Interview: Eric Anderson Reconstructs His BACK PORCH for Picnic Aficionados

Playwright Eric Anderson’s Back Porch world premieres June 2nd at The Victory Theatre Center

JELLY'S LAST JAM And More Annouced For Pasadena Playhouse 2023-24 Season

Playwright Eric Anderson’s Back Porch world premieres June 2, 2023, at The Victory Theatre Center. Kelie McIver directs Eric’s reimagining of the 1955 film shoot of Picnic with the cast of Jonathan Fishman, Isaac W. Jay, Cody Lemmon, Karl Maschek, Jordan Morgan and Eric Zak.

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

Portions of the film production of Picnic were actually filmed in a nearby Kansas county when you were just four years old. How much of what you remember of the filming has made it into Back Porch?

My family and I were part of the crowd scene on the riverbank calling out “Neewallah!” as Kim Novak sailed down the river. I refer to that scene in my play.

At the age of four, did you even know who the Picnic stars William Holden and Kim Novak were?

No way!

Having a big film production right in your own backyard in 1955 is equivalent to attending a “???” in 2023.

Having a big film production right in your own backyard in 1955 is equivalent to attending the filming of a big film production in your own backyard in 2023.

What sparked your creative juices to start writing Back Porch?

I came up with the idea of writing a gay version of Picnic many years ago. Once I had conceived that, it instantly felt like an affectionate homage to Picnic’s gay playwright, William Inge, and I began to see Back Porch as the kind of play Inge might have written himself had the time and place been different. I wanted to time it so it would coincide with his 100th birthday—but COVID got in the way.

JELLY'S LAST JAM And More Annouced For Pasadena Playhouse 2023-24 SeasonWhat would your three-line pitch of Back Porch be?

Back Porch is a gay reworking of Inge’s Picnic. It is not a parody or particularly camp but is, rather, a warm and loving portrait of romantic and familial relationships.

How hands on are you in pre-production of your plays premiering?

I helped cast the play. I am living in Hawaii and cannot attend daily rehearsals. 

Will you be flying to Los Angeles to attend Back Porch’s world premiere?

Of course!

When do your words become set in stone? After a workshop reading? During dress rehearsals? When the curtains come up at its first performance?

For the most part, once a play of mine is considered done and/or when I am lucky enough to have a production of it, I usually don’t touch it again. Can’t, for example, go back to an old play of mine and do any rewriting: the script itself almost resists the attempt.

What character in Back Porch do you identify most with? Gary Opat?

To a certain extent, I identify with all the characters in my plays.  In Back Porch I suppose I identify with Gary the most.

If you were to submit Gary on a dating website, what qualities of his would you list?

Gary is still a young, relatively unfinished young man — he’d be a disaster on a dating website! And any qualities I may assign to him seem flat and unalluring on the page: handsome, intelligent, humorous. Maybe quirky??

WJELLY'S LAST JAM And More Annouced For Pasadena Playhouse 2023-24 Seasonhat character flaws would you definitely omit?

At the risk of bragging — or being prejudicial — I think Gary is very likable. He may have a snooty or dismissive moment or two, but overall, he’s a catch.

And how about Back Porch’s protagonist Bill Holman? His qualities? His flaws?

Again, I didn’t set out to search for flaws in Bill. Like Gary, he may be brash and inconsiderate in moments, but mainly I see him in terms of his strengths, of which he has many: friendliness, warmth, sexiness, hardworking, modesty are his gifts.

What was it like growing up gay in Kansas?

Tough.  And it’s still tough.

What motivated you and your husband Roger to move to Hawaii?

It’s a great place to retire, it’s a great place to write, it’s a great place to raise palms and orchids.

How does the theatre community in Hawaii compare to other cities’ theatre communities you’ve been involved with?

It’s smaller. Those that love the theatre work just as hard here as anywhere else, but they don’t get as much attention. Let me put it this way: the HD broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera, shown locally in Hilo, draw about 20 people for an audience.

What prompted you to become one of the five founding members of the Playwrights’ Center in 1971?

LJELLY'S LAST JAM And More Annouced For Pasadena Playhouse 2023-24 Seasonots of would-be playwrights have been drawn to the Minneapolis/St Paul community since the establishment of the Guthrie Theatre. The Twin Cities is a theatre town! And playwrights, though notoriously individual and private, needed to organize and make themselves known.

Is there a particular accomplishment of Playwrights’ Center that you are most proud of?

Many years ago, it underwent a sea change and began to solicit and attract minority playwrights, especially playwrights of color. Now it’s a remarkably diverse and stimulating hub of theatre, and its reach is international. It’s a big deal.

What’s next on the plate of Eric Anderson?

Next fall I will have the premiere of my new play Olive’s Lover performed at the The Actor’s Group in Honolulu.

Thank you again, Eric! I look forward to meeting your Gary and Bill.

I’ll look forward to meeting you too!

For tickets to the live performances of Back Porch through July 9, 2023; click on the button below:


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