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Talking with Robert Patrick
by Scott C. Morgan, Windy City Times

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Gay playwright/poet/lyricist/novelist Robert Patrick is set to receive the 2011 Artistic Achievement Award from The New York Innovative Theatre Awards, an organization founded in 2004 to honor great work in New York City's off-off-Broadway scene, Sept. 19.

However, Patrick, a 74-year-old retiree living in Los Angeles, won't be on hand to pick up the award. Actress Shirley Knight, who won a Tony Award after starring in the 1975 Broadway production of Patrick's drama Kennedy's Children, is set to accept the award on Patrick's behalf.

When asked during a telephone interview why he couldn't accept the award in person, Patrick matter-of-factly said, "Money." As much as Patrick would love to attend the ceremony, he can't afford the New York transportation and hotel costs.

Patrick joins the ranks of previous winners of the Artistic Achievement Award like playwrights Lanford Wilson and Maria Irene Fornes as well as avant-garde director Tom O'Horgan. Patrick also got his artistic start by chance when he walked into Greenwich Village's Caffe Cino (generally considered to be New York's first off-off-Broadway theatre) Sept. 14, 1961.

Patrick, a native Texan, started working behind the scenes at the Caffe Cino before the theater produced his first play, a gay drama called The Haunted Host, in 1964.

"That play has been presented to open so many gay theaters around the world—from Alaska to South Africa," Patrick said, though he surmises it's because it economically calls for only two actors. Patrick is also noted that is was in a 1974 production of The Haunted Host that multi-Tony Award-winner Harvey Fierstein first performed as a male instead of in drag.

However, Patrick is arguably best known for Kennedy's Children, which looks at a generation's disillusionment with the American Dream following the tumultuous 1960s. First produced in London in 1973, Kennedy's Children has been produced worldwide and still sees the occasional revival. (Chicago's Promethean Theatre Ensemble produced it in 2010.)

However, Patrick said he would never have had any success with the play if it weren't for the long-gone gay Chicago theater company At the Drama Shelter. (The theater had the "At the" in its name so it could be first in the Chicago Reader's listings.)

Patrick said he was about to be evicted and homeless while living in Los Angeles when At the Drama Shelter's Ron Hitchcock and Daryl Hale provided him with an influx of unpaid royalty fees from The Haunted Host (the cash allowed Patrick to journey to London, where Kennedy's Children soon became a solid hit). As thanks, Patrick worked with At the Drama Shelter for about a year in 1974, happy spending his time largely within a five-block span near the theater's location at 2020 N. Halsted St.

Although Patrick would go on to write several other plays (often with gay themes like the seminal 1983 teenage drama Blue is for Boys and the 1988 historical cycle Untold Decades), he said he didn't handle success and fame very well. In 1980, Patrick admitted to making a horrible business decision to sell off the rights of his Samuel French-published plays, in large part to rid himself of an aggressive agent who was contractually tied to those works. (Patrick declined to name his former agent.)

"Even Samuel French advised me against it," Patrick said, adding that royalties from Kennedy's Children alone would have acted like an annuity. "I said that I'll just write other plays and some of them will be hits. And a lot of them were hits, but nowhere on the scale of Kennedy's Children."

Patrick said that he officially retired from theater in 1990, although some later plays have slipped through now and then (The People's Theater of Chicago produced Patrick's 1994 gays-working-in-show-business drama Hollywood at Sunset in 2007). Nowadays, Patrick makes no bones about living off of Social Security and freelancing reviews gay male porn films for a variety of outlets.

When asked what he'd like to be most remembered for, Patrick mentioned his rarely produced play Judas (a Jesus Christ drama seen from Pontius Pilate's perspective) and a children's production called The Golden Circle that is based upon the signs of the Zodiac. "They're all online to read, so don't take my word for it," Patrick said.

Patrick sadly noted that artistic associates who were previous Artistic Achievement Award recipients from The New York Innovative Theatre Awards have passed away not long after winning. However, he added that he's still going on strong thanks to a recent walking-as-exercise routine.

Also, though Patrick is sad he can't afford to pick up his New York award in person, he's greatly honored for what it symbolizes in terms of his life and career.

"It means the most important thing to any artist—it means that someone remembers my work," Patrick said of the award. "It is, after all, the be-all and end-all of doing it."

'Mormon' to proselytize in Chicago

Broadway in Chicago recently announced its 2012 seasonal lineup, and the big news is that a Chicago company of The Book of Mormon will play a 12-week engagement at the Bank of America Theatre starting December 2012.

The Chicago company will be separate from a Book of Mormon national touring company launching in Denver next August, which means that this wildly irreverent and nine-time Tony Award-winning musical by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone with Avenue Q composer Robert Lopez might become a long-running Windy City hit on the scale of Wicked or Jersey Boys (providing that ticket sales prompt an extension or two).

Other shows in the 2012 lineup include American Idiot, Fela! and a new musical based upon the film Bring it On, plus several return engagements of shows like Mamma Mia!, In the Heights, Jersey Boys, Cats and more. Visit for more information.

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