Playwright, actor, and musician Justin Huertas is having quite a year. From the off-Broadway debut of his musical Lizard Boy, to the critically acclaimed world premiere of another show, Lydia and the Troll, at Seattle Repertory Theater, Huertas is building up a body of work that promises legends and fantasies for a new generation.
Despite his artistic success, and his ambitions to bring more shows to theaters outside the Seattle area, Huertas loves his home region and promises the Pacific Northwest will always hold a special place in his heart.
He talked to Marcie and Vivian about his unconventional path to writing musical theater.
ABOUT THIS EPISODE'S GUEST
Justin Huertas (he/him) is an award-winning playwright, composer, lyricist, and actor best known for his original musical Lizard Boy, which first premiered at Seattle Rep and recently made its Off-Broadway debut with Prospect Theater Company. His performance as Trevor has earned him regional theatre awards in Seattle, San Diego, and SF/Bay Area. He and Steven Tran composed original music for the podcast Marvel’s Squirrel Girl: The Unbeatable Radio Show! Other works include The Mortification of Fovea Munson based on Mary Winn Heider’s novel (Kennedy Center), Lydia & the Troll co-created and directed by Ameenah Kaplan (Seattle Rep), and We’ve Battled Monsters Before with Rheanna Atendido (ArtsWest).
Follow Justin on Instagram to keep up with his projects and premieres.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (00:00):
Hey, I'm Vivian Phillips.
MARCIE SILLMAN (00:01):
And I'm Marcie Sillman. And this is Double
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (00:06):
MARCIE SILLMAN (00:06):
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (00:14):
DoubleXposure is a podcast where we plumb the deepest depths and the tiniest cracks of our world to understand how culture and creativity shape our lives.
MARCIE SILLMAN (00:25):
On this episode, playwright, actor, and musician, Justin Huertas talks about transforming the world through musical theater. Vivian, so nice to see you.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (00:50):
Hey, hey, hey, Marcie. How you doing?
MARCIE SILLMAN (00:52):
I'm doing okay. How about yourself?
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (00:54):
I’m doing great. I am doing well. You know, it's been a crazy busy couple of months, and I will take this opportunity to say how incredibly grateful I am for so many things that have come down the pike. You know, being recognized recently by Dr. Quinton Morris's organization, the Key to Change, and then also receiving an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Cornish College, along with a couple of people that I love and admire, Bernie Griffin and King County Executive Dow Constantine. And I am just today feeling incredible gratitude.
MARCIE SILLMAN (01:42):
I have to just mention one other thing. Um, you've gotten a big shot in the arm from the state of Washington for ARTE NOIR.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (01:50):
MARCIE SILLMAN (01:51):
And I'm super excited you posted a photo of yourself holding one of those like big publishers,
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (01:58):
Big foam check <laugh>, big foam
MARCIE SILLMAN (01:59):
Big foam check, and I, I think ARTE NOIR has been up and running for about a year, almost a year now. So this is gonna allow you to fulfill more of the dreams that you had
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (02:11):
Thanks to my, uh, legislative representatives. And I have to give a shout out to Chipalo Street, Sharon Tomiko Santos, and Rebecca Saldaña. Those are the three advocates that decided to grant ARTE NOIR an additional $380,000 in addition to the funds that we had been approved for from Building for the Arts. But this is really special because what we will do now is complete the construction of a small modest music studio on 23rd and Union inside ARTE NOIR. But we'll have the opportunity to use that to train young people in music production. And there's no doubt in my mind that there's gonna be some podcast production training going on there as well. I won't be teaching, but maybe we can, you know, encourage a certain person named Marcie Sillman.
MARCIE SILLMAN (03:09):
Of course, of course,
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (03:10):
I won't mention any names, but her initials are Marcie Sillman.
MARCIE SILLMAN (03:14):
You know, I'm there for you, <laugh>. So it's super excited. This is a dream that you have built, and it, it is. I mean, there are more people than you involved now, but this is something that you really have spearheaded and it's got me to thinking about people who, I guess everybody we're speaking with in this podcast. Our third season are people who have really pursued and are achieving their dreams. And today's guest, Justin Huertas, is no exception. Seattle theatre audiences may have met Justin or become aware of Justin when I did in 2015, and that's when Seattle Repertory Theater premiered Lizard Boy, which as we speak is open off Broadway in New York. But talk about accidental careers. Justin was a, a gigging cellist and traveling around playing in musical theater touring shows, and the late Jerry Manning at the rep said, you should write a musical, Justin Huertas, and the rest is history. And he's just such a delightful person.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (04:24):
Yeah, we can't wait for everybody to hear, so check him out. Here we will.
