Two fresh grads from theatre school, one gay, one straight, live together and struggle to find funding for their projects. Genius strikes. Why not seek funding from an anti-gay organization that claims to cure homosexuality through its intensive camp? They put in their request as something of a prank, but when the church responds positively with a letter, then the two must decide how far to take their plan.
Anthony Johnston and Nathan Schwartz drew from their real experiences as new actors to create A Quiet Sip of Coffee, now playing at the Centaur Wildside Festival. The ambiguous line between what transpired in real life and what is shown on stage allows for a meta-theatrical show that explores the relationships between lies and pranks, lies and truth, and lies and sexuality.
“The show is docu-theatre,” says Johnston. “It’s the story of ‘Anthony’ and ‘Nathan’ and their gay/straight male friendship. But it’s also a piece about lying and storytelling, lying and art. It’s a kind of fable, similar to The Boy Who Cried Wolf. How far can you push a prank?”
Schwartz adds, “The story is based on true events. It’s a work of fiction about us, but it’s true that we’re friends and experienced some of these things. It’s hard to tell what is the truth that may have actually happened to the artist. That line can blur. We’re not doing an exposé on a particular camp.”
Johnston continues, “Overall, audiences wonder if what Anthony and Nathan are presenting is fact, but ultimately, they get to a place where it doesn’t matter at the end. The audience sees that Anthony and Nathan are going through this kind of atonement ritual of getting all this stuff off their chest and how it affects their friendship.”
In real life, what is true is that the two actors met in Vancouver when they were 19. “We were in acting school and roommates in Vancouver. All our friends were getting acting work and we were a couple of goofballs trying to do the same. At the same time, we were seeing all these anti-gay, protect the family kinds of ads. So that’s the idea that a naïve 21-year-old has, ‘Here’s a good idea to get art funding. We’ll do an exposé. We’re above them and so smart.'”
Johnston and Schwartz won’t reveal what happened next in the real story.
Ultimately, though, the two had to part ways, and Schwartz picks up the thread. “Seven years later, we met by happenstance in New York. Anthony went to New York to pursue the life of an actor. He was working hard to get a green card and a visa. I saw how hard he was working, but I’m an American so I just went.”
Johnston quips, “I had to pay $5,000 and hire a lawyer. Nathan likes to throw it in my face how it was easy for him.”
In New York, the two formed AnimalParts, a theatre company, and collaborated on several pieces. “One thing the pieces have in common is that we like to take things from each of our own unique experiences,” says Johnston. “The pieces the different things we’re interested in and inspired in, and we do it by distorting a story, and changing the style or content.”
Johnston in particular talks about a piece about moving to the US. “We took a piece to Edinburgh about some personal things in my life related to being an immigrant from Canada to the US. It’s about grief and loss in a magical, fantastical kind of way.”
Moving to New York has been an experience in and of itself. “When you’re in Canada you feel like you’re part of a community, a small community,” says Schwartz. “In New York, even when you work at a high-profile job, you’re getting paid less than a living wage for New York. You need to have a second job.”
“When you find out how much the wages are for a Union equity actor, you know it wouldn’t pay your rent,” says Johnston. “You’re like how’s that going to work?”
Ultimately, they both seem to happy to be in New York.
Johnston says, “I love it enough that I haven’t actually left. If I hated it, I would have left, whether to go back to Canada or somewhere else in the US. New York is a good city.”
“There’s great restaurants,” emphasizes Schwartz.
A Quiet Sip of Coffee plays at the Centaur Theatre Wildside Festival on January 3 at 9 p.m., January 5 at 3 p.m., January 10 at 7 p.m., January 11 at 7 p.m., and January 12 at 9 p.m. Tickets $15.