLE?

HI, ARE YOU SINGLE? is a joyful, raucous, searing play about a young man who is gay, disabled, and horny all the time. It interrogates the media's tendency to desexualize disability, gay men's unwillingness to welcome disabled people into their spaces, and Ryan's own complicit behavior as he judges and rejects men for reasons beyond their control.

What orthopedic manifestations of cerebral palsy do you currently have?

Thank you for phrasing it this way, because every person with cerebral palsy has a different experience. I have limited mobility in both my legs, and mild weakness in my arms. CP is neurological, so this has more to do with my brain's communication with my arms and legs, not my arms and legs themselves. This primarily affects my balance, flexibility, and strength.

What symptoms of CP did you have as a child?

BWW Interview: HI, ARE YOU SINGLE?'s Ryan J. Haddad Asks, 'Do You Think I'm Sexy?'While my body has, of course, changed in adulthood, the primary thrust of my cerebral palsy remains the same, then and now. My ability to walk independently has improved and regressed over time. I've always walked with a walker (the same type as when I was three), then I learned to walk without any mobility device, then later I learned to use a cane. I use all three modes for day-to-day activities, depending on the environment.

At what age did you realize you were gay?

I think even as a child you have a sense that something is different, your natural and magnetic attraction to others is not what you're told it should be. I can pinpoint that I started grappling with it when puberty hit, late age eleven and early age twelve, when I began to understand and feel sexual attraction toward men. It took several years to accept what that meant for my life. I came out at sixteen, and my parents were the first people I told I was gay.

Were you home-schooled?

No, I went to public school for K-12.

What's your opinion of casting actors with no disabilities for a person with disability?

Been there, done that. For decades, non-disabled actors have been taking our roles, robbing us of authentic representation, prominent entertainment careers, and income. When I was younger, I took less offense because it meant something to see the stories told, but when I entered the business, my position changed because it is, in fact, a business. This is an employment issue, and it is not for our lack of skill or talent, it's due to implicit bias and ignorance in the industry. Hollywood and theaters across the country need to catch up. Theaters have gotten better, but they still go unchecked sometimes, especially when a role is not defined as disabled but the character IS disabled. It is 2021. We are done, we are over it. Tell our stories the right way or don't tell them at all. And while you're at it, cast us in roles not written for disability, too.

Tell us a fun incident you had working in Ryan Murphy's The Politician.

I had a scene with Bette Midler in the season two premiere where she served me a cup of tea. She was so kind and very sensitive to my need for her not to fill the teacup too high. She really put me at ease, but naturally I was still nervous to be working with her. We finished the last take, and when I went to set down the teacup, I spilled the tea on her desk/the set. I apologized profusely but she said, "Ryan, it doesn't matter, darling! Who cares? We're done!"

BWW Interview: HI, ARE YOU SINGLE?'s Ryan J. Haddad Asks, 'Do You Think I'm Sexy?'Have they told you your character Andrew Cashman will be recurring in the third season

I don't know, but I hope we have not seen the end of Andrew!

What else is in the near future for Ryan J. Haddad?

I continue to develop new plays. I have another solo play called DARK DISABLED STORIES, a multi-character family comedy about my gay uncle called GOOD TIME CHARLIE, and a follow-up to HI, ARE YOU SINGLE?, all of which I hope you will see when live theater is able to safely return.

Thank you again, Ryan! I look forward to seeing your one-man show.

For HI, ARE YOU SINGLE? virtual tickets, streaming on demand 9:01pm PST, January 31 through 8:59pm PST, February 28, 2021; log onto woollymammoth.net


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