The Interview: Tom DeTrinis, the performer and writer of Making Friends
Conducted by Ross
Described as a ‘new, “gaytastic” comic solo play, Making Friends, a one man show written and performed by self-confessed rage-aholic Tom DeTrinis, might be seen and heard as more of an angry plea than a polite request, but that remains to be seen, and one I personally can’t wait to partake in. It will be available for streaming beginning December 17th through January 11, 2021. Filmed live at L.A.’s Pico Playhouse for digital release by IAMA Theatre Company, the quick-witted paly, directed by Drew Droege (Bright Colors, Bold Patterns), offers up a non-stop, hilarious litany of grievances, unmasking DeTrinis’s singular views on everything from cheese (“vile f***ing spoiled milk!”) to New York City (“its clutches grab you from the moment you enter until it squeezes the very last ounce of joy out of you right before you shrivel and die slash leave out of JFK/Newark or GOD FORBID LAGUARDIA?!?!?!”).
Making Friends is the first in IAMA Theatre Company’s 2020-21 season of new solo work, a season that looks toward the future by elevating voices that promote change in our world. IAMA hopes to illuminate that path by supporting diverse voices that break down the walls of isolation and encourage connection and community. According to IAMA co-artistic directors Stefanie Black and Katie Lowes, “There is no better voice to lead the charge this season than Tom’s. Get ready, L.A. and beyond!” Click here for more info on tickets and such.
DeTrinis is no stranger to the stage, either on or off. From producing, directing and performing in theater to working in television, film and on the web, he has enjoyed being stupid and making others laugh at his own expense. He has been performing on the stage since he was 8 and has been involved in many productions as producer, director and actor, including Found, the Musical, Die, Mommie, Die!, The SantaLand Diaries, and 30 Minute Musicals. On screen he can be seen in many productions including 90210, Community, Finding the Asshole Series (Slamdance 2019), and many more. He directed Tom Lenk in Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist (LA, NYC, San Fran, Scotland, London); Ravenswood Manor by Justin Sayre (LA), Happy Birthday Doug by Drew Droege (LA, NYC) and The Midnight Movie Collective with Justin Sayre (online).
With that powerful voice firmly intact, Tom DeTrinis sat down, virtually, with Frontmezzjunkies to talk about his new play, his performance, his anger, and the pandemic we are all trying to live through. He is a quick-witted, angry actor/writer/director/producer who just wants to be your friend, and for that impulse, we should all be theatrically thankful for. He states that growing up, he was an overly-sensitive child whose large, Long Island, NY family — five siblings, 15 aunts and uncles, and over 30 first cousins! — would have preferred he keep his emotions on a leash. “Everyone thought they knew how to raise me better than my mom and dad,” he says. “I think it was all the mixed messages I was getting that triggered my anger while I was still very young.” And boy, did he get angry. Maybe that’s where the impulse came to Making Friends.
Ross: Good day, Tom. I’m so looking forward to seeing Making Friends this week. Tell me, where did the idea for this story come from? What was the seed?
Tom DeTrinis: HI HI! Lovely to chat with you! Thanks for this! Well, the seed came from my friend Byron Lane who kept forcing me to write down the stories I would tell him while we were at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2018 and 2019. He was VERY adamant and I love him for that. I finally listened and decided to patch all of this together into what you are about to see. At first when I set out to really write the show, it was through the eyes of a character that I created who would be telling my stories, but then I soon found out that I needed to just be myself. Plain and simple.
Ross: What is the most intriguing thing about this one-man show, and the journey you will be taking us on?
Tom: Is anger and gayness intriguing?! Ha! Hmmm. I want people to realize that you never know what a person is going through when you meet them. You never know what they are carrying with them into a room. And for me, I carry a LOT of anger and fury underneath the nice facade. I hope people watch and evaluate how THEY are walking through life, and if they are being authentic to themselves. And the journey I am taking you on?!? Well, it will be UP AND DOWN, HONEY! Here and there, and through the eyes of characters I created, and through my own personal stories, and some other fun surprises.
Ross: The show was filmed live at L.A.’s Pico Playhouse and then made available for streaming. How was that experience, filming a show in front of, basically, no audience to react to, or breathe energy from?
