Zachary Quinto returned to Broadway in 2018, after a five-year hiatus, as part of the star-studded cast of the first-ever Main Stem mounting of Mart Crowley’s seminal play The Boys in the Band. Cast alongside Matt Bomer, Charlie Carver, Robin De Jesús, Brian Hutchison, Jim Parsons, Andrew Rannells, Michael Benjamin Washington, and Tuc Watkins, Quinto played Harold—the famous self-loathing birthday boy at the center of the party gone horribly wrong. Now, Quinto returns to Harold and his friends, but this time behind the scenes. He directs the upcoming live stream of Pride Plays and Playbill’s presentation of Crowley’s The Men From the Boys, the 2002 sequel to his 1968 work.
As a first-time director, Quinto is thrilled to return to Crowley’s world. His intimate familiarity with Harold, Crowley’s style, and these men “creates a foundation on which I'm able to build an understanding of who these people are and what their relationships are,” he tells Playbill. Within the last year, Quinto revisited Boys in the Band to shoot a new Netflix adaptation with the full original cast and once again helmed by Joe Mantello.
In this digital incarnation of Men From the Boys, Tony nominee Lou Liberatore (Burn This, As Is) plays Harold as he reunites with some of the old gang about 30 years after Boys in the Band as well as three new faces from a younger generation—this time under even less happy circumstances than the original. But Crowley knows how to balance scathing humor with profundity, and the June 26 presentation (Playbill.com/PridePlays) to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS is sure to showcase both. Additionally, Goldman Sachs will serve as a presenting sponsor and match donations up to $35,000.
Here, Quinto talks about revisiting these characters, directing for a live stream, and the importance of Pride Plays in this moment.
When you did Boys in the Band, I imagine you guys worked on backstory, but did you guys take the future of these characters into account knowing that there was this other play out there?
Zachary Quinto: Interesting. No, I didn't. I can't speak for anyone else in the cast, but for me, Boys in the Band is so rooted in its time. And so rooted in the social political landscape in which it's set that the context of where things would go from that point forward, there's no way it could have influenced the people who those characters were in 1968, obviously because they didn't know how things would unfold. It might be different if you were doing Men From the Boys and had never done Boys in the Band and you go back and kind of look at where those characters were 30 years previous. For me, Boys in the Band was its own examination of what it meant to be gay at that particular time in 1968, which was a very, very different thing from what it meant to be gay and through the next couple of decades and into the early 200s.
From having been inside The Boys in the Band, what's it been like to revisit the characters that recur here?
It's been really interesting to see the echoes in Men From the Boys, in terms of who these characters are to one another, who they remained to one another, the fact that they still have relationships with one another, and then the echoes of the plays themselves. It's been really interesting figuring out the best version of the play for the purposes of the festival. Obviously, it's one thing if the festival was able to take place as it normally would in person, but anytime I think you're doing an online reading or a streaming there's a whole other consideration that needs to be taken with regard to audience, attention span, what you're able to show, and what you're able to do. And that sort of slightly isolated format where not everybody is able to be in the same place. We're navigating that path right now as a team.
Of course, in this crucial second year of the festival, the team adapted to present it digitally. What was your reaction when you learned about that?
I’m really just proud of the community. That's also a testament to Michael Urie and Nick Mayo and the teams of people that have been involved in generating the festival and propel all voices, and particularly LGBTQ+ voices. My hope is that people tune in and log on and maybe next year, at this time, we'll be back to some modicum of normalcy that'll allow us to do this in person and that we can all be part of it in different ways.
What are some of the steps you're taking to make this more of a digital experience?
Well, right now, I'm just focusing on the text. Cutting and shaping the text in a way that keeps it moving, I think is a primary importance. We did that with Boys in the Band as well. You know, we took a two-act play and we drove it through without any intermission. I don't know yet whether that's going to be possible with Men From the Boys. We are kind of getting in there with a scalpel and trying to figure out that part of it right now. It's about at once being engaging—pulling an audience in—but then once they're in keeping it all moving in a way that feels crackling and feels alive.