MARCIE SILLMAN (04:28):
Justin Huertas, thank you so much for joining us from New York as we record this live from New York. And I think if it has not opened, you are getting ready for the off-Broadway production of Lizard Boy, which I think that's when I first met you in 2015 at Seattle Repertory Theater. So how did Lizard Boy get from Seattle to New York?
JUSTIN HUERTAS (04:54):
Yeah, well, you know, it's the first musical I ever wrote and like, you know, luckily a lot of folks saw potential in it, and so we just kept on working on it. You know, we made an album and that got us out there too. We did a couple industry readings the next year in 2016, and that led to a production in San Diego. During the pandemic, we, we did the NAMP’s first ever virtual, uh, new play festival. It's always been in person in New York, and like in the Pandemic, they pivoted to a virtual thing, and we got to be a part of that really strange and like awesome pivot. And then we did the show again in the Bay Area at Theater Works Silicon Valley. Since then, we got connected with some amazing commercial producers who then took us to the UK last summer. So we did a run in Manchester at Hope Mill Theater, and then we did Edinburgh Fringe, which was absolutely magical. And all of that led us to New York, which we had been dreaming about since the beginning, but we never imagined, you know, we, we, after all this time, we were like, it's probably not gonna happen, and that's fine. We did the Uk That's cool. And then Prospect Theater Company, Cara Reichel,, who, um, just kind of came out of the woodwork and was like, Hey, I've been watching you and you're awesome and I have a space. Please come here and do your show. And we were like, yes. So it's finally happening.
MARCIE SILLMAN (06:12):
Take a step back for people who weren't lucky enough to be in the Lizard Boy Seattle audience or any of these other cities. Manchester, Edinburgh, San Diego. What's it about?
JUSTIN HUERTAS (06:23):
So, Lizard Boy, really, um, I was commissioned by Seattle rep really back in like 2012 to write myself a show. The only requirement was that I, uh, star it and I play cello in it because the then artistic director, Gary Manning, uh, saw me play cello in a concert and was like, Hey, you need to have a show where you play cello in it, so you're gonna write yourself something. And I was like, okay, whatever that means. So he paired me with Andrea Allen, who is a playwright as well, and she kind of helped me hone my skills to both of them kind of taught me how to make a play. And the thing that they zeroed in on in all of my wildest imaginings was, uh, this sort of, um, coming out story. Uh, you know, they asked like, Hey, what if you wrote your coming out story?
JUSTIN HUERTAS (07:07):
What, what, what kind of like material would that prompt? And I, you know, the first thing I thought was my coming out story is so boring because it literally is me talking to my family and friends saying, Hey everyone I am gahhh, and everyone's like, yeah, we know. So it was the easiest. And like, you know, I feel very privileged that my, my, my coming out story was so easy. Um, so I wanted to spice it up with something cool and Comic-bookie, because that's what I grew up with, this comic book superhero. So I gave myself Green Lizard skin and decided like, okay, be the source of my trauma is not my queerness. It is my green lizard skin. And then I created this whole story. And what's funny is it didn't, you know, it took me until like a year into writing it to realize that, that I was writing myself a metaphor for something that I didn't really have the words to express yet, which was like my growing up as a Filipino American in very white spaces, in very white Seattle, and not really knowing how and where I fit.
JUSTIN HUERTAS (08:12):
So around that time is when I really started like understanding, oh, okay, I'm a new writer. I don't know what I'm doing, but I'm, I'm getting closer to understanding what I'm doing. And then from there, you know, Lizard Boy kind of unfolded, you know, it started as a solo show, but I hate being by myself on stage. So I brought on two of my best friends, Kiki Delore and William A. Williams to be in the show with me. And then we brought on Brandon Ivy as our director, who I've also known for years. And the four of us just kind of became this like super team. It was like assembling the Avengers. Like all of us had different skills to bring to this show, and the show was just so much better and more unique for it.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (08:49):
I love that you call your team The Avengers. So you're already there, right? You're already there. And I also love that coming out story. Hey, I'm gay, uh, that's great. Pass the bread, <laugh>,
JUSTIN HUERTAS (08:59):
Moving on, pass the bread.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (09:01):
No, on, we don't really wanna talk about that part. Thank you very much. Yeah. Um, but you had another play open at the rep this spring, Lydia and The Troll, and that was originally scheduled for May, 2020. You know, it feels today like you're just on this roll, like things are just happening for you, but you actually had three years, right? How did that affect the final product, Lydia and the Troll having that extra time?
