The View UpStairs stars Jeremy Pope and Taylor Frey discuss telling the story of a forgotten piece of LGBT history

Jeremy Pope (L) and Taylor Frey in The View Upstairs.

Jeremy Pope (L) and Taylor Frey in The View UpStairs.

In an emotionally charged social and political climate for the LGBTQ community, Max Vernon took pen to paper and created The View UpStairs, a powerful new musical which addresses one tragic attack on the queer community and the importance of understanding history to better appreciate the future. Set in a pulsating gay bar in the seventies, this “glam rock” score takes audiences through queer history in a unique and innovative musical experience.

Taylor Frey plays Patrick, a young hustler from the 1970’s, and Jeremy Pope plays Wes, a self-motivated social media savant. The two characters have little in common at the beginning of the show but by the end the audience is left enthralled with the connection between these two men and how the past influences the future.

The musical opened in February at Culture Project in the Lynn Redgrave Theatre, and is set to run through May 21. Additionally, The View UpStairs has just announced that it will release a cast album produced by Broadway Records available on August 11.

Stage Door Dish sat down with Frey and Pope to discuss their personal relationships with the subject matter, their role models in the LGBT community, and using their art to speak truth in an environment which needs it desperately.

First, can you tell me about your process of becoming part of this show?   

TF: You know, it’s just one of those things as an actor where you prepare the material and you go in, and sometimes you get the role. It was that basic for this. I wasn’t part of any of the readings, and [Jeremy] wasn’t either. We just auditioned for this production going up.

 JP: I had heard about it because of Nathan Lee Graham, and they had been working on it, but I didn’t really know much about where it was going. Then I got the script, and I remember my manager was telling me that I should go in for this. I was planning on going to LA and spending some time there, but after reading the script, I felt like it was very important that we were telling this story right now, so I said I’d go in and see what happens. Like [Taylor] said, it was one of those things where you go in and you just do your best in the room. 

There’s obviously so much in this show, but what spoke to you immediately about the subject matter or your character as you were exploring the material? 

 JP: I’m originally from Orlando, Florida, and I lost a couple people from my high school at Pulse. I was home when it happened. I had never been to Pulse, but it was very close – ten minutes away from my house. I think because I live in New York City I tried to pretend that it didn’t exist. I didn’t want to deal with it. I was having anxiety attacks, and it was something I just wasn’t ready to talk about. So after reading the script and not knowing that this was a true event that happened in 1973, I felt it was my duty and my purpose at this moment to be able to tell this story. . . to dig in and learn about these characters and their history. It’s so important to not forget our history. So for me, it’s a great way to be artists, create art, and share this story, but also be sharing history.

 TF: As I first read the script, Trump was kind of happening, and it looked like there was an actual shot at that, and then he was obviously elected. I auditioned about a month after, and I remember listening to the demos in the car with my husband. We both got emotional over Max’s demo, and we just thought ‘Gosh, how cool to be a part of a project that’s so poignant and relevant and has so much to say for our community?’ That’s kind of a rare thing as an actor these days. I loved the message specifically in regards to Patrick. He left home because they didn’t really accept him there – in fact, they had him go through conversion therapy, which was pretty extreme. I love my family and they’re so great and they’ve come around to love me so much, and my husband as well, but that was a long process, and I couldn’t wait to get out of Utah. So I love relating to him in that way. He’s kind of this wounded bird who moved away to be his own person and flourish how he wanted to, and that really struck a chord with me.

 You kind of started this conversation as far as identifying with your characters, and both of them are so relevant and historically accurate as well. Can you speak to how they’ve shaped you? 

 JP: I understand Wes in the sense of wanting something and having that fire and desire and vision that you will do anything and everything to reach. Unfortunately, Wes thinks that in order to be loved and to be successful, he needs Instagram, Twitter, and this following of people to recognize who he is. So a lot of his relationships are transactional in that way, and he’s not actually having real conversations with real people. He’s thinking ‘Where is this going to get us, and what can it do for me?’ And being in this industry, there is some of that. I’ve gone to some auditions where how many Instagram followers you have can determine how far you go, so I understand that for Wes – wanting success and all of the things that come with that, but not really being clear on how to get it. So for me, that was something that immediately stuck out. I knew immediately talking with Max, the writer, that Wes was not going to be a likable character. He didn’t write him to be likable or lovable – he was supposed to be a reflection of the things that are very real today in 2017. You’re not supposed to love Wes, because you hate him! You’re like ‘Why can’t you get it right?!’ So really digging into that and just accepting that you’re going to reflect some truths that are ugly, you find a way to understand someone who’s just passionate about something.

