A feminist with balls: An interview with playwright Harold Finley
By Alan Kelly.
3:AM: Who originally came up with the concept of Faithless Bitches and how long did the writing process take?
Harold Finley: About four years ago in The Clarence Hotel in Dublin, David [Turpin] told me about an idea he had for a play called Faithless Bitches – instantly I knew it could work, I thought it was deeply funny, disturbing, but most of all a story for our times. A few months later when I was back in Dublin I asked him if I could co-write the piece with him, he agreed and we got down to work on creating the story outline. This was a very quick process, David had a good idea about how the story should be told so we hammered out an outline we were both happy with and I then went off to Rome to write the first draft. Many trips between London and Dublin later we had a second and third draft. In the summer of 2007 we were asked by the Oval House Theatre in London to do a workshop of the piece and a staged reading. I directed the reading. What was funny was, the venue neglected to reserve seats for David and I and the reading was a total sell out, so most of the reading we spent in the pub fantasizing about how the audience were going to lynch us a la the premiere scene in Ed Wood. We gathered our strength and ventured back to the theatre to listen to the second act from behind the door; as we approached the theatre David said “Well, it’s still standing, they haven’t burnt the theatre down so it must be going OK.” As we entered the theatre all we could hear were howls of laughter and applause after each entrance and exit – we turned to one another and knew we had a hit in the making. After the successful reading we did more drafts and began to shop the project around – no one wanted to touch it. We had a very important female West End producer interested; she loved the play but said “as a feminist I can’t produce this.” David and I were horrified that everyone were so afraid of our raunchy farce. But what was most disturbing was how they were so blinded by political correctness, they didn’t see the obvious – that this piece is a post-post feminist romp. We’re artists, we’re not interested in telling an audience how to think or feel, we’re here to entertain and we know that audiences are clever, they will see the truth of the piece even through their laughter induced tears. I consider myself a feminist, a feminist with balls.
3:AM: The rivalry between Monique Masters and Pamela Fairchild reminds me a little of scheming Anne Baxter and veteran Bette Davis in All About Eve. Could Faithless Bitches be described as a satire on the obsessions of celebrity and how the damage the pursuit of this can do to a person?
HF: I’m glad you noticed the nod to the greats from the past. Although ours is a modern story it has a soul tinged with the past. Of course what happens in our story is far nastier than anything they could have got away with in the golden age of Hollywood . Thematically we of course touch on the ‘What price success?’ question, but ultimately we’re looking at something far bigger and darker… Ours is a farce with high drama and a film noir essence.
3:AM: You co-wrote this with David Turpin, who originally came up with the idea; where did it grow from there?
HF: David certainly had the initial idea and concept. I took the concept and fleshed it out and gave it a grand structure. What’s interesting is that I treated it like an opera, or better, a musical. It has the exact structure of a musical without the music. I can’t think of another play with the sensibility of a musical/opera without needing music to make it work. People in London have found it quite upsetting when they realize that this idea came from David’s imagination because he’s one of the true beautiful spirits in this world, they just can’t understand how this angel has come up with this murky tale – I love the confusion.
3:AM: You got West End diva Donna King, who was in the original Broadway casts of Cats and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and appeared in the Broadway revival of Can-Can. She also starred as Aurora in the West End production of Kiss of the Spider Woman and appeared in the film Grease 2. When did she come on-board?
HF: The divine Donna King came on board right at the beginning. I’ve wanted to work with Donna for years and was thrilled when she agreed to play Pamela Fairchild. She’s perfect. Donna is such a beautiful woman, so smart, sexy and funny. Pamela is probably the most difficult character to play in the show and I wanted someone who is strong and vulnerable and smart. Donna is also from the Broadway musical world and she instinctively knows that this is a musical minus the tunes.
3:AM: Pornography is a subplot in Faithless Bitches – when writing the play did you watch a lot of electric blues to fuel the imagination?
HF: Oh yes! David and I howled over some really bad porn. But, what was most useful was reading The Other Hollywood by Legs McNeil. Legs is just a genius of this type of journalism, his book was the single greatest inspiration and source of information for that aspect of our plot. But our story has so many strands, many of them are influenced by certain films which David and I love and just watch over and over; you’ll see many references to these works in the physical production, from the music to the fight scene as well as in the dialogue.