JUSTIN HUERTAS (09:28):
Well, you know, what's funny is that we were actually originally scheduled to be in the 2019 season, but then my co-creator director am Amina Kaplan, uh, was offered the job of resident director on the Lion King National Tour.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (09:41):
Oh, cute. So, so just a little something. It
JUSTIN HUERTAS (09:44):
Was so casual. And so Seattle rep was like, oh my God, go do that. We will just push it to 2020. And we're like, okay, perfection. And then 2020 happened. So we found ourselves with all of this extra time to, you know, reexamine our show. And, and what's interesting is something that Sarah Russell, who played Lydia in Lydia and the Troll has been attached to this project since 2017. So, so she's been in the project and then like, um, a year later, 2018 is when we brought on Amina. And it was Amina who sort of like saw what I was writing, and she said to me, okay, so, so you're writing this wonderful story about identity, but you're writing it for like an every woman and having it played by Sarah Russell. What if you wrote it for the woman that Sarah Russell actually is? What if you wrote it for this dark skinned black woman who's trying to break into the music industry and kind of like gatekeeping herself because she doesn't think that she has all of the tools, or maybe she thinks that people don't see the tools that she has already.
JUSTIN HUERTAS (10:49):
And it was that, that kind of pivot that really made Lydia and the Troll all the more richer. So, so 2020, yeah, I think that production would've been good. I think it would've been good. But then, you know, the pandemic happened. Um, we all went through 2020 together. We all went through this kind of like huge, Amina's words are, the needle moved. And there's no denying that the needle moved, and like there's no going back. So now we're all in this place where we kind of have a better understanding of how we have been treating each other, not only in the theater industry, but in the world. And all of that just basically got folded into Lydia's story. You know, um, there's a kind of pivotal arc with, uh, Lydia and her hair and her, you know, internalization of how society will see or accept or not accept her natural hair. And that was a, was a different storyline in 2020. And now, you know, we're in a place where we don't really have to educate many people on what that dynamic is. So we get to really just kind of present her story for what it is and just explore and let people go on the ride with Lydia, which is, which is really, really wonderful. I really think that like, you know, yes, pandemic, yes, delays, but like the show wouldn't be what it is right now if it weren't for all this time.
MARCIE SILLMAN (12:18):
It's fascinating to talk about it. You were speaking about Jerry Manning wanting you to have your cello in a show. And if I recall, you actually were a touring musician before all this musical stuff came about. Did you have a secret yearning to write musical theater?
JUSTIN HUERTAS (12:36):
Absolutely not. <laugh>, I truly, I came out of college as an actor who played cello and knowing, you know, that it's very, it's so rare for there to be roles, you know, actor, musician roles, because that wasn't really a thing. It, I, we've seen it on Broadway a couple times at that point. You know, John Doyle directed a revival of Sweeney Todd, and then directed a revival of Company where there were actors on stage playing cello. Still though, you know, I, I, I played, I played cello on the national tour of Spring Awakening, and even then I was like, okay, so my career, uh, will be, I'm going to be an actor, and if I can't fill up my season with acting, I'm going to gig. I'm going to be a cellist, and I'm gonna try and play in bands and pit orchestras. And it really, yeah, it was Jerry Manning being like, yeah, you could do both.
JUSTIN HUERTAS (13:26):
You should just do both on stage. And, and even then, you know, he commissioned this play for me and offered that if there were songs that exist that I feel fit the narrative I'm creating, we'll go about acquiring the rights to those songs. And I said, okay, so, oh, okay, okay. And I'm just like so embarrassed. I'm like, I have a couple songs that I've written in private that no one's ever heard. Can you just listen to them and tell me if they're good? And, and Jerry Manning listened, you know, we were in his office, I played some songs and they were, you know, it was the very, it's earliest versions of like the Whoa song from Lizard Boy. And um, and a cut track from Lizard Boy called Old Man. And he listened to them and he just, he had this, you know, like this, this really pensive look on his face. And I was like, oh, he hates it. And he throws his glasses off and he says, okay, so Justin, you're writing the music. And I was like, oh, yes, I am. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, yes, I am <laugh>. And so it was Jerry Manning who was encouraging me to be a composer lyricist. So, and now this is, you know, it's crazy to think that that was not a part of, I took a playwriting class in college, um, and that wasn't, uh, you know, in any way, shape or form my aim for my career. I never thought that I would even like generate new work. And now this is my primary job, like my, I am a writer and I act when I can,
MUSICAL INTERLUDE FROM HUERTAS’ SONG, “WHOA” (14:53):
<guitar and singing> There's some indication that I might be losing myself. You're strapping explosives to all of the walls that I built, imagining bacon in waffles in 10 hours time, and I like it, and I like it, I don’t mind. Whooaaa
MARCIE SILLMAN (15:24):
A conversation with Justin Huerta will continue in a minute.
MUSICAL INTERLUDE FROM HUERTAS’ SONG, “WHOA” (15:29):
<guitar and singing> Maybe I'm nuts, but I'm also not trying to flee. I'm stepping a little bit too close for comfort this time. And I, don’t think I can back out, and I like it and I don’t mind…
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (15:47):
Our music is courtesy of Big World Breaks, many thanks.
