When Michael Urie and Drew Droege collaborated on Drew's solo performance piece "Bright Colors and Bold Patterns," they surely could not have anticipated the overwhelming response to the production. After a long, frequently extended run in New York City, Broadway HD came forward to record the performance for wider streaming release, placing it securely in the tradition of other iconic solo plays-turned-movies like Lily Tomlin's "Search For Signs of Intelligent Life In The Universe" and Sandra Bernhard's "Without You I'm Nothing." Sunday night, Drew's performance, in which he plays an intoxicated Angeleno who arrives in Palm Springs and quickly begins unraveling before an unseen company of his friends, was awarded the top prize for outstanding performance at this year's Outfest. Just before the film's Outfest premiere, Urie and Droege sat down with Out to talk about the success and their expectations for the film, which is now streaming on Broadway HD.
Austin Dale: Drew, I haven't seen the film yet but I did see it in New York toward the beginning of the run. And of course it was great. Has the journey ever since been a surprise?
Drew Droege: God, no. I had no idea. It's been one thing after another where it's been, "Okay, yeah, now this is done." I couldn't be happier. I started working on it five years ago, and I did it in a thirty-seat theatre in LA to workshop it. I started doing these short runs in LA, and then I did it for two nights in New York. Michael saw it and hopped on board. Then we did a two-and-a-half week run in New York. And then we did a five-month run at Soho Playhouse. And then Broadway HD came to us and basically said, "We wanna capture this." And then a friend of mine asked about premiering it at Outfest. So we went to Outfest, and they loved it. So here we are. So it's just been growing and it's still going. It's crazy to me.
AD: Michael, what do you think it was that caught on? There are a lot of one-gay shows.
Michael Urie: I stepped into the adventure with Drew around the time he brought it to New York for the first time. He brought it to Ars Nova, and I went, and when I saw it, I thought it was not just funny, not just a tour-de-force, but a totally relevant and dynamic piece of theatre that really belonged in front of a wide audience, not just in front of people who like comedy, or people who like gay stuff, but people who like theatre, who like great storytelling and theatrics. What Drew does in the play is more than just telling jokes or telling a story. It's a fully-fledged play with four distinct characters. He only plays one, but we learn about four different characters through him. I thought it deserved more than it had gotten. And so I thought maybe I could help. And now it's going to have this very wide release thanks to Broadway HD.
That feeling is why it had such longevity. Five months off-Broadway is unprecendented, and so much of that can be attributed to Drew's stamina. But it's also due to the people who kept coming! People would come over and over again. That's part of what's exciting to me about the movie. People can watch it over and over, and I think people will, because I heard from people who had seen it more than once that became deeper and truer and funnier the more times they saw it. That's in part because the conceit is so fascinating that you get lost in studying how Drew is creating this world of four people talking on a patio. And you find yourself daydreaming and missing things and you want to see it again.
AD: Outside of the short run in LA, the Outfest audience will be the largest audience that has seen it who are also part of the LA gay community you're satirizing in the piece.
DD: I'm a nervous wreck. Is that what you're asking?
AD: Are you?!
MU: They're gonna love it.
DD: This will be the biggest audience that have ever seen it at one time. I've had this really crazy feeling about it all week, because I don't love watching myself in anything. I have to get over that. When people give me a link to something I've done, I just go, "That looks great!" And then I share it without even looking at it. I like doing things, and I hate watching myself do them. Maybe because I've already done the show so many times, or because I don't want to spend 85 minutes watching myself, I thought I was gonna hang out at the bar and come back for the Q&A. Because I hate the idea of having no control over it whatsoever, just sitting there to watch the play.
Bob Hawk - who is a legend and an icon and a delight - told me I had to watch it with an audience. He said, "Do not rob yourself of the experience." And then I realized, who am I to say, "Ooh I can't look at myself!" It would be sad if I don't sit and watch it. So I've turned a corner into being really excited. And then I have to give it up and ride the plane. I can't drive it anymore.
AD: People also know you in LA and they love you in LA. That's something to keep in mind.
DD: Outfest is home base for me. I go every year and I see every movie. I started on Thursday and I've seen ten or twelve programs already. I'm very loyal to it, and it has been loyal to me. I had to remember that this is friends and family.
AD: It's not a roomful of strangers.
MU: Drew's such a staple. Before I met Drew, I remember him from Outfest. He's so beloved. There's always a movie he's in. And he's always a part of the Outfest community in a major way. It was such a good idea to bring this premiere to Outfest, and it's also new for Broadway HD. It's so cool, this idea of putting these stage productions on film for people to see is very exciting. And especially for people outside of New York! But for people who want to revisit some of these outstanding performances.
AD: Speaking of Broadway HD, how is it different to perform this as something that would be performed for posterity? You had a live performance there. Was it just a normal performance that they taped.
DD: We did two performances - a matinee and an evening - that they taped. They had four cameras. They want it to be as if you're sitting in the theater watching a play, as opposed to a film. They want it to be spontaneous. Whatever happened that night happened that night. And I wanted my show to feel very improvised. 95% is the same show every night, but I always give myself freedom to change one little thing, so I very much wanted to capture that spirit. We had a huge crew, and four cameras on us, but we also had a full audience there as well. It was intense.
MU: The director of the capture is David Horn. He directed the capture of Buyer & Seller, which is another one-man show I was in, which we filmed for PBS. He films all the pBS stuff. Any time you see a production of a play on PBS, he directed it. And anytime you see something on Broadway HD, he's the guy. He comes in and he studies the play in the audience, and then he works with the stage director to determine where the cameras go. And he calls all the shots, so I sat in the truck with him, silent as he says, "Camera 1, camera 2, camera 3, camera 4." And you watch a big monitor with all these images of all these camera angles, and he knows where he wants the audience to look from moment to moment. And he knows the play as well as anyone else at this point.
DD: I couldn't believe how well he knew the play, beat by beat. After the matinee, he was like, "In this one moment, you turned and faced a different direction than you normally do." And I couldn't believe he had studied the play that well. And he was so in sync with what I was doing.
MU: He definitely tells the same story every night, but Drew is so spontaneous, and his mind works so quickly that every time I saw it there would be new things. But because David had spent so much time with this one performance, even though he was working and he knew when he needed to cut, he was still laughing as if it was the first time. There are things you miss all the time in the theater. But it will be the same from now on. It will be the same forever.