And you're navigating all of this as a first-time director!
I don't think it completely counts, but it's been a really fascinating process. I've been friends with [Pride Plays producer] Michael Urie for years, I'm also on the board at [festival home] the Rattlestick Theatre. So I have a lot of connection to all of the elements of this festival. It's a real honor, frankly, to carry on Mart's legacy and give attention to his lesser known work that is really seminal and important in its own way. I'm grateful that that this first experience is with a piece that I have some kind of connection to, even though it's not a direct connection.
Have you found yourself taking from directors you've worked with as an actor?
I’m sure unconsciously, yes. For me, the one thing that I've always learned from the best directors that I've worked with, like Joe Mantello and John Tiffany and Michael Greif, is that everything starts with the text. Annie Kauffman's another one who I adore. Really great directors who understand that you don't have to show up with all the answers. You just have to show up knowing what the questions are. And if you surround yourself with artists who are like-minded and collaborative, then the answers will find their way to the process. The path forward will become clearer. In fact, for me, it's preferable to show up and say, “I don't know what this wants to be. I don't know what it is.” The alchemy of the actors who join the process will inform everything. It's about an openness and to always have a willingness to listen to an idea that may be better than mine. These are the cornerstones that I've seen in practice working with really successful, really accomplished, really talented directors that I feel I carry with me to this process, and will carry into any process that I go through.
The idea of these two generations occupying the same space is fascinating. What do you hope to emphasize regarding intergenerationality through this presentation?
I've recently entered into a phase of my life in which I'm not always the youngest person in the room. In fact, less frequently the youngest person in the room. So I've had my own experiences with exposure to a younger generational perspective on sexual identity, gender identity, sexual politics. I think that intergenerational conversation is essential for the health and the vibrancy of the movement itself toward integration and equality for all LGBTQ+ people. Men From the Boys more than Boys in the Band does integrate those two points of view. There are flare ups and conflict and misunderstandings, generational kind of jabs or volleys that happen in this play that I think we want to look at. We want to look at them for what they represent socially. We want to look at them for what they represent in a movement where age is prized as an invaluable commodity and on which many things can be traded. An obsession with youth is something that in gay male culture, certainly, there is a propensity towards. So I feel like all of that stuff is grist for the mill in terms of fully exploring and examining the gay experience and bringing it to light in a way that's both three-dimensional and relatable to audiences.
Knowing you're on the board at Rattlestick and your previous involvement with Pride Plays, describe the importance of the festival and the need for it even in the midst of pandemics and revolutions.
The theatre in and of itself is a form of revolution, and it's really undergoing I think a drastic reexamination. This is a very vital time. It's an incredible time to be alive and as uncomfortable as it is, and as challenging as it is to people, theatre has always been, and hopefully always will be a place to explore and examine and present difficult questions and give some comfort and some relief and some insight into human interaction. While this play doesn't necessarily reflect the essence of the civil movement and the revolution that's happening in our country right now, it's never more important to create safe spaces and to be able to examine and to look at all different aspects of humanity. And the festival certainly does that. The Rattlestick has been committed to doing that for a lot longer than this recent uprise. I have a lot of respect for Daniela Topol, who's the artistic director, and, therefore, constantly encouraging the board and the theatre to move in new directions and in directions of inclusivity and celebration of different voices. It's reflected in the programming for the past number of seasons since she's taken over. I have a lot of gratitude that I can know I'm part of institutions and organizations and festivals that are doing the thing that's being demanded right now by our fellow artists in the movement. As hard as it is for white people to be looking at our participation in the inequities and in the injustices that have been perpetuated in our society and our culture and in our communities, I'm humbled by the chance to do that. And I want to do that in any and every way that I've found and to support our Black, indigenous, people of color in the theater community and in a broader sense.