MARCIE SILLMAN (15:51):
And this year we welcome our sponsor, LANGSTON, cultivating Black Brilliance from their home at Seattle's Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute in the Historic Central District.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (16:21):
And notice that you, your work is called Phantasmagorical Musicals, which I think is, I love, I love it. I was like, they should put that on every single piece of marketing. I would come, I would absolutely come. But you've had, at this point now, several shows produced, and I think we understand what you're doing, how you're using Phantasm to actually get at certain other subjects. But what are the kinds of stories, other kinds of stories that you really want to tell?
JUSTIN HUERTAS (16:57):
Well, I mean, the thing that is most important to me with every one of these musicals I've written, and it started with Lizard Boy, because, you know, I wrote myself a superhero because I had never seen myself as a superhero. I never had people who looked like me on screen being heroes. I mean, I'm grateful for what I did have, which was Dante Basco playing Rufio in Hook. I had him, and then I had Paolo Montalban as the Prince in, um, Cinderella with Brandy and, uh, and Whitney Houston,
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (17:26):
When you say you, you haven't seen you, you are,
JUSTIN HUERTAS (17:31):
I am Filipino American, and I've seen Asian people on screen, but, but you know, I've seen them with very fair skin, and it's just like, you know, things like that where I'm just like, I love seeing Asian people on screen, but like, I, I had never seen Filipino people, especially in like, hero roles, at, as centers of the narrative. So it was really powerful for me, just like, personally to be able to make myself a superhero. And then talking to audience members afterwards and hearing from other folks who, who are not just Filipino, but other like BIPOC audience members who tell me like, it was really meaningful to see someone come into their power who, who isn't like the cookie cutter Captain America, Peter Parker. Like, it's actually someone who who hasn't gotten to who, who hasn't gotten the chance to see themselves as a superhero.
JUSTIN HUERTAS (18:20):
It's been really important to me in the musicals that I've written, they all have sort of, you know, arcs of identity and arcs of like understanding your own power, you know, self-empowerment and being able to stand in it with confidence. And I've always wanted to make sure that like audience members, they experience my shows and then they leave the shows hopefully feeling more powerful in who they are, um, and in their own identities. Because like, the thing is, you know, yes, I'm Filipino on, on stage, and yes, Lydia is a Black woman on stage, but like the specificity in our stories, it, it's it, we're all experiencing the same universal truths of like, not knowing where we fit and wanting to fit so badly, but learning that we have everything that we need. So I, I think like Lydia was also a huge step forward for me because I had always kind of thought like, oh, I can only write my own experience.
JUSTIN HUERTAS (19:18):
I'm only allowed to write my own experience. And it was, you know, Amina Kaplan, my director, Sarah Russell, my lead actress who were like, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. We are here with you. We're right beside you, and if you, if you want to write our story, we want to empower you to write our story. And so Lydia was a really a special project for me because I really felt like I was holding something really precious. It was a story that I empathized with full-heartedly, but it wasn't my story. So I was very, so, I, so moving forward, you know, any other musicals I want to create, I really want to make sure that, like, I don't feel limited in the kinds of stories, but making sure that I have someone beside me to sort of like, for us to hold each other and move forward so that other people can like, experience themselves in a hero role on stage.
MARCIE SILLMAN (20:07):
Vivian mentioned that description, phantasmagorical. And you know, when you, we talk about messages and empowering people, sometimes that can get really dense and maybe not entertaining, dare I say that, and that, that the balance that you're walking is to create something that's super fun. I mean, we're seeing, for example, I just recently saw Lydia and the Troll. It's been a while since I've seen Lizard Boy, but it's fun. We're laughing, and then the message is woven in, in a, in a way that is a great way to receive it. And so I'm wondering, you've mentioned all the theaters that have produced Lizard Boy, it, it seems like theater producers actually have been receptive to what you're doing. I'm curious if there have been particular hurdles because of, of the material or your approach to it?
JUSTIN HUERTAS (21:00):
I mean, truly, it's like any hurdles have been before the, either the work has been created or before the people have seen the work. Because when I describe what I'm doing, a lot of times people are like, what? That doesn't make any sense. <laugh>, how does that even work on stage? And, and, you know, I'm, I'm lucky enough to, to have some amazing imaginative collaborators and directors who I can say like, you know, in Lizard Boy, yeah, I need someone to shapeshift on stage, and then I need someone's hand to glow green. And then they need to move something with their mind. And like Brandon, I have my director is like, yes, yeah, yeah, we'll make that happen, and he'll just figure it out. Same thing with Amina Kaplan. I need a troll to transform into a human and then back into a troll. And Amina Kaplan was like, oh, yeah, I can do that. Easy-peasy
JUSTIN HUERTAS (21:50):
So yeah, in terms of, I mean, uh, it's, it's, I think I've been, it's, it's so funny because like I <laugh> I think I found like any of the, the greatest hurdles in, in creating this kind of work have really been my own insecurities, just because I am making things that I've never seen before. So I, I constantly self-edit and second guess myself and say like, is this even a thing that's going to work? Is this even like a viable, like, theater experience is this something that anyone's even gonna understand. If you don't know me. It's been about trusting my intuition because you know what I came to, what I came to understand really, you know, the reason why I lean into fantasy sci-fi, um, fairytale type stories is because I grew up with these comic book superheroes, these TV shows, X-Men, Spider-Man, um, Power Rangers, Ninja Turtles.
