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Reflections on BOYS IN THE BAND

COMMENTARY: Brian Hutchison, Charlie Carver, Zachary Quinto, Robin de Jesus, Jim Parsons and Tuc Watkins in Los Angeles, during the NETFLIX production of Boys in the Band in Fall, 2019.

BAMMER member Brian Hutchison can be seen in The Boys in the Band, on Netflix, starting Sept 30. We asked Brian to share a few words about being in the show. The Boys in the Band is an important part of LGBT history, and this latest production is truly stunning. 

One of my career highlights was playing Alan, a man struggling with his sexual identity in the 2018 Broadway production of The Boys In the Band. The success of that theatrical production led to the new Netflix film, produced by Ryan Murphy and beautifully directed by Joe Mantello, with the same incredible cast—Matt Bomer, Charlie Carver, Robin de Jesus, Michael Benjamin Washington, Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Andrew Rannells, and Tuc Watkins.

I first watched the original 1970 version of the movie The Boys in The Band film in the early 1990s. I was in my early thirties then and it was brutal—I’m not even sure I made it the whole way through. My immediate impression was that it felt so sad, so bleak, so unlike my life up to that point. I wasn’t ready for it. I was only able to understand or relate to a couple of the characters: Hank, who had left his wife a few years earlier, and Alan, who was married but clearly troubled and conflicted.

Growing up in the 1980s, Pittsburgh wasn’t the most liberal or accepting of environments. I always felt like I had to fit into the parameters of what was acceptable. It was just the social climate of the time. Even though I went to a school where creativity was encouraged and had love and support throughout my life from family and friends, I feared that might be conditional. My feelings were further compounded with the death of my oldest brother when I was nine. Our formerly vibrant household of three boys became more silent as everyone retreated into their own corners to grieve in private. My sense of loss was profound, and years later it became intertwined with my attraction to men. I often felt like I was seeking to find the brother I’d lost—even more so as I watched his friends grow older, go off to college, and move into the world. As a result, I felt somewhat isolated in my own life at times. Among my own friends, I felt a sense of waiting to exhale and wishing to be as comfortable in my own skin as they seemed to be in theirs.

Speaking in front of groups of people was hard. It wasn’t until years later that I understood the detrimental effect of not feeling I could express myself authentically. Acting became a great outlet for me. It gave me some sense of control and ownership of my life—accessing different parts of myself that I’d hidden away. As I got more comfortable, I learned to move and speak freely onstage and show emotion in a way that I never could in real life.

I knew after college that I wanted to pursue acting professionally, but fully admitting to myself—as well as to others—that I was gay took longer. As actors, we seek truth through imaginary circumstances. As I became a better, more experienced actor, it became so clear to me that I needed to live my own life with the same truth and freedom I felt on stage—to take my life fully in my arms and risk losing anyone who wasn’t okay with that. It was a painful, but ultimately rewarding, journey of sharing my true self with friends and loved ones.

Today, being an actor and being openly gay are both aspects of myself—one chosen and the other hardwired—that involved years of internal struggle, understanding, disappointment, rejection, and eventually reconciliation and acceptance.

Unlike when the original play came out, today, being a Broadway actor who was gay was not really a big thing. But for some of my The Boys In the Band co-stars like Jim, or Matt, or Zach, who all had a huge international following from their successes in television, coming out publicly—complete with public announcements, press releases, etc.—it is still a gamble on how their fans will react. Their courage and authenticity to do so publicly has really been inspiring and has clearly made a difference in this business, as well as in the lives of countless LGBTQ youth worldwide. All of them have played both gay and straight roles which makes sense—we are actors after all. Someday, hopefully, we will get to a place where actors can just play gay or straight without the “openly gay actor” prefix attached to every review.

A while back, I said to myself that I’d love to play a character who is really okay with being gay, where shame or struggle isn’t involved, something I had grown to experience in my own life. Soon afterward, I acted in Paul Rudnick’s play, Big Night