This week we’re profiling DC-based playwright John Bavoso!!!
In John’s normal life he is (according to his website) a “marketing professional and social media specialist, John has experience in the advertising, e-commerce, and professional services marketing industries. He’s also a copywriter, blogger, and book and theatre reviewer whose work has appeared on websites like Jezebel.com, Lambda Literary Review, and DC Theatre Scene and in magazines such as the Diplomatic Courier, the G8 Summit Magazine, and Metro Weekly.”
It’s a fulfilling life. But as we all know, there is no career more thrilling nor more rewarding than that of playwright, and that’s what we get to talk about today!
We’ll look at two short plays and the draft of a full-length play he has.
The first play is called The Morning After the Fall and concerns a young man (Adam) who, after tasting the forbidden fruit (Eve), decides to vacate Eden forever – but first he’s gotta let his boyfriend Steve know.
This play has a lot going for it.
First, of course, is the Biblical allegory. One can never have enough Biblical allegory in LGBTQ-themed plays.
Second, the plot. Bavoso takes a well-known story (the Garden of Eden and “Fall of man” ) and spins it in an entirely new direction.
Welcome to the world of the fig leaf.
This makes an interesting, yet obvious point about all relationships: either it’ll last or it won’t. And obviously Steve had this in the back of his mind. And with good foresight.
I also hate people who keep saying they’re sorry. This injects some reality into a modern-day “Biblical” story – one character sees things as completely clear and the other is well, quite clueless.
The plot thickens:
Ah, yes. The siren call of heterosexuality has reached Adam. And Steve puts Adam on the spot:
And like grown men everywhere, they solve their problems with violence.
This IS a serious play about a breakup, but also seriously funny.
BTW “wildebeest” comes from the Afrikaans wildebees (wild ox or cow). But yeah, Afrikaans is probably the most masc language around. So there.
So Steve has the duffel bag all ready and….
I bet Adam is confused right now.
The sentimentality!!! It’s there, but not overwrought.
Now time to learn about the myth of the Canadian girlfriend in The Home for Retired Canadian Girlfriends.
Per usual, the play starts with a quote:
Poor Tiffany is genuinely confused:
She’ll never see Patrick again, because she never did to begin with. But Tiffany suspects she has amnesia. How very wrong she is.
Jazz hands right here:
Tiffany refuses to accept reality. It turns out Rupert was in a similar situation…
“Similar situation” = subject of a punchline. Rupert offers Tiffany an option, she can needlepoint till the cows come home OR she can be part of an elite strike force of Canadian girlfriends who wreak havoc on the heterocentric world:
The true story of someone without fingerprints.
Like any good heroine faced with two options, Tiffany makes her own third choice:
Good for Tiffany!!! Someone else forced her into existence and now she must make her life her own, just like everyone else on this planet. The play has a twist ending that I don’t want to give away, but it’s good.
Now we come to Bavoso’s magnum opus – MLM is for Murder (Or, Your Side Hustle is Killing Us).
The plot concerns Minerva Ross:
Did ANYONE fit in in their small, Utah hometown? She works and suffers in DC where she lives with her wife.
And there’s an antagonist:
Full disclosure: I grew up knowing a couple of people who could serve as inspirations for MINERVA and about 1,000 people who could pass as FELICITY.
Now how do Felicity and Minerva become involved in MLM and serial-killing?
So Minerva has a job she hates…with coworkers who belittle podcasting dreams.
Minerva finds herself through starting a podcast about female serial killers. More on that in a minute. Just in case the audience is curious as to why Minerva is so angry, she explains this to Sienna, her wife.
Yes, the pain and suffering of growing up as an outsider in Utah was too much for Minerva to even put into words. I’d like to point out that Minerva grew up a Mormon (Latter-day Saint) but quit the church long ago. Minerva’s trauma/hesitancy to speak are understandable given the church’s
complicated difficult super-mega-racist history.
Let’s see what Brigham Young, the second prophet of the Latter-day Saint (Mormon) church had to say:
“Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot.”
