Marquee Dinner Spotlight on Haygen-Brice Walker | Theatre Philadelphia
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Marquee Dinner Spotlight on Haygen-Brice Walker

Feb 1, 2018

On February 5th, we will host the Marquee Dinner, honoring the Independence Foundation and celebrating new plays and playwrights in Philadelphia. This spotlight shares some background on the key artists that make our region a hotbed for new theatrical work. 

I'm Haygen-Brice Walker, playwright-producer here in Philadelphia. I'm a third year member of The Foundry at PLAYPENN, 2018/2020 Core Writer at Interact Theatre Company, member Playwright of WRITERS ON THE ROCKS, and Co-Founder (with Director-Producer Elaina Di Monaco) of ON THE ROCKS, in my not-so-humble opinion, Philly's awesome producer of new plays.  

I love Philadelphia.  The rawness of it, the grit, the dirt under the nails so to speak.  I went to University of the Arts in Philly and fell in love with all the connections that I made both with my peers and also with the Philadelphia Theatre Community, so I stayed.  I don't use the word community lightly.  I think the Philadelphia theatre community is a really tight-knit group of artists that have all sorts of shit to say.

I'm writing so many plays right now.  I think the way ON THE ROCKS works on new plays is really special.  We have a group of actors and artists and designers in town that we deeply respect, we refer to them as the Tribe of Goonfucks.  Every year right after our Fringe show, we start hosting readings and workshops of our next Fringe project.  We all work together for a full year and then the show is ready.  We're like a big dysfunctional family.  I'm writing these parts for these people.  Without them there wouldn't be any material.  I'm working on a gay buffalo play for my Interact Core Playwright play.  It's a really quiet little play that addresses some of the challenges of being gay and falling in love with a straight person.  ON THE ROCKS has been developing WOLFCRUSH, which we're doing a workshop reading of for Philly Theatre Week.  It's probably my favorite play I've ever written, because I've been writing it now for about a year and a half and I'm not sick of it yet.  WOLFCRUSH is a play that breaks every playwriting rule we're ever taught. I grew up in a small swamp town in rural Virginia and the play is about all the challenges that come with being gay in a conservative place--what are the rules of gayness?  And lastly, I'm working on a secret project called the shed, the fire, and what they found in the ashes, which is a super scary little play about really screwed-up families and how hard it is to come back home to dysfunction after you've escaped.  

I've definitely had a lot of support with my art, but I always wish that people were more supportive of emerging artists.  I want to see more of the underdogs being supported by the organizations with money and funding.  Seriously.  It means the world to us.  There are so many organizations and individuals in town that have resources and space and free time.  I want to see more big dogs helping out us little guys by donating space or costumes or props--this is the only way to cultivate new and fresh voices.  It's integral.  We gotta help each other more.  It's what this whole thing is all about.

I've been lucky in Philadelphia to have lots of support from lots of different places.  Jackie Goldfinger was one of my professors in college and she's always been a huge support system for me.  Jackie, along with the other Foundry Mentors (Michael Hollinger and Quin D. Eli), are really good at networking and making sure everyone in Philadelphia knows how amazing the writers of The Foundry are.

There are also a lot of wonderful advocates for my work within the artistic leadership community and that is so important.  The fact that Allison Heishman came to my midnight fringe show this year meant the world to me.  Allison is one of those people who always shows up and constantly proves that she cares.  I cannot wait to see what she does at Simpatico.  She's a hero of mine.  Kittson O'Neill is another artistic leader that has always been rooting for me.  This was my third year applying to be a Core Playwright at Interact and my rejection letters were always thickly laced with support and encouragement.  It's this support and encouragement that motivated me to keep trying.

My biggest support in the world of Philadelphia theatre has been my tribe.  My tribe is vast and encompasses a lot of people from actors and designers to producers and stage managers.  Campbell O'Hare and Jenna Kuerzi have been with me from the beginning.  Those two actresses have always dove head-first into whatever messed-up situation I've written for them and they've killed it.  They are both fiercely talented and incredibly passionate and committed.  I wouldn't be the writer I am today without them.  They challenge me and make me want to become the best writer I can be--I want to give them parts that showcase every part of their ability.  I love them.  My boyfriend, Kevan Sullivan, who is a dancer with Koresh Dance Company is also a huge artistic inspiration to me.  He and I collaborated on our first project together this past Fringe and he constantly surprises me with his talent and his composure.  

And I can't forget my art-wife, Elaina Di Monaco.  Freshman year of college, I couldn't stand her.  She was the girl who sat in the front of the room and answered all the questions (think Hermione Granger, but sans endearing British accent).  I was the guy who sat in the back of the classroom and judged her for answering all the questions.  And yet, someway, somehow (after lots of boneless wings, extra bleu cheese, and even more margaritas):  she became my best friend (except during tech week, we dislike each other then).  Elaina is my biggest fan and does what every great new-play director should do:  she listens.  She constantly whips me into shape and can direct the hell out of a show.  No matter what challenge you throw at her, she's going to accomplish it.  And not just accomplish it, she's going to exceed all of your expectations.  She's surely going to be leading an organization one day and I can't wait to brag about her and name drop her all over the place.  

I'm inspired by soo many people in this town.  I think the fringe-work that Gunnar Montana does is arguably the best work in town.  It's daring, ballsy, sexy, bloody, and raw.  Everything that I want to be.  I think theatre people need to go and see his stuff.  All of it.  It's a masterclass on what we all need to be doing more of.  I'm obsessed with David Jacobi, LM Feldman, and Jarrett McCreary--who are the other 2018-2020 Core Playwrights at Interact.  I've also served as a Teacher's Assistant for David and L and they are incredible teachers.  It's humbling to be in a writers' group with these beautiful people and I know I can learn the world from them.  Val Dunn is a writer who really does it for me.  Her work is effortless.  It's beautiful lesbian witch poetry.  She doesn't know how good she is (yet), which makes her even better.  I've read several of her plays now and I'm always in awe of her imagery, her language, her characters, the danger.  Everyone needs to be producing Val Dunn.  Seriously.  Lastly, I miss R. Eric Thomas.  I'm super excited that Azuka is producing him this season, because he really is a gem.  Most people know him as a funny guy on the internet (which he undoubtedly is), but he is so much more than that.  The man can write a play.  Every one of his plays is a mini-masterclass on characterization and plot.  The dude's a genius.

Hear more stories like Haygen's and enjoy a meal alongside creators of new work at the Marquee Dinner on February 5th at Panorama Restaurant!