1970s New York Art World Celebs Are Playwright Mikki Gillette’s Marvel Universe

Gillette’s upcoming production of “Blonde on a Bum Trip” tells a fictionalized story of trans actresses Candy Darling, Holly Woodlawn and Jackie Curtis.

Riley McCarthy, Ruby Welch and Juliet Mylan for Blonde on a Bum Trip (Greg Parkinson)

Before rehearsal began for Fuse Theatre Ensemble’s new play, Blonde on a Bum Trip, last week, the cast had some urgent questions for director Rusty Tennant. They were all handbag-related.

Is a purse a prop or a costume? Will a magazine fit into a boho bag? Will all the paraphernalia for shooting up amphetamines fit into a clutch? (Costume, yes, yes.)

Fashion is critical to Blonde on a Bum Trip, a fictionalized account of three real-life trans actresses—Candy Darling, Holly Woodlawn and Jackie Curtis—on their ascent to being stars in Andy Warhol’s Factory scene in the 1970s. Playwright Mikki Gillette says choosing that setting was a no-brainer.

“The Warhol scene is sort of like my Marvel Cinematic Universe,” Gillette says. “I know all the characters.”

Although big names such as Warhol and writers Truman Capote and Fran Lebowitz appear in the play, the action is centered on the three actresses. This is particularly important to Gillette, who is trans and spent her childhood in 1980s Eugene, where there wasn’t any trans visibility or representation, she says.

We spoke to Gillette, 46, as she prepared for the show, which is Fuse’s feature presentation of this year’s OUTwright Theatre Festival, and talked about her inspiration, feminism and depicting celebrities.

WW: How did you decide to write about this era and these characters?

Mikki Gillette: I remember being around 18 or 19 and seeing a picture of Candy Darling. I was pretty astonished that there was someone who was doing what she was doing—not just living as herself but being really glamorous and part of this countercultural scene that was really artistic. That stuck with me.

Which of the three lead characters do you relate to the most?

It changes all the time. I relate to Jackie in that she was a writer. Holly has this fun, sort of detached outlook on life that maybe I aspire to. And then Candy, maybe, because she was the first one I discovered. And I’m blond.

How does this play fit into your body of work?

I think this is the lightest play I’ve written. It has this fizzy quality that I think is really fun. It has heart, because as you move toward the ending it gets more serious. You do get a feeling they’re not in a world that supports people like them. It’s about trans-ness, which I think is something I’m always going back to.

Does your play have anything to do with the 1968 LSD movie of the same title?

No. Blonde on a Bum Trip was this title that was kind of floating around in the Warhol world. It doesn’t have to do with the movie that actually got made. It really feels like an early ‘70s title. It evokes that period.

What’s it like writing characters who are real people?

I like it because it frees me from my own imagination.

Is the character who bullies Candy named “Fran” actually Fran Lebowitz?

Yeah. There’s a documentary called Beautiful Darling about Candy, and I don’t know why they included [Lebowitz] because every time she comes up, she just says the TERF-iest [trans-exclusionary radical feminist] thing you can imagine. It’s almost like you can’t recommend that documentary because she’s in it.

People have a lot of opinions about these celebrities you’re depicting. Do you take that into consideration, or do you block it out when you’re writing?

I try to block it out. I think everything is portrayed kind of lovingly. Well, maybe not Fran.

SEE IT: Blonde on a Bum Trip plays at Reed College’s Performing Arts Building, 3017 SE Woodstock Blvd., fusetheatreensemble.com/blonde. 7:30 pm Thursday–Saturday, 3 pm Sunday, May 16–June 16. $25 suggested donation.

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