This wasn’t some fluke, there’s plenty more where that came from.
The Church operates a lay priesthood for all “worthy” males. From the time of Brigham Young until 1978, the Church enacted a ban on black people holding the priesthood.
The problem with changing dogma is that it really doesn’t change the culture. Despite the current Latter-day Saint (Mormon) leadership’s statements, old (racist) habits die hard and in Utah, they die very hard.
And black people weren’t alone in bearing the brunt of Latter-day Saint racism, Native Americans had their children taken away from them.
I could write a year’s worth of blog posts on the Church’s square dance with racism, so let’s move on….
Just kidding. Because Minerva is also lesbian (woohoo!), we need to factor in Utah/the Church’s
complicated difficult psychotically homophobic relationship with dudes who like other dudes and chicks who like other chicks.
This empirical study reached a conclusion that “there are no other factors that reliably predict increases in youth suicide rates during that same time period [2009–2014] except for the percentage of Mormons in a given state.”
Teen suicides have doubled in Utah since 2011 without a significant increase nationally. However, not all of these will be LGBTQ-related, but it is worth further study.
From a recent article in the Salt Lake Tribune: “A policy unveiled in November 2015 declares same-sex LDS couples “apostates” and bars their children from Mormon rituals until they are 18 or older.”
That article’s headline is actually Why does Utah have a high suicide rate? I know why: people cannot live up to impossible ideals, but I guess they need a study to tell them that or something.
I know some Latter-day Saints will read this and say “We’re not all like this” or “Not me” and this is true. Some of my most open-minded friends (especially in the theatre community) are Latter-day Saints. You know who you are and you are deeply appreciated.
Now back to the story, for reals. Minerva gets hit up by Felicity, who is trying to become an MLM queen, but is like a brain-damaged drone instead. She hits up Minerva on Facebook. They attended high school together like a zillion years ago.
Sadly, like many victims, Minerva has a much better memory of the past than Felicity, specifically this one:
Little does Felicity know that Minerva messes with MLM groups for fun.
So of course she’s happy to “help” this old (not really a) friend back in Utah. She has also discovered the world of murder podcasts:
This gets Minerva going on her MLM kick. However, Felicity struggles to move product, probably because she’s bugging everyone from her old high school, her church and basically anyone she knows to buy the same crappy clothes.
Her marriage to Jason suffers:
Felicity needs to push product (and fulfill her husband’s needs) pronto. She visits her MLM idol, Amber, who has a popular Youtube channel and makes barrells of money.
Not only is Amber rude, condescending and not Mormon, but Felicity learns that the game is rigged. In anger she steals some of Amber’s product…
Meanwhile Minerva is learning the murder podcast game…as she explains to Bianca, Sienna’s coworker:
Some of you may have wondered about the connection between Mormons (Latter-day Saints) and multilevel marketing.
Bavoso lets Minerva break it down for us in a slide show:
If any readers disagree with Minerva’s assessment, feel free to comment.
Minerva wraps up the presentation, though I’d like to add that trust is a big factor in the LDS Church, too. When you have a position or “calling” people will automatically trust you and hucksters and con artists will take advantage of that. As the US Attorney for Utah said:
“We form relationships of trust and when someone starts speaking like we speak or they act like we act, there’s almost an instant trust that is extended to them. And, so, in Utah we see this affinity fraud—people who exploit their relationships with others to take advantage of them. We see that in Utah. And in Utah it may be because of the predominant religion that allows people to have an instant trust extended to them that then they take advantage of and exploit,”
After Felicity’s dust-up with Amber, Utah’s Dixie gets littered with the bodies of MLM dealers…which Minerva kinda notices…
Felicity wants to not only be the top of the pyramid scheme, but also top of the murder podcasts, which dovetails nicely into Minerva’s
It comes around!!!
I won’t give away the ending, but it ends kinda how you’d imagine a show about a Mormon serial killer boasting a podcast should end.
Seriously, the play is brilliant.