JUSTIN HUERTAS (22:44):
And, and I did not, I did not grow up very religious, but I did study religion in college. In, in the process of studying religion, I came to realize, oh my gosh, the myths that I had growing up, Power Rangers, X-Men, Spider-Man, those were the things that I used to learn how to become a good person in the same way that, you know, like people like, you know, religion, like the Bible, the stories in the Bible, you know, like the stories in the Quran, like everything I I learned are from these modern myths. And that's how I learned, you know, what a hero even is. So it became really important to me to be able to create stories like that and to create like modern myths for anyone really young people, especially, to come watch, be entertained, but also learn how to, um, or at least like learn the questions to ask in order to potentially learn to become a better, a better human in the world.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (23:42):
You know, you talk about second guessing yourself, and as, as a local Seattle based talent, I will say you're in an environment that's quite different in Seattle than it is in New York and Washington DC, Yeah. You will not see yourself reflected in the same way. So how have you seen audiences respond to your work in places outside of this region?
JUSTIN HUERTAS (24:09):
Oh, well, I mean, the cool thing is with Lizard Boy, I think the thing that surprised me the most is, you know, the metaphor of the lizard skin is very specific to me. You know, I, I know exactly what I'm saying, and it's open enough in the writing that audience members can come in, see it. I'm not painted green in the show, it's my own skin. We just, you know, it's theater <laugh>. Um, but it's wonderful because audiences come and they see the show and they decide for themselves what the scales mean. You know, I've had people come to the show and be like, it makes me wonder what my scales are. It makes me wonder what my green lizard skin is, because like, what are, what are the things that I think are holding me back but are actually my superpower? The thing, uh, that I learned much, I, so I also, uh, in this crazy like year <laugh>, this has been a crazy year, and I'm really grateful, um, because I'm doing Lizard Boy Off Broadway right now. Um, you know, Lydia and the Troll just closed, um, at Seattle Rep before that I premiered a musical at the Kennedy Center called the Mortification of Fovea Munson, which centers Oh, I love that. I know, I know. It's so easy.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (25:16):
Can you say it one more time? Just
JUSTIN HUERTAS (25:17):
The, The Mortification of Fovea Munson, it's based on a book, um, by Mary Winn Heider, and it's a wonderful story. It's really, it's kind of like a horror tinged, like family musical <laugh>, um, that centers, uh, sure. It, I, I, uh, truly it's centers a Filipina American 12 year old girl whose parents are doctors in own a cadaver lab. Her parents want her to be a doctor too. She does not want any part of it, but she's stuck working at the front desk of the cadaver lab for the summer. And she, one day she hears noises from the lab, she goes to check it out and meets three disembodied heads whose dream is to become a barbershop quartet. Um, she's a little disconnected from her Filipino identity, but her grandma plays a really huge role in the show. And so there's a lot of Filipino culture that gets folded into that show.
JUSTIN HUERTAS (26:06):
And the thing that surprised, another thing that surprised me enormously was we, we started doing that show, and I learned once the show started running that this is the first time in like the DC community that there has been a Filipino focused narrative on stage. There is a huge Filipino community there, but the acting community has, they've always played other races or just like on, you know, people with no race. Um, and that was really surprising to me to understand, but it also was really meaningful because I would just see, you know, all these Filipino people come to the show and see their culture on stage for the first time. So I, it's so funny. It's not, I mean, it's not funny <laugh> it's not, it's not funny. Ha ha. But, you know, I, I, I think I really take for granted, you know, the, the work that I'm doing, because Seattle is so incredibly diverse and inclusive and like, you know, we've been seeing our own stories on stage for a while, and it's been really wonderful. So I go to another city, put my work on stage, and I really take for granted how special the community in Seattle is because like, this is not new to me, but it's new to everyone here in DC.
MARCIE SILLMAN (27:17):
On the flip side of that, how does that sort of affect you as an artist? How have you evolved over all this time, taking your work out of the city where you, the region where you're from?
