Portland filmmaker Alicia J. Rose's online series The Benefits of Gusbandry follows a gay man, River (Kurt Conroyd) and a straight woman, Jackie (Brooke Totman)--two best friends navigating the tricky world of dating and living in America in their thirties and forties.
Rose, who's previously worked in music videos and photography, created and built the show from the ground up, and now, it's available for streaming on Amazon Prime. In our chat with the creator, Rose explains that Gusbandry assumes a "post marriage-equality" America. But in today's uncertain, and quite formidable, political context, the lighthearted program plays differently.
We asked Rose to talk about television in Trump's new era and the importance of getting off your couch to create.
These characters aren't archetypes you're seeing in other shows. Can you speak to the significance of representation in media?
First, this show is my life. It's not just my life--it's the lives of so many men and women I know. This relationship between gay men and women has gone on forever. It's nothing new. The only difference now is you don't have to fake getting married to have a Gusband. You can just be who you are. So many romantic relationships are fueled with volatility. Men crave women in their life, and women crave men in their life, but it doesn't have to be in a heteronormative way. Relationships that are founded and thrive on alliance, acceptance and love--that's really important. I don't see it in television. This relationship is generally a peripheral one in media. I've had boyfriends that turned out to be gay; I have one recent boyfriend who is now a transgender woman. It's great, and it's wonderful for us all to accept each other for who we are, but it's really hard to find that representation in the media done in a normal way. I can share things with my male gay friends that I can't share with my girlfriends.
How would you describe the significance of your show in today's political climate?
The day we launched our very first crowdfunding campaign was the day that marriage equality became legal nationwide. One of my Gusbands, Lake Perriguey, was one of the attorneys who challenged the state and sued the state and got marriage equality in Oregon a year before it went nationwide. It happened here in 2004 as well, but got overturned. This time it did not.
Oregon also has the first legally non-binary American, too.
That was Lake, too. Lake's incredible--River's based on him. Whether or not you like the styling, River's wearing all of Lake's clothes. This show is distinctly post-marriage equality, assuming we have equal rights. A woman doesn't have to follow a heteronormative path, nor does a gay man. We don't have to get married, but it needs to be a baseline option we all have. Now, the next level is to really promote inclusion and alliance. We've passed the November 8th hellhole vortex; it's terrifying to watch these confirmation sessions.
What impact do you think your series has had on the LGBTQ community?
Over the last year I went to four festivals in the South. There's a lot of religious discrimination on the books, including before this election. When marriage equality became a right, there were people from the religious right passing laws so that people had the right to discriminate. I was with this group of women--when you're a lesbian in Nashville, Tennessee--these women still feel unsafe walking down the street holding hands, because it's a punishable offense to some businesses. I live in a definite bubble, but by going to the South and screening, I have audience members coming up to me and going "Thank you for just showing it how it is." I know we're also a comedy, and making fun of a lot of stuff, but at the show's core is a message of acceptance, with a political agenda. We're just cushioning it with comedy.
A lot of the show's success falls on the two leads' shoulders. Can you talk about the casting process?
I'd seen [Brooke] in an improv show a year or two prior to coming up with the idea for Gusbandry, and I fell in love with her. She was around her early forties, and after I sat around with my collaborators after coming up with the idea, I was thinking. "Who can star in this?" It's not LA--there's not a million people who could fit that role. Someone who could hold it down, be at the center of it, and actually be the age I wanted her to be. I didn't want to find someone younger. I'd photographed her improv group a few years ago--they're called "The Big Combo"--and I'd done portraits for them, and then my co-writer and I had known her through the improv scene and and explained the idea [to her], and said, "Do you want to be this woman?" And she said, "This is the role I've been waiting for my whole life." Then River--for me, it was crucial to have an actual gay man play a gay man.
You say of course, I say of course. But it's not easy.
It's strange how that's not always the case.
We originally wanted the River character to be 40, as well. We looked at around 25 people, and for Portland that's a lot, considering we'd cast Brooke before we even started writing. We looked at a lot, and half were not gay. In the end, what I really wanted was chemistry. I needed an actor, a gay man, who could be attractive to everybody. And a hetero woman could be potentially attracted to him, and have a confusing crush. So Kurt Conroyd walked in the door--he'd been in this movie and played a creepy straight stalker. Luckily I hadn't seen that when he walked in the door [and he] charmed everybody's pants off. He and Brooke sank into the couch and it was like they'd been Gusband and wife their whole life.
Related Article | Fund This: 'The Benefits of Gusbandry'
So the inspiration came from your own life--you've always had gay friends close to you?
Yeah, a lot of it's a true story. Jackie is basically me. The beauty of having a cowriter is Jackie is also kind of my cowriter Courtenay Hameister. I'm more wild and open, and Courtenay is a little more reticent. I think it's a great combination. It's good for me to have a tether, and for her to have someone who will do anything. The stories, the relationships, the arc of the characters all absolutely draw from my life. That's why I wanted to make an episodic series--to have the opportunity to let these characters become their own thing and feel real.
What have you learned since starting as a filmmaker?
I had to be a part of the conversation. Women, queer people, people of color, anyone who feels like they aren't represented--no one can represent you like you can. No one handed me this. I didn't graduate college and someone went, "Yay, here's your web series." I'm in my mid-forties. I've got to make my shit happen. But I've had a lot of doors shut in my face. Over gender; over people projecting limited possibilities on me because I'm a woman. How do I change this? It's just like in politics--You don't like it? Grab a clipboard [and] get to work. It's the same thing being a filmmaker, or an artist, or a journalist. Write about it, make art about it, do whatever you can do. And this is how I found my voice, and refined my voice, without permission. I'm sick of permission. I'm just going to make it. That's my intention with Gusbandry. You can't wait for anyone to hand you anything. You have to create the opportunity yourself. There's nothing more fucking rad right now than being a part of this cultural conversation.
Watch a trailer for The Benefits of Gusbandry, below.