 TF: Gosh, there’s so much that we could discuss on this. This character really does speak a lot to me. So he’s a prostitute, but the thing is, you can get a little fucked up depending on how you’re raised to think about sex. So for whatever reason, Patrick was fine to rebel and go a little crazy and get paid to do it. A lot of us were taught that it’s so naughty, and that you’re not supposed to think about it. Especially from being raised Mormon, I was taught that you don’t think about sex even with women, let alone with a boy. So there’s a lot to explore about yourself, and I think that’s what Patrick’s doing. When I first moved to New York, I had to figure that stuff out, too. I think ultimately, Patrick wanted one great love, and so did I, but that doesn’t mean you don’t go through a lot of bullshit to get there. It’s such a disservice for parents to teach their children how naughty it is, and make them feel so guilty about it, because that stays for a long time. So that’s been really fun to dig in and figure out, ‘How did Patrick get here, and is he really so free with sex?’ Or, has he actually been trapped by it? And now he thinks about it in a very dysfunctional way . . . so there’s a lot going on.

 This show is so powerful because it documents something in history that a lot of people don’t know about. You said you weren’t familiar with it – can you talk about learning through this?

 JP: I remember reading it and thinking, ‘Is this real? Did this happen?’ Then I started doing research and there was such limited information . . . you had to search for the names of the people involved, and as we got into the process of working on the musical and hearing from Max, who knew so much about it, I was just taken aback that we didn’t know about this and that it wasn’t something that we were talking about. And then oddly enough, something that was addressed in this show is how the Orlando thing still feels very much on the back burner . . . it happened, we were sad, and then we moved on, in a weird way. I don’t know the answer as to what we’re supposed to do . . . I don’t know. That’s why I feel like it’s so important that we tell this story now. I don’t believe that Max is doing it in a preachy way – he’s just presenting you with facts that a lot of people don’t know about, and it gives you a fire and a desire to leave here and realize that we’re writing history for so many others to come, so we have to stay active and present.

 TF: Yeah, I echo those sentiments. And as for my gay ‘ancestors’ . . . it’s really not lost on me what they’ve gone through so that I can have the rights and the life I have today. Things have evolved a lot since I was a kid. Even in the last ten years since I moved to New York, things have changed. It’s always changing and it’s so important not to forget things like this . . . things that came before. Even some of the terrorist attacks that have happened – it’s like we mourn them for a minute and think ‘This is so horrible,’ and then we pick up and move on. And I suppose that’s a good thing because we have no choice, but it’s so important to remember that they happened and to make sure we have adequately mourned all of these horrible incidents. I don’t know what else can be done. Like Jeremy said, it’s so beautiful that this musical is happening.

 One of the discussions I have once I get to know someone is who their gay role models are, or their gay heroes from yesteryear, and I’m finding that a lot of kids just don’t have one. A show like this opens so many eyes and opens the doors to learning more about the history. Can you speak to that too – whether you’ve had experiences with audience members or what it means to hopefully enlighten kids who are living in this age without thinking of all the history that got things here?

JP: Being 24 and having moved to the city at 18, I haven’t had a lot of gay role models (relationship-wise) where I saw anyone married or successful, because all of this is all new. I remember specifically one show – there was a young kid sitting in the seats with his dad in full makeup, and I was like ‘Yes – he’s got it figured out!’ He is who he wants to be, and he’s comfortable in his skin. I got to meet him after the show, and he was wearing this huge fur coat and I was just living through this kid who had to be maybe 13 years old, and who was just so comfortable, and his dad bringing him to this story . . . that’s what we need. And however that affects you . . . I know some people leave the theatre feeling on fire to get active and to help the community in whatever way they can, and some people leave feeling healed from relationships. My message to the people coming is just to remember where we came from. And I do have gay heroes – I have a few actually. But on a more general note, if I were to look at people my age – if we had lived in the 80’s, how many of them would be dead just for having sex as a gay man without knowing what would happen? It’s horrible. One of my favorite places in the world is Fire Island, and when I’m out there I just think about what a tragic place that was back then, for so many summers. They’re my heroes in a way. They went through that, and now I don’t have to. The people who were willing to go out in the streets with signs in the 60’s and 70’s . . . they were truly the first pioneers willing to speak out about it. The message though is just to remember where we came from and be aware of this part of history.

