An Interview with the Playwright of the World Premiere Play, “Hair Frenzy”
One of the most exciting things for a theatre company is the chance to present the world premiere of a play. At Penobscot Theatre Company, we have the honor of developing not one, but two plays by local playwright Travis G. Baker. The first world premiere was Baker’s One Blue Tarp, which took audiences on a hilarious tour of fictional Clara, Maine. The upcoming world premiere of Hair Frenzy takes us back to Clara and inside the hottest salon in town. Hair Frenzy is the story of what happens when a really bad hair day brings Hollywood superstar Torryn Bennoch back to her hometown of Clara, Maine, and into the chair of the best stylist she knows, her childhood best friend, Tina. Needless to say, Tina and the coterie of kooky Clara-ites are whipped into a frenzy by the diva’s demands.
We had a chance to chat with Baker about his work as a playwright and will be sharing the interview in three parts over the next three weeks.
PENOBSCOT THEATRE COMPANY: What was the inspiration for Hair Frenzy?
TRAVIS G. BAKER: At several points in One Blue Tarp, [the character] Judy is told by her mother she needs to go see Tina down at [her salon] Hair Frenzy. As I thought more about the world of Clara, Maine, Tina’s story seemed the next step in that exploration. The story [speaks to] the ongoing struggle to keep people in our state when the world beyond our craggy coastline seems so vast and full of opportunity. I also drew [on] long ago friendships. In some cases, I was the one who moved away and became successful. And in other cases, I knew people who’d gone on to much greater heights in the entertainment field than myself. Jim Parsons of “The Big Bang Theory” was in my very first play at the University of Houston. Rebecca Feldman directed my first New York production and eventually created The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (I did originate the character of Mitch). So there’s some of that pride/jealousy/wonderment in there. It would be great to be a rich and famous playwright, but I wouldn’t want to miss my sons’ hockey games for it. That’s part of what Tina faces. She’s a part of the town but does she, like so many others, have to go away to make a living if not such a great life?
PTC: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
TGB: I would want to be a retired NHL player working as a color commentator or coaching the Maine Black Bears. I’m pretty sure that would have happened if my parents hadn’t moved me from Boston to Texas when I was five. In truth, I would most likely be a struggling actor [note: Travis played the Sherriff in Penobscot Theatre Company’s production of August: Osage County]. Right before Art School my father told me I was supposed to be going to the University of Virginia to study engineering. Frankly, I’d have been glad to have gone to Virginia, just wish he’d told me that when I was applying to schools. But even if I’d gone there, I’m sure I would have found my way to the theatre department. We are what we are.
PTC: What is your favorite part of playwriting and what is the most challenging?
TGB: Nothing beats an opening night because that’s when all of the work comes together (hopefully). Not just my work but everyone involved. Personally, though, as I’ve gotten more experienced, I’ve learned that the most rewarding moments are those incidents of discovery and the rewriting process as the floating little pieces start to fall in place.
Check back next week for more of our interview with Maine playwright Travis G. Baker!