Tom: IT WAS HARD! At first. After one run through with the camera, I went right to Drew and was like, OH GOD KILL ME IS THIS WORKING I AM SO IN MY HEAD DID I RUIN THAT WHOLE TAKE I’M FIRED I FIRE MYSELF!!! And after he and one of my producers pulled me back from supreme despair, I shook it off and was like, Ok. So what no one is there! So what no one is laughing. YOU KNOW THIS. LET’S DO IT. And then I settled in…I think. HAHA! It is SO SO weird to “perform” a show to no one, but at the same time you have to give it 100000000%. You expect something back from the seats in front of you, and when they give you nothing it throws you. But then….you get used to it and start to love it?! It was a very weird experience, and overall I needed to learn to expect NOTHING. Literally and figuratively. HA!
Ross: There must have been many challenges to produce a show during this crazy time, what was it like?
Tom: I am sure Melissa Stephens and Donna Simone Johnson, the producers of this show – along with Cymbre Walk – the Producing Director of IAMA, would tell you it is ROUUUUUGH to produce right now. With all the COVID restrictions and rules, it can be really intense – the logistics, science, personalities. ALL of that PLUS the usual producing shit?! Oh lord. I think they are saints and truly the major reason anyone is seeing this show. I am forever indebted to them, and to the IAMA Theater Company for giving us this space to play. THANK YOU THANK YOU TEAM!
Ross: What can you tell me about the process, particularly about working with Drew Droege, the director?
Tom: Well, there was other versions of the show. So, back at the top of the year, I sat down with producer Mel, and she looked over my first version of the show. It was fine. Haha! And then she helped me unlock some doors in my brain, and I wrote ANOTHER version. That wasn’t right. THEN ANOTHER version, and that…wasn’t right. And at that point I was very frustrated and she said, “What would you write if you didn’t care what people thought? If you just said, f*ck it.” So I wrote from that place, just an angry, little bitchy place, and I did a reading of it over zoom in September. Got a TON of magical feedback from brilliant minds (thank you gaggle of lovers!). Then I asked Drew if he would direct it. He and I have done a ton of work with each other, and we have a great understanding, so it was very natural to choose him for this. He truly is a genius and LOVES to figure out the impossible. Loves to crack things open and explore. So we sat down and really went over all my notes and my stories and my ideas for about 5 weeks. We just kept meeting and discussing and then I would write some more, and that went round and round until we got it on its feet toward the start of November. And before we knew it. BAM! Shot this on Dec 1st.
Drew is not only a comedy magician, but he is also amazing at structure and storytelling and helping you find clarity. Which is what I needed so desperately with this show. There were so many ideas and thoughts that in my mind connected seamlessly, but he was like WOA. Calm it down. Take a step back and simplify this or elaborate on that. Oh….now I miss that whole process from a month ago! Hahaha! It was so great to have him bounce off all of this crazy.
Ross: I must agree, he is pretty damn brilliant. And kind. What about that dance number from Kathryn Burns, the choreographer from “My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”? How was that experience?
Tom: I had Kat sit in on the first reading in September cause I KNEW I needed a dance element to this piece. From the VERY first script I saw some kind of dance in the show. And Kat and I had just worked on the musical FOUND, with IAMA as well, at the start of the year before COVID murdered joy and freedom. She is not only a f*cking brilliant human, but she has this amazing knack for finding the funny in dance, and also making you look like a first rate dancer, no matter your skill level. And also? It was just so much fun to figure this out from nothing to something with her cause she was so open to discovery and exploration – even on shoot day some things changed!
Ross: You have been quoted as saying, “I think it’s important to talk about anger. Especially coming off of this presidency. We are all so angry, and we need to start recovering. For me, this show is about healing.” Can you tell me more about that? What is it about his anger? And yours, that needs to be unpacked and talked about?
Tom: Ugh. Him. Ugh. Well, ya know, I think the first step in working on anger is recognizing you are an angry human? For me, it can REALLY consume me and take over very quickly. Those close to me see my spice VERY often, but I hide it well from others. And it has been a long journey in trying to unpack it and study it and then heal from it. Cause it doesn’t disappear. OHHH no. It is there always for me. And I am very triggered by what is happening now and what has happened over the last four years…and really, for much longer than that. It is just MADDENING that we are not learning. That we keep making the same mistakes. And I think collectively as a nation, and as a world, we have been on EDGE for so many years that we have been living with our shoulders up to our ears in fear and fury. Just tense and pissed. And now that we are starting to see SOME kind of change, it is time to relax a bit. It is time to look at how ABUSED we have been for so long and how we need to just connect and be HUMAN. We need to recover from the madness by accepting that we have been so angry. That we have been duped. That we have been lied to constantly. And we have to look forward! And for my OWN anger, I have to do the same. I have to talk about it openly in order to grow from it and move on. I can’t stay in the loop of my own undoing any longer. I have to break the cycle. WE have to break the cycle.
Ross: I could not agree more. Thank you for that! What’s been the most challenging part of this process for you?
Tom: Writing. OOOOOF. And getting notes on how to develop it deeper and further. WHY IS IT SO WEIRD AND UNCOMFORTABLE! UGHHH!!
Ross: The most rewarding?
Tom: FINISHING! Hahahah! When I finished on the day of shooting I was SO SO FUCKING HAPPY. I was like OH YAY! I get to take a break from diving into my soul to find out why I am what I am. YAY!!! And also, it has been so rewarding to see so many people work on this show. I am just in awe and still dumbfounded that these masters of LIFE are making all this happen.
Ross: What do you want the audience to get from watching this show, the story told, and from your character? What is it about this show that really speaks to you?
Tom: I really want people to be taken away for a bit. I want them to enjoy living in my mind for an hour?! HAHAH! I really want people to look inward and think about how they interact with themselves AND with the younger generation. I want people to ask me questions! I want people to laugh and be angry WITH me. I am not sure what one thing specifically speaks to me, cause I am just thinking about all of it?! Haha! Do I have to pick?!?!?!
Ross: Not at all! Please don’t, actually. BTW How have you been doing during this crazy time? How have you been keeping yourself together, maintaining your creative energy, your emotional connection to live theatre, writing, and performing? I can’t tell you how much I miss the communal experience of live theatre. How have you been doing through it all? What has been the most helpful?
Tom: OH I MISS IT TOOO! So much. we all almost cried when the lights were turned on in the theatre when we started tech. It was EMOTIONAL. AND NOW! Things that have gotten me through! A LIST!
1. Baking. OH GOD DO I LOVE BAKING AND COOKING.
2. Talking on the phone. I gab for hours. HOURS.
3. Playing games through zoom with friends I would never have been able to see often if we weren’t stuck at home.
4. Watching things I have never seen before and loving – Cool Hand Luke?! The Sting?! Great films.
5. Doing monthly play readings with some nut jobs through the Dynasty Typewriter here in LA. Almost every month, the brilliance of Justin Sayre has churned out a new camp play that we have been putting up via zoom and Dynasty and that has kept my giggle brain and creative juices flowing.
8. Did I say baking slash have you bought DESSERT PERSON by Claire Saffitz yet?! Cause it is SPECIAL.
Ross: I will definitely check it out. The show is described in the press release as “a ‘gay-tastic’ look at anger through the eyes of a quick-witted rageaholic who just wants to be your friend”. Would you want this man as your friend? Would I? What makes him, and the show, a keeper?
Tom: OF COURSE I WOULD! HAHAHAH! Maybe you would?! I mean, at least to laugh at for an hour?! And then maybe tell your friends about it?!?! I think what makes him a keeper is that he just wants you to be happy. And I say that as much for you the audience, as I say that to myself as I sit and watch the show. THANKS AGAIN!!!
The creative team for Making Friends includes lighting designer Donny Jackson and stage manager Estey DeMerchant. Donna Simone Johnson and Melissa Stephens co-produce for IAMA Theatre Company.
Making Friends will be available for streaming starting on December 17th through January 11, 2021 with digital tickets starting at $15. They will be sold in weekly blocks and include access to a variety of supporting live events. For more information on ticketing, streaming and satellite events, go to www.iamatheatre.com.
[…] in the empty LA Pico Playhouse to rows and rows of nonreactive seats, Tom DeTrinis (Die, Mommie, Die!) gives us, in full display, his attention-seeking, “look at me” […]