This piece is part of our Performing Arts Guide in the September 2022 print issue of District Fray. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Playwright, game creator + theatre administrator.
District Fray: What are you currently working on?
Tristan B. Willis: I recently finished revising a play titled “The Great Impresario Boris Lermontov Would Like to Invite You to Dinner,” a piece exploring individual exceptionalism and the flawed notion that we can eradicate institutional oppression just by putting one well-meaning person in leadership. [The piece illustrates this] through a meta-theatrical lens where the two actors playing the two leads are also playing actors. So, they play themselves acting the part of the impresario and his assistant.
How does your work as a playwright intersect with game design?
Most of the games I create are tabletop role playing games, a setting where the people telling the story are also the audience, which I think is an exciting premise. It’s important to me to take that context and use it in theatre. I want to create theatre where the audience is essential.
What does your creative process look like?
In my — you know, 1,000 air quotes — more “traditional” plays, I often just start collecting series of images. I see things happening before I really hit any dialogue. So, I’ll start collecting these images I’m seeing in my head, like a person turning into a tornado or someone unfolding a newspaper until it’s the size of a stage. I start looking for common themes in those images and start collecting them with those themes. From there, I try to find the story between images.
What does it mean to reframe in terms of the queer and trans perspective?
I feel like linear narrative structures can’t adequately express queer and trans stories, or at least the queer and trans stories that resonate with me. Often if you have a cisgender storyteller making a movie about, say, a trans person, it’s usually like: This person discovered they were trans, came out and then [underwent] some sort of gender affirming surgery — and that’s the end of their story. That’s just not my experience being a trans person. It’s a lot more complicated than that. It doesn’t move linearly. I don’t think I’ll ever stop discovering who I am.
How would you like the industry to evolve?
I would give everything up for an industry that truly believes how we make our art is more important than the art we make. That people are more important than products. That process is more important than production. I think we talk a good talk. As a theatre industry, we pitch ourselves as very progressive. I also think we are not great at taking care of everyone.