John Fisher is a busy man. Actor, playwright, and Executive Director of Theatre Rhinoceros, the longest running queer theater in the world. Simultaneously. Such a workload prompted me to ask him when he found time to sleep when we spoke on May 12, 2017.
The larger subject was Theatre Rhinoceros’ production of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, so, of course, that’s where we started, with Fisher describing how an iconic film that takes place in the sweeping vistas of the Austrian Outback is adapted for the stage. Hint, a LOT of disco.
From there, he talked about what it is about this story of three drag queens to expect the world to accept them on their own terms; the role of the arts, and of Theatre Rhinoceros in particular, in the age of Trump; the ongoing struggle for equality; why good theater is both enchanting and challenging; the diagnostic opportunities of being offended; and why he’s on the side of free speech in the recent controversy over a choice of speaker at U.C. Berkeley.
We went on to discuss how growing up around lawyers has influenced his thinking; a moment of epiphany he had after watching a Jack Lemmon film with his father; the thinking behind programming a repertory season; and the time he received a “yuck” for one of his play.
We finished up with Fisher pondering the politics of queerness and the fluidity of sexuality; how he directs himself and others; finding just the right name for the tie-in ice cream (Priscilla’s Tim Tam Slam), what he’s learned over the years about the eternal struggle between art and commerce; and the different ways that the story of Priscilla has spoken to him over the years.
Fisher’s work in the San Francisco Bay Area dates to his breakout opus, Medea, The Musical, and has continued with a prodigious output that includes a series of walkabout performances in Yerba Buena Gardens, paying tribute to Shakespeare. This year’s Lear! An Outdoor Shakespeare Adventure runs July 7-9, 2017. Priscilla runs May 27 – July 1, 2017. For more information, go to TheRhino.org.