JUSTIN HUERTAS (27:29):
I mean, well, it's been very much like, I, I just <laugh>, I wanna keep doing it <laugh>, you know, um, it's been very important to me to try my best to just like, keep traveling. I mean, Seattle is my home base. Um, I, I still live there, even though I'm in New York right now. I have no plans to move anywhere else. Um, and I love getting out to different places and sharing and just sharing my stories because I, it's been really, you know, wonderful and validating to like, know that my stories are kind of facilitating this connection, you know, not just between me and audiences, but between audiences and themselves and between audiences and their communities. Like, that is really meaningful to me. So I've been more aggressive <laugh>, um, recently about like trying to get my work out there. And it's also been really meaningful to be able to, most of my original musicals are set in Seattle, so it's been really meaningful for me to like, take my shows, try and bring them places, and to kind of introduce Seattle to people because there are not really many shows set in Seattle <laugh>.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (28:38):
Yeah, I think the other thing that's really kinda specific for the, you know, and this piece of the conversation has to do with the kind of encouragement that you receive from Jerry Manning and the access that you had at and continue to have at Seattle Rep Theater. But I'm thinking about what the theater world can do outside of Seattle, right? I mean, I think Seattle still has a lot of work to do.
JUSTIN HUERTAS (29:02):
Oh, you're not wrong. You're not wrong.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (29:03):
Yeah, right, right. But structurally and institutionally, what are some of the things that the theater community can do in your view to make sure that all of these different voices are represented on stages, and how optimistic are you that those big solid dug in ships can actually move around a little bit?
JUSTIN HUERTAS (29:28):
Oh, wow. Yeah, that's a great question. Yeah, I, um, I'm really hopeful, um, that, you know, change can happen. The thing that I'm like learning, and this is also from my experience working with Amina Kaplan, who has just a, a very, um, varied point of view on like the performing arts, because she, um, before she came, uh, into town to do Lydia, she was, you know, stationed in Florida, working at Disney World at the, um, the Star Wars Intergalactic Star Cruiser, which is that immersive hotel. And she was the immersive experience director there. So she's over there, she's over there at Disney with all their technology and all their methods creating like immersive theatrical experiences for these guests. And she, you know, kind of comes out of it thinking like, we need to utilize these things in regional theater because we need regional theater to survive <laugh> to really, like, you know, it can't, like, Disney cannot have a choke hold on all things theater.
JUSTIN HUERTAS (30:33):
That's just not it, that's not correct. So everything that she's learning from her experiences working with, you know, the Mouse have, she's, she's, she's doing her best to spread that knowledge to, you know, everyone else so that we can all kind of like understand how how theater can, can, can work. And, and something that she kind of, she and I have talked at length about is really the, um, the structure of, of regional theater. I think we're learning that it's, it's, you know, borderline unsustainable. You know, we have all, you know, we have a season of shows and it's like, I hope people come see it, and I hope our subscribers keep loving us. And if our subscribers need to keep loving us, we'll keep doing the same things we always do, as long as they keep loving us.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (31:21):
But what you're describing, I think is like this attraction to newer audience, different audiences. Yeah. And maybe new is the way to say it. You say new than you say, oh, right, <laugh>, uh, sure, sure, sure. Um, but it does feel like what you are describing is this really specific way of attracting different audiences.
JUSTIN HUERTAS (31:43):
Yeah. And it's also like, you know, we're, we've been kind of, you know, um, sticking our noses up at like people who we think like don't get theater, like the TikTok generation who like, we just say like, oh, they don't have the attention span for that. So, um, so we have to focus on these other audiences. We can't focus on the TikTok audience when really it's like, actually those people are gonna be coming to the theater in 10, 15 years. We want to be making theater for everybody. And that includes the TikTok people. That includes, you know, I hate to say it, but you know, the, all the tech people, <laugh>, the Amazon, Microsoft Google folks, we wanna make theater for them too, because they are making the money that should be going into our industry <laugh>. So it's like, you know, reframing the way that we make the art and the people that we're making the art for Lydia and the Troll, I think is a perfect example.
JUSTIN HUERTAS (32:39):
You know, I don't know that like, you know, if we pitched it to 10 regional theaters, I don't know that like, even four of them would say yes, but, you know, Seattle Rep is committed. They commissioned it, sorry, Rep, you have to do what we say, and we created this thing. And it was just such an overwhelming response. You know, people coming to the theater, we had some folks who'd never been to a, a show in their lives and they were like, this is what theater is? And we had folks who'd seen shows at Seattle Rep for years say, like, I have never seen the Leo Kay stage look like this before <laugh>. And that comes down to not only just the tech, and not only just like the, you know, electronic music produced by Steven Tran, but it's also kind the kinds of stories that we're telling and we're telling a story, you know, by and for Seattle. And you know, our ultimate dream would have been, you know, if, you know, if we weren't operating inside of like the structure of regional theater, our ultimate dream would've been like, yeah, Lydia in the Troll for an open-ended run. And it's the new thing that you do. Like if you are in Seattle, you go see Lydia in the Troll, and that is just like the thing that you do. So, yeah, I don't know. Amina and I have a lot of like dreams for <laugh> for regional theater <laugh>.