Now, of course, John has written a bunch of other stuff, stuff that has been produced (and posted on Youtube!)
BLIGHT asks the question “Can a home be haunted by the actions of its owners?” It has received stellar reviews.
His short Happy Hour is relevant to the #MeToo movement:
Adam and Steve is about two strangers meeting in an underground bunker while escaping the world.
Olizzia is about two young women who share a vacation to Rio de Janeiro and find love…with one another.
John contributed to Over Her Dead Body, a bluegrass musical based on traditional murder ballads (HELL YEAH!). Other writers were Seth Alcorn, Karen Lange, Kenny Neal, and Brittany Alyse Willis.
John was kind enough to answer some questions for us.
1. How did you start playwriting?
I started out reviewing Fringe Festival productions for a local theatre website. After spending several summers watching a wide range of plays with varying levels of quality, I decided to just dive in and write and self-produce my own in 2014. I had, at that point, never studied or worked in theatre at all, let alone playwriting, so I think my ignorance at just what I was undertaking helped me to do it. That production ended up being a blast and getting pretty decent reviews, so I decided to keep working at it—and the rest is history!
2. What are your influences?
Because I’ve never formally studied theatre, I think most of my influences come from pop culture. Most of my favorite TV shows—Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Veronica Mars, bits of Ryan Murphy’s oeuvre—feature strong women and queer characters and campy, snarky one-liners, and I think that has translated into a lot of what I write.
3. What is your most memorable production and why?
This year, the theatre company I’m a member of in DC, Pinky Swear Productions, did a production of my full-length play, BLIGHT. The director, Ryan Maxwell, and producer, Karen Lange, had been with the play since 2016 when Ryan directed the first workshop, and have helped to develop and champion it ever since. The team for the production was incredible and full of friends (including two actors who had been in the original workshop reading) and it was performed in the same theater the workshop had taken place in, so it felt like it had come full circle. Because it was local, I was able to be there for every rehearsal and so many friends and loved ones had the chance to finally see it for the first time. It will definitely stick with me as one of the best experiences I’ve had in the theatre.
4. What is your least memorable production and why? [you can leave out specifics or names]
I guess the 10-minute play that was produced on another continent that I didn’t know was happening until the day it opened, and I never got photos or video from the production… I really only have the director’s word that it even happened in the first place!
5. What is your funniest theatre story?
I prefer to stay comfortably backstage, but shortly after I had joined Pinky Swear, we did a “pop-up” performance as a fundraiser. One of our members had written a monologue for a closeted gay guy home from his freshman year of college for Christmas break. For that particular show, we only had straight dudes in the cast and it apparently wasn’t working for this monologue, so I was called upon to perform. After the show, I was mingling with members of the audience, and one woman said, “I was so worried when you walked on stage because you were shaking and your voice was cracking, but then I realized it was all part of your character!” You can probably guess, dear readers, that that was not in fact an acting choice, but a lucky coincidence. Luckily, that was also the last time I was asked to be on stage!
6. What are your writing habits like?
Not great, haha. I have a full-time job and long commute, so I usually don’t manage to write much during the workweek unless I’m really excited about something. In general, the writing comes in bursts—I’ve written entire 10-minute plays and scenes for full-lengths in notebooks and the notes app on my phone on the Metro to or from the office. I’ve started getting up early on Saturday mornings and going to a coffee shop for a few hours to force myself to write, or submit scripts to opportunities, or answer questions for a blog post…
7. What advice do you have for new playwrights?
Don’t be afraid to ask other theatre people questions and for advice. In my experience, this is a pretty generous community, and the benefit of just asking the question far outweighs the fear of sounding dumb.
8. Who are some other writers you should get more attention?
Other than the delightful Bryan Stubbles, of course, I’m going to rep a couple of my best DC playwright friends: Britt A Willis and Natalie Piegari are creating really unique, innovative theatre and everyone should seek out their work. Also, Steven Hayet is a fellow College of William & Mary alum who I’ll get to meet in person at a festival in March—definitely read his writing as well!
