Meet the Residents.
95 Empire director Ric Royer sits down over tea and some extremely impressive cookies with Leigh Hendrix and Melissa Bowler to talk about their upcoming show, “Leigh and Melissa Present: Hamlette”. Leigh and Melissa are the 95 Empire residents in September as part of the Residence@95 Program.
Ric Royer: I’d like to start off by asking you to talk about your experiences as a comedy duo, but I’m not even sure if you consider yourselves a comedy duo. So I guess my first question is: are you a comedy duo?
Leigh Hendrix: I think the answer is that we are sort of a comedy duo. We’ve been in comedies together before, that is how we started working together, and then we improvise with some other folks as part of The Trumans. The earliest version of what ultimately became Leigh and Melissa Present: Hamlette was actually called just Leigh and Melissa and was essentially a sketch show about friendships between women.
So, we are funny together in this show and have been funny together before and will probably be funny together again.
RR: When I first saw the earlier iteration of this piece, it reminded me a lot of the Kathy and Mo Show or French and Saunders, do you draw much influence from such quirky work that tend to lie between theatre, performance art and comedy?
LH: I think that those women and the work they do certainly inspire me, I see myself and the work I am making as existing right in that in between place – I find folks like Providence’s Strange Attractor who are working Ina very specific model of devised theatre energizing and I am also totally jazzed by a performer like Kristen Wiig. I think anyone who is generating their own new work that has a sense of play and also focus and specificity helps guide what I choose to make. I found Melissa’s work inspiring before we worked together; she still makes me laugh incredibly hard and makes me want to be a better, bolder performer.
Melissa Bowler: I am not familiar with either of the artists you mentioned, so no? I can tell you what influences me. My husband’s Grandfather once told him ‘don’t make junk, the world is full of junk don’t make any more.’ This is something we live by in our house. To me, I am influenced by my desire to present better material. I search for ways to make my performance better and look to other artists to see what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong. I have a real passion for entertaining people and genuinely want to make something that people like. There’s a Martha Graham quote in our play that Leigh’s character says that I completely disagree with (hence her character saying it and my character rolling her eyes.) It’s about not caring about what people think, just care about the work. I don’t make work like that. I want to know what others think and make my work better. For me there are always ways to improve and that’s where the joy comes in. Being fully aware that you can always learn from someone else is the best place to be, for me. I studied performance art in college when I went through a pretentious phase. I thought that getting any reaction good or bad was the real way to make art because at least people left changed. Next thing you know I’m in some tunnel wearing zombie make-up screaming. Meanwhile, I spent most of my free time watching Monty Python and Anchorman. The moral? Make something entertaining and people will listen. Make junk and people won’t respect you. At least that’s what I think.
RR: I’m sorry, I didn’t catch the last half of what you said, I got distracted by these Nilla Wafers. Can you repeat your answer?
MB: [silent stare]
RR: Ok, nevermind, how about another topic? The set. Your set is stark, simple: an adjoined office cubicle where the two of you spend most of the play. Should I assume that the two of you have history working in such conditions? How much of the play is about escaping dull realities of the everyday, how much of the play is commentary about labor vs. leisure? Yeah, I just realized I asked a lot of questions.
LEIGH: Well, yes, we both have experience working in office environments, although a lot of the early inspiration for the play comes from the way Melissa and I actually met and began a friendship. We were introduced a few times and I even worked backstage for a Manton Avenue Project play she was in, but for a long time she didn’t know who I was and that happens to the Leigh and Melissa of the play as well.
I think the play is less about escape and more about friendship, a relationship between two people that enriches their lives, makes work time more fun and pushes them to imagine that they could do the things they’ve dreamed about.
RR: By the way Leigh, this morning I received an email sent to my 95 Empire account, that asked whether Hamlette a lesbian version of Hamlet. I haven’t responded yet. Leigh, what should I say to this person?
LH: It is absolutely not. It is not any version of Hamlet. It is a story of two women making something together, talking to one another, eating lunch together. They are not dating, there is no hint of maybe they are going to fall in love. With each other or with anyone else. All of that is on purpose. BUT I am very pleased to find that my reputation as a professional lesbian and teller of only lesbian stories continues to spread around town.
RR: What’s the performance history of this piece?
MB: We presented a small rough sketch show in November of 2011 and the first scene of the play emerged from the first sketch. We presented a workshop production at 95 Empire in May and got some great feedback from enthusiastic audiences.
RR: What’s next for it? For the two of you?
LEIGH: I don’t think we know for sure what is next. I don’t believe that we’re totally done with performing the show and I think we will be on the lookout for other opportunities. I am working on a new solo piece, Studies of a Story: You Just Need a Little Lipstick, and some sort of high school lesbian love story (lesbian Leigh is back!). I hope Melissa will want to write with me more – we haven’t talked about it a lot.
MB: Comedic musicals. That’s main premise of my next writing project. But I’m saving most of that writing for the 4am baby feeding shifts. I’m hoping to be in another show or 2 or 3 before the baby comes and teaching some improv classes. Level 2 starts Sept 29th!
RR: Wait, wait, what’s this “baby” thing you’re talking about?
MB: Babies are smaller humans, which are made by two other humans. They grow inside a woman’s uterus and then, once emerged are taken care of by full size humans. Preferably these full size humans are in a pair and have adequate skills for feeding and cleaning said baby. Leigh’s job is to take it to dance class.
RR: …oh my GOD, these Nilla Wafers are stupendous. Thanks.
“Leigh and Melissa present: Hamlette” begins Thursday September 20th and runs for two weekends. Tickets are $10 and are available at the door at 95 Empire or online: http://hamlette.brownpapertickets.com