MARCIE SILLMAN (33:55):
So Justin, you're in New York for this open-ended run of Lizard Boy, right?
JUSTIN HUERTAS (33:59):
Oh, sure. No, it's not open-ended. <laugh>
MARCIE SILLMAN (34:03):
You mentioned, I think it the Mortification of Favea Munson was March. March.
JUSTIN HUERTAS (34:08):
It was March, yeah. Of
MARCIE SILLMAN (34:10):
This year, Lydia and The Troll. So that seems pretty overwhelming, and you're pretty busy, but are you thinking ahead to like, where am I going next?
JUSTIN HUERTAS (34:18):
Uh, right now? I mean, like, it's pretty open. It's pretty, it's been so wild this year. I mean, yeah, you said it, it's been wild. Um, 'cause all of these things, I mean, Liz Lizard Boy was, uh, a kind of, you know, that popped up and we're so happy that it did. Um, and Fovea Munson and Lydia are both shows that had been kind of waiting in the pandemic theater line because we were commissioned for Fovea in 2020, like January of 2020. Our first workshop was gonna be May of 2020, and then that happened. So, so Fovea has also just kind of been waiting for her shot. And so when these got up, when these, when both these shows got on the schedule, I was a little nervous 'cause I'm just like, oh God, two world premieres in a row. I'm not gonna be sleeping for like six months.
JUSTIN HUERTAS (35:05):
Um, I think it was like maybe in the middle of Lydia once we were like winding down, we were about to open and I was thinking, oh my gosh, the show's gonna open up. I'm gonna go to New York and start working on Lizard Boy. But then once Lizard Boy is done, what happens? I was like, oh my God. I don't know. And I'm really excited about that because like, I feel like I should just like sit down for a little while <laugh>. I feel like I should just take a nap, you know? I do have a, I premiered a show at Arts West, um, a couple year or a little over a year ago called, We Battled Monsters Before. And, uh, I get to go with my co-star Rheanna Atendido to Reinbeck, to the Rhinebeck Writers Retreat in upstate New York to work on that show for a week in August.
JUSTIN HUERTAS (35:52):
But that, but that's the only thing I have on the books right now. So literally I'm just like, yeah. I mean, part of me is nervous. I'm just like, should I be like making sure that like someone is commissioning me to write something and part of me is like, I don't know what's gonna happen. This is cool. Lizard Boy is about to officially open on Wednesday, and then people are gonna see it. And then maybe like, New York will ask me to do things. I don't know. That might be awesome. So yeah, I'm very optimistic and nervous and excited and scared and <laugh> all of the emotions.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (36:28):
I have a feeling, we have a feeling, we have
MARCIE SILLMAN (36:31):
A feeling we have a good feeling.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (36:33):
Well, one of the things that Matthew Wright at Arts West said is that he had a fear that there were not being myths written for our time. And I think that what you're doing is absolutely writing myths for our time. Yeah. And I think that's gonna continue. Even if you sit down on the beach
JUSTIN HUERTAS (36:55):
<laugh>, I have a feeling
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (36:56):
Something's gonna come out of the water, truly, and it's gonna make you think about something else related to identity. Right?
JUSTIN HUERTAS (37:03):
It’s gonna happen. This is what happens. I'm gonna try and take a break and then like, that's not actually gonna happen. I'm gonna be like, oh my God, I have to write something right now. <laugh>.
MARCIE SILLMAN (37:13):
I wish you the best of luck, and I don't want you to move to New York. So don't get lured by that siren Broadway call. You know, <laugh>
JUSTIN HUERTAS (37:23):
<laugh>. I will not, I will not, I promise. No, no, no, no. Like, it's fun here. I don't wanna live here.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (37:30):
At least when the clouds lift in Seattle, you can see water <laugh> or snowcap mountains, you know,
JUSTIN HUERTAS (37:37):
But I was just describing to a New Yorker yesterday, you know, like we, we get all the, all the seasons in Seattle and like, we love it. You know, it's so funny how we are because we're, it's sunny in Seattle and we're like, Ugh, the sun is out and then it's, it's sunny for a day longer than we want it to be. And we're like, oh my God, the rain,
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (37:59):
JUSTIN HUERTAS (38:00):
<laugh>, I miss the rain. I just want it to rain. And then it rains and we are dancing and we are rejoicing and it, it rains for one day too long. And we say, you what? I miss the sun
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (38:09):
JUSTIN HUERTAS (38:11):
<laugh>. And then it snows for one day, and then we're like, oh, I love the snow. And the snow lasts for more than one day. And we're like, this sucks. <laugh>. This is awful. I love
MARCIE SILLMAN (38:22):
I love this. This is the new motto of Seattle.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (38:23):
Motto of Seattle. There's, there's a superpower. Somebody has a superpower that's related to seasons that comes up in your neck.