9. What are common themes in your work?
When people ask what kind of plays I write or what my writing style is, I usually jokingly say things like, “lesbians with relationship issues” and “plays about serious topics with lots of jokes in them.” But, really, those descriptions are pretty much totally accurate!
10. What is one thing you wished you knew now, that you didn’t know starting out?
A string of half-completed, abandoned scripts has taught me that I really do need to start a full-length play with a solid outline—I find that knowing where I’m heading makes writing much easier and fun for me.
11. What was the genesis of After the Fall?
I see what you did there! The inspiration for the piece was the homophobic taunt, “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” The first 10-minute play I ever wrote was entitled Adam & Steve, but wasn’t actually about the Eden story. Then, a few years later, I saw a call for 10-minute plays on the theme “The Morning After…” with a queer bent, and I figured what morning after was more impactful than the one following the fall of mankind?! It wasn’t chosen for that festival, but is now finding its own small success (it will be produced in the US and Australia [for the second time!] this coming year), which is neat. It’s actually inspired me to work on a whole collection of queered/reimagined Old Testament stories—we’ll see if I actually follow through with that!
12. How does starting with a quote enhance or add to the play or story you’re telling?
I’m a huge quote nerd—I have several journals filled with hand-written quotes and once, during a period of unemployment, I transcribed them all into a Google spreadsheet to make them searchable by keyword. I get immense (possibly-OCD-related) satisfaction from pairing the perfect quote with a script—I was that student who included one at the beginning of every paper I wrote in college and grad school. On a practical level, I think having the right quote at the beginning of a script helps me stay focused on a succinct distillation of the play’s core themes as I’m writing it.
13. What compelled you to write a play about serial killing, Mormons and multi-level marketing?
This play is really the mashing together of two Internet/pop cultural rabbit holes that I’ve fallen down during the past few years. The first being the insanely popular podcast My Favorite Murder; I wouldn’t consider myself much of a true crime buff, but I got really into this podcast and the online community it spawned. The second is watching the rise and (in progress) fall of the leggings company LuLaRoe—I’ve randomly spent an obscene amount of time watching videos and reading Facebook posts by disgruntled former sellers and customers and this led me to discovering the wider anti-MLM movement, which is how I learned about the connection between Mormons and MLMs. As I was thinking about these two very different topics, it occurred to me that both communities are heavily dominated by women and that mashing these seemingly unrelated obsessions into one play could maybe end up spawning some interesting conversations about feminism, capitalism, and exploitation, so I decided to go for it. I guess we’ll have to see if it resonates with a wider audience of it’s just two niche things that combine to form an entirely-too-niche piece of theatre!
14. MLM is for Murder makes extensive use of emojis. I’ve seen other playwrights use these, too. What has the reception been for your emoji-laden plays vs. your non-emoji plays? What advice do you have about using emojis in a play and/or script? 😂
This is the first play I’ve ever written that includes emoji, so I’ll have to wait and see what the reception is! I showed a good friend an early draft of the script, and his feedback on that scene was, “if you are being honest with yourself, you know that you need many, many, many more emoji represented in these stage directions,” which was totally correct. I’m hoping having an actor speaking the formal names of the emoji will both annoy the audience and make them laugh, which is what seeing them used so aggressively and unironically in real life does to me.
15. What’s a question you’d like to be asked? Go ahead and answer that question.
Do you create excessively long and aggressively themed Spotify playlists for all your plays? Why, yes I do, thanks for asking! I started the playlist for BLIGHT in 2016 and have added to it as recently as this week—it’s now up to almost 7 hours’ worth of songs, some of which have been used as scene transition and pre-curtain/intermission music in both the play’s two productions.
Thanks to John for answering our questions. I hope everyone had fun learning about John and his incredible plays.
Here’s a list of all our other playwrights.
Adam & Steve
Homo for Christmas
A Jumble of Worn Words
Kylie and Janet and Robyn and Cher
The Morning After the Fall
Over Her Dead Body: A Bluegrass Benediction
Threat Level: Cream