Adam Odsess-Rubin, Artistic Director of National Queer Theater talks Pool Parties, Pina Coladas and Partnerships

DREAMers: An (Un)Documentary Play Written and directed by Adam Odsess-Rubin

Hello, Welcome! Please introduce yourself and the project you are bringing to Town Stages. 

Hi! I am Adam Odsess-Rubin, Founder and Artistic Director of National Queer Theater. The Criminal Queerness Festival brings LGBTQ artists from all over the world to New York City to put on plays that would otherwise be censored in the writers’ home countries. It’s a radical act of artistic expression, and a movement-building event that has raised a lot of awareness for the LGBTQ criminalization and censorship that happens around the world to queer artists especially. I love that we bring together a group of nearly 50 queer artists to create these shows, and doing it at Dixon Place in partnership with NYC Pride and the NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. It’s a huge project that I’m immensely proud of.

That is amazing. What was your first job as an artist?

When I first moved to NYC in 2012, I was an intern at The Civilians in Brooklyn. I used what I learned in that internship to write a documentary play called DREAMers from interviews with DACA recipients at Make the Road NY, an incredible Immigrant Rights organization. We did a reading of the play at Theatre for the New City as part of their New City, New Blood series and I received a $50 check with ‘playwright’ written into the subject line. I really felt like I had made it at that point.

Comedy or drama?

Drama.

Favorite thing you have watched online this week?

I’ve been watching Mondays in the Club: Pandemic at the Disco put on by Club Cumming every Monday night at 9:30pm. It was already one of my favorite cabaret shows in New York before the pandemic. Now that it’s moved online, it’s somehow even more fun. Alan Cumming performs sometimes from his home. But the chat feature is the best, you get a lot of funny queens in the chat type-shouting ‘YAAAAS!’ and making dirty jokes. I love it.

May we all get to hang with Alan Cumming in his home one day. A theatre-kid can dream… Your Favorite drink?

When I was in college at UC Santa Cruz, I lived in this big hippy house with six other people. The house had a small pool in the backyard and we used to throw these naked pool parties for our friends. I was always on piña colada duty. So now I have a great nostalgia for that and piña colada’s bring back great memories of nude tanning in the sun with my college friends. Those were the days!

Living on the edge-nudity and pineapples with all those little spikes.  Ah, the good old days. Tropical fruit, friendship and bodies…. Do you prefer NY or CA?

NY. I’m from the SF Bay Area so LA is our natural rival- too many cars! 

*tallies another notch to my NYC vs LA inner-war with myself*

How is your organization dealing with COVID-19? 

We’ll have to postpone our festival, but luckily as a small organization we don’t have a big staff that we have to worry about. Right now, I’m just focused on keeping the theater going and getting money into the pockets of our artists, many of whom were already struggling financially before COVID-19. Compound that with being trans, being a queer immigrant or HIV+, and there are a number of acute challenges our community is facing. We also offer free acting classes at SAGE for queer elders and at New Alternatives with queer youth experiencing homelessness, so those are two other subgroups in the LGBTQ community that we’re focused on supporting right now, and are especially at risk. What upsets me is how hard it has been as a small organization to access some of the relief funding that larger theaters are going to be receiving in the coming weeks. Because we’re newer and smaller, we don’t have the infrastructure set up to access even a small sliver of the money being allocated by the federal government and private foundations to support nonprofits through this time. It’s even worse for fiscally sponsored organizations like other Town Stages fellows Ring of Keys and The Parsnip Ship. I worry how we’re going to survive.

National Queer Theater Production

I’m so grateful for the brilliant friends I’ve made through National Queer Theater. I feel so lucky to have a community made up of brilliant queer playwrights, directors, and actors. In the LGBTQ community, so many have been rejected by family because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The idea of  ‘chosen family’ is so important to us. I’m grateful every day for my chosen family of smart, bold, and silly friends and collaborators.

Are you looking for any artistic partnerships? Collabs? 

Always! We have a number of really exciting shows coming up that I can’t talk about right now. I’m especially always on the lookout for trans and nonbinary theater artists who might be looking for an artistic home that will embrace them for who they are. I hear way too many stories of trans and nonbinary artists misgendered or abused in the audition room, in the rehearsal room, and in tech. That’s just unacceptable. I’ve also noticed a real dearth of queer designers and stage managers of color- please reach out! It’s a gift to be in a position to hire artists, and at National Queer Theater we want to use that ability to create doorways for folks who have traditionally been left out.

DREAMers: An (Un)Documentary Play Written and directed by Adam Odsess-Rubin

How can we help each other in this crisis? 

There are so many ways that we can help each other right now. I hear some of my artist friends complaining about being bored in quarantine right now, and try to encourage them to think about the ways they can be of service. I see costume designers making homemade masks for the elderly. Actors are participating in online fundraisers for Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS. Arts administrators are helping freelance artists find and apply for relief funding. The artistic community is full of compassionate, incredible individuals. Without feeling too much pressure to be ‘productive’ right now, I’d encourage people to find ways they can help others with their skills or time right now. I just signed up to volunteer to speak on the phone with LGBTQ elders once a week thorugh SAGEConnect, which is aimed at combating isolation right now. Giving back is good for your mental health, especially at a moment of profound stress and anxiety. 

Best and worst meal you have cooked since you started quarantine

I’m really proud of this New York Times four hour pasta bolognese recipe I tried, with a lot of substitutions because of limited groceries. I’d never have four hours normally to make a meal. It was divine. On the other hand, I didn’t wait long enough for a fillet of fish to thaw before cooking it in the oven and that was a disaster. The middle was still kind of frozen and raw. I’m learning to be patient in the kitchen.

Four hours! I can barely wait 40 minutes for my Seamless.

Salty or sweet, (asking for a friend)?

Both.

*swipes right*

If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?

I’m so jealous of my singer friends. I really can’t hold a tune. If I could wake up tomorrow and have a new ability, I’d love to wake up and have a voice like Freddie Mercury or Billy Porter. That’d be a dream.

Adam, you are a dream, thanks for chatting with me!

Find Adam and National Queer Theater at: 

www.nationalqueertheater.org/ or IG: @nationalqueertheater


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