What is your favorite moment that the other has during this show? 

TF: My favorite moment that Wes has during the show would be . . . gosh, there are a lot of great moments Wes has during this show. One of them is hearing ‘Household Name’and sometimes from the back I can watch him move throughout the spirits of the 70’s bar. That’s an awesome Wes moment. And then the ending . . . he brings a lot of heart and makes it very poignant. He has so much to rattle off in an hour and forty minutes, so then for him to completely change that and sit down at a piano and bring such heart is so beautiful and, I think, a credit to him as an actor.

 JP: First of all, I love working with Tay because he’s very understanding and he listens very, very well. I love watching his journey as Patrick from when I meet him to his last line to me, ‘I’ll miss you.’ And it’s weird to me because with him, I can pick up the journey and the arc he’s created for such a simple character which could’ve been played one way the whole time, but he’s added so many colors – being sensitive and warm and loving and caring, but also being courageous and being a prostitute and being sexy and all of those things, which I just think are so hard to juggle, but he does it in such a seamless way that you’re not paying attention to someone juggling all of these things and traumatic experiences. I think I always clock-in in the beginning with his first line and his first look to me, versus his last look to me. They’re both very different, yet very distinct and specific, and I feel like he’s actually listening and engaging to me, and it feels special. I’ll tell him ‘I fell in love with you tonight’, meaning that ‘I was really locking in with what you were saying and where you were tonight’, and it’ll be different tomorrow and the next night . . . but he does that very well.

 Why is it important to have stories like this onstage, speaking in a climate where the arts are losing funding, and where young kids don’t know their own history? There’s so much going into this, but in your own minds, why is this show and other shows like it so important? 

 JP: For me, theatre has always been a tool to present situations, events, facts, nonfiction, or whatever, and leaving you with it, then you get to choose to do whatever you want with it when you leave. It’s not a church where we’re trying to get you to practice, and I feel like for this story in particular, we’re using an art form of beautiful characters and music that Max has written, and just presenting you with a fun, warm, welcoming environment, but we’re also presenting you with history, and a tragic event that happened in 1973, while comparing it to the parallel of 2017. It’s our job to use our voices and gifts as artists to inspire and love. It’s, in a weird way, an activator to your thoughts and feelings, and addresses something that maybe you didn’t know, and I believe it’s therapy. We all need to just come and open our eyes and just be present. I feel like theatre does that very well, because half the time you don’t know what you’re going to see, or what you’re going to feel, and it might trigger things in you that you didn’t even know. It triggers you differently than it triggered your friend, so it’s specific and to each his own. And I think that’s a very beautiful thing.

 TF: Art has always been a true and honest and beautiful and free form of expression, so for us to be losing funding on that for kids, who are just learning to express themselves and and cultivating that in specific art programs that the funding is under . . . to inhibit children from that, to me, is absolutely heartbreaking. They wouldn’t take some of that money out of their sports programs, would they? No, heaven forbid we have less football teams around the nation banging each others’ heads together, but damn it, we sure don’t need any more art or kids learning how to create. That’s what we need, and they need it for therapy, and for self expression. It makes me so, so sad.

JP: Also for me, the arts are communication. You’re watching people communicate and deal with life’s problems. If we aren’t allowing kids to practice that and to hear history through plays or scripts, then what are we doing? A lot of the information and things that I’ve learned have been through reading a script or play, or researching a character – it was just an interesting way of absorbing information. Rather than sit in a science class, it was doing a play about the sciences. I found it intriguing to dive in that way and then use it onstage to communicate. That’s all people are doing onstage – just communicating to one another.

For the people who read this who maybe don’t know anything about this show, why should they come see it?

TF: If you truly want to feel something – gay, straight, or whatever you are – if you want to come learn a story of a real group of humans whose lives were lost, and that a lot of people don’t know about, come see this show. I guarantee at some point in this show you’ll feel your heart warm up. I know it. It’s impossible not to.

 JP: Come to The View UpStairs. Come to our bar. Come get your spirit fed. Come to church. Come open. All are welcome. And just be ready to take this beautiful journey. Yes, it ends tragically in a way, but the whole musical is beautiful. The music is beautiful, the characters are beautiful, and you actually feel for each one of those characters, so it’s an exciting journey to be a part of and to witness. Come on down!

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About Samantha S.

"I found the theatre and I found my home.” ― Audra McDonald

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