3:AM: You where the co-founder and producer of the Black, Queer & Fierce Festival at Sadler’s Wells, which was the world’s first gay black arts festival and you’re a member of the New York’s Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab. Can you tell me a bit more about the latter, how you got into it and what sort of work is involved with that organisation?
HF: OK look, Lincoln Center changed my life; I knew it would before I was even accepted into that extraordinary circus. David is responsible for me getting in as he basically wrote my application. I never send anything out unless David reads it first – I trust him and his taste that much. OK, the directors program at Lincoln Center Theater takes place each summer for 3-4 weeks in New York . You have the most talented exciting directors from all over the word together exploring ideas with one another and with the crème de la crème of theatre talent. In 2008 we had directors from Mexico, Germany, Italy, Norway, China, Canada, the UK and Zimbabwe. It was possibly the best experience of my life, to breathe theatre in such an intense fashion in arguably the most important arts institution on the planet, working fourteen-hour days with super talented and amazing people.. I am blessed to have had this experience and it has had such an impact on Faithless Bitches; the support I received and the belief they had in me to make this piece is something I am eternally grateful for.
3:AM: Did you oversee the entire production – from casting to costumes to operating the PR machine?
HF: My finger is certainly in all pies for sure but, I have some of the best people in UK theatre working on this production – I have no idea how I convinced them to do it but they have. What is interesting for me is that this production, though it is benefiting from the immense talent I am working with is truly my vision, this is my debut as an auteur; it’s exciting but there is a huge responsibility that goes along with having a vision and I didn’t accept this challenge without being certain that I wanted to push the boulder all the way to the top of the hill. My company Truly Fierce Productions provide me with a lot of support and Nick Holmes who is our marketing and PR guru is sensational, we certainly wouldn’t be able to do this production in such a visible manner without him and his belief in the piece. I am learning so much on a day to day basis from the dozens of people involved.
3:AM: What playwrights, film-makers, writers influence your work?
HF: That’s a big question. I am influenced by so many amazing artists many of whom are my close friends. I am influenced hugely by painters, musicians and novelists such as Alan Hollinghurst, Toni Morrison, Henry James, Bette Midler, Millie Jackson, John Coltrane, Jay-Z. Howard Hodkins is a huge influence because he’s such a genius. Specifically my influences from playwrights and cinema are artists mainly from the past such as Tennessee Williams, Bob Fosse, Michael Bennett, Tony Kushner, Jerome Robbins, Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurents, Woody Allen (mainly his early films and up until Deconstructing Harry, which David and I pay tribute to in the play), Francis Ford Coppola – huge influence on Faithless Bitches. I’m all over the place with whom I respect and who I find inspiring.
3:AM: What does Truly Fierce Productions plan on doing next? Will you be writing more yourself or soliciting other writers?
HF: I’m so pleased you asked that question because Truly Fierce Productions has four amazing products in various stages of development including Faithless Bitches. Next is a piece I am thrilled about called A Thousand Miles of History. I was commissioned by Soho Theatre in London to write this piece about the relationship between the artists Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and Andy Warhol, and the piece looks at specific individuals working in a specific field at a specific time in a specific city and moves beyond being a bio-drama to saying something quite beautiful about family, love and artists. Soho Theatre really helped me with putting the piece together but I quickly realized that Truly Fierce Productions are the only people I would trust to mount it initially, TFP will bring it to life as it should be. We’ve also acquired the rights to a stupendous piece called Children At Play by one of the best young writers around, Jordan Seavey. Jordan is a New York based writer who I guarantee will be one of the great American playwrights – he’s mind-blowing in his gifts. And the last of our four immediately planned projects is something no one would expect us to do, it’s a musical and that’s all I’m saying…
3:AM: What should viewers expect from Faithless Bitches?
HF: Expect to laugh, laugh, and laugh. For all the content in the play it never forgets its purpose – to make you laugh and for you to have a blast delving into this deeply funny and dark world. Enjoy.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Alan Kelly [centre] is 3:AM‘s Film Editor. He has worked for a number of specialist magazines, Film Ireland, Pretty Scary, Penny Blood, Bookslut et al. He lives in Wicklow, Ireland, and is partial to pulp, noir, hardboiled, brainy erotica and horror fiction.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, October 28th, 2009.