JUSTIN HUERTAS (38:31):
Oh wait, oh my God. I'm gonna write that down.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (38:34):
Write that down. I'm gonna
JUSTIN HUERTAS (38:35):
Gonna write that down. Down. Write it down down the weather in
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (38:37):
Seattle. It's a Seattle based individual, right? It's gotta be Seattle based. Oh
JUSTIN HUERTAS (38:41):
My God. Wait, I love that. Ooh. Okay, wait. Okay. Mark this as the day, because if you see like in a couple years Justin's gonna premiere a musical about like someone who can control the weather, you'll know it's literally because of this interview.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (38:56):
I love it. I love it. I am all in. I will be there!
JUSTIN HUERTAS (39:00):
I'll give you full credit. Full credit. Oh my God.
MARCIE SILLMAN (39:03):
We'll be at the opening. We'll definitely be there. Yes.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (39:07):
MARCIE SILLMAN (39:07):
Gosh, Justin, where to, this has been the most fun conversation. You've really just perked up my day.
JUSTIN HUERTAS (39:13):
MARCIE SILLMAN (39:13):
Absolutely. Thank you so much for taking time. And what did they say? Break a leg, but if you're a lizard, break many legs.
JUSTIN HUERTAS (39:21):
You know, if I break a leg off as a lizard, it'll just grow right back, you know?
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (39:24):
There you go.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (39:27):
We wish you the absolute best. Thank you for all that you're doing. We can't wait to see what's next.
JUSTIN HUERTAS (39:33):
Thanks again for having me. This was a blast.
MARCIE SILLMAN (39:37):
So Vivian, you are gonna get a credit on Justin Huerta's new musical <laugh>. Oh my God. That he has yet to write.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (39:45):
That is the funniest thing ever. And I mean, you know, it just nails how fickle we are in the Pacific Northwest about our weather. We don't know if we like it to be wet, hot, dry, we don't know. But whatever it is, we can find some reason to complain about it, it seems. And he is. He is, right.
MARCIE SILLMAN (40:07):
Yup he is right. But the thing that's so great listening to Justin talk is that he's created these phantasmagorical musicals a great word, productions. I love that word. I love it. Phantasmagorical. The thing is that they're entertaining as all get out. Yeah. The music is catchy, catchy, catchy. And yet when you walk away from it, you realize that there's a lot of meat. It's not just a piece of cotton candy, it is like a full on macaroni and cheese dinner.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (40:41):
Yeah and I think, you know, we mentioned this in the interview as well, but how important is it for there to be mythical stories that really are representative of all humanity? And I think that that's one of his bigger contributions that he's not really embraced, and I don't think it's as prominent as it will become at some point. So I'm just really happy for the work that he does, and I'll be happy to get a playwrite musical credit <laugh>.
MARCIE SILLMAN (41:16):
We can't wait for that. We'll be in the audience opening night. But the thing about him is that he takes such joy in what he's doing, and that joy is completely contagious. I went to the opening night of Lydia and the Troll at Seattle Repertory Theater. And I mean, I knew it would be fun, but I didn't know that I would laugh so hard, laugh till I cried, and that everybody else would be laughing with me. And at the end of the play, he was sitting, I was up in the balcony in the Leo Kay Theater at the Rep, and he was sitting down below, and he's such a, I mean, he is himself, and everybody clapped, and he stood up kind of humbly with little glasses and took a bow and then kind of like, Aw, shucks. You know, I love that he is who he is. Um, despite the success that he's having, he's rooted in, in his I, his identity and his sense of self.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (42:12):
Well, you know, again, I will go back to my position of gratitude. I'm so grateful that we have this platform that allows us to explore these fabulous minds and have these conversations with folks. And I'm just hopeful that everybody who's listening is also feeling that sense of gratitude. We are certainly grateful for them as well.
MARCIE SILLMAN (42:37):
Thanks, Dr. Fovea Phillips for being with me. <laugh>,
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (42:41):
Dr. Fovea. Oh boy. Okay. Thank you.
MARCIE SILLMAN (42:50):
DoubleXposure's Executive Producers are me, Marcie Sillman,
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (42:54):
And me Vivian Phillips, Associate Producer Hilary Northcraft.
MARCIE SILLMAN (42:59):
If you like what you're hearing on this episode of DoubleXposure, be sure to follow us on your favorite podcast app and check out our website, doubleXposurepod.com.
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