Keehnen: You've revised the script of Taboo, the Boy
George musical. How much of a rewrite did you give it?
Busch: The New York version bears very little resemblance to the
London show [Taboo was
staged in New York City in 2003 and 2004]. The main characters in London were a fictional boy and girl who
had a romance and the characters of Boy George and Leigh Bowery were sort of
in the background. I decided to make Boy George the main role and threw out
the boy and girl. I had to assign songs to different characters and George
wrote four new songs to accommodate my new story. Rosie [O'Donnell] and I felt that the
original London book lacked emotion. Also, when I read about the life of
performance artist Leigh Bowery, I was fascinated by his close relationships
with two women, Nicola Bateman and Sue Tilley. I decided to bring them into
the play and that is very different from the London production.
Keehnen: Was it a challenge to work on
someone else's piece since you usually do original plays, or was it nice to
have a framework in place?
Busch: Taboo has been the most challenging writing project
I've done. It was very difficult writing a complex naturalistic story around
eighteen songs that were written for a completely different story. I'm not sure I
was totally successful, but the audiences are loving this show. The reviews
were very mixed, but I've never seen such a wild standing ovation that
occurs at the end of every performance. We must be doing something right.
Keehnen: After doing so many plays, what
is the most valuable thing you have learned when it comes to playwriting?
Busch: Providing yourself with a good outline before I start writing
dialogue. I think it's too discouraging just writing aimlessly without
knowing where you're going. However, I'm friends with an excellent novelist
who believes in exactly the opposite. He hates knowing how things will end.
But I have a suspicion that a play is more dependent on a set structure than
a novel which can ramble and twist and turn.
Keehnen: Speaking of novels, I loved
Whores of Lost Atlantis [Hyperion Books, 1993]. When are you going to
Busch: I'd love to write another novel. I'm very proud of Whores
of Lost Atlantis. I never thought I'd finish that one. I actually wrote
about a third of it and it was so bad that I threw it all out and started
from scratch. The problem is that it takes too long to write a book. I'd
love to write a sequel to Whores of Lost Atlantis. It would be quite
a story. As you can imagine, it was very autobiographical. Sadly our little
troupe fell apart. Feuds, deaths from AIDS. But in the past few years we've
all become friends again and it's really very beautiful. I think that could
be a lovely story. I'd also love to write a big, fat novel about my Aunt Lil
who raised me. She was an extraordinary woman and deserves to have a novel
written about her. I wonder if I'm good enough to pull it off? Also, I have
a primordial fear of libraries and librarians. And I would imagine I'd have
to do research into all sorts of odd things like nursing schools in
Cincinnati in the 1920s.
Keehnen: I loved Die Mommie Die
, by the way, and was awestruck when the director said it took
18 days to film.
Busch: It was crazy. I worked 16 hour days, but I loved every minute
of it. Making that movie was such a dream come true for me. I never thought
I'd get a chance to star in a movie and do all the things I've done on stage
all these years.
Keehnen: Congratulations on it and on
the accolades you've been given...specifically the Sundance Performance
Busch: I was so thrilled and moved to win the Best Performance award
at last year's Sundance Film Festival. I've never been nominated let alone
won anything for acting. It's easy to get a chip on your shoulder that no
one takes you seriously, so for this jury to judge me on my acting and
getting past that I was a guy in drag, well, it meant a lot to me. And then
after that, suddenly I was getting all sorts of awards from the oddest
places, including my high school and my college, Northwestern University.
When I never had won an award, I pooh-poohed the whole concept. But when
you get one, it's awfully nice. Makes you feel a part of things. And I'm a
real sap when it comes to feeling part of a group, because most of the time
I feel like the cat that walks alone.
Keehnen: Psycho Beach Party  and now Die Mommie Die...any more plans to film your stage
Busch: No immediate plans. Mark Rucker, who directed the film of
Die Mommie Die, would love to make a movie of Red Scare at Sunset.
I think that would lend itself well to a film. The play reads almost like a
screenplay. I'm actually working on something that I may direct myself.
There's a lot of enthusiasm for me to direct a movie and I think I should
strike while the iron's hot. It would be sort of a screwball caper movie,
where a group of eccentric characters are all after the same treasure. I'm
in the process of writing it.
Keehnen: Why not do Red Scare at
Sunset and an original movie?
Busch: I'd love to. Hell, I wish it were 1932 and I could make 6
movies a year. I'm totally hooked. There is nothing more fun or exciting
than to be on a movie set. The long waits while they set up the lights is a
bit dreary, but then suddenly all the cacophony stops and fifty or more
people are so quiet and still, everyone holds their breath and for thirty
seconds, everyone's focus is on this little fragment of a large mosaic. It
really is fascinating.
Keehnen: You seem so heavily influenced
by old films. Are you a TNT Classics addict?
Busch: I do love old movies. I tend to watch the same ones over and
over. I do love TCM, but they aren't scheduling as many rare old films as
they used to.
Keehnen: So care to name any of those
you love to watch over and over?
Busch: Marie Antoinette with Norma Shearer, Waterloo Bridge
with Vivien Leigh, I Could Go On Singing with Judy Garland, The
Hard Way with Ida Lupino, Random Harvest with Greer Garson and
Ronald Coleman, I'm No Angel with Mae West, and a zillion others.
Keehnen: What are you working on now?
Busch: As I said, I'm working a screenplay for a new movie and also a
new play. I've now been represented on Broadway twice as a playwright. It's
a great dream of mine to act on Broadway. Manhattan Theatre Club, who
produced my play The Tale of the Allergist's Wife [in 2000], has just renovated
the historic Broadway theater, the Biltmore and it is now their Broadway
home. They've saved me a slot in their 2004/05 season and I'm determined to
give them a play I can also act in.
Keehnen: Earlier you mentioned striking
while the iron is hot. Why do you think this is the right time for you?
Busch: I hope this is a good time for me. It does seem like the
average public is more accepting of camp humor and what's perceived as the
gay sensibility (don't ask me to explain that one). Every artist benefits
from the breakthroughs of the past. I benefited from the trailblazing of
Charles Ludlam, Charles Pierce, Harvey Fierstein, and so many others. And I
guess there are younger people who feel I've paved the way for their
efforts. It's a nice continuum.
Keehnen: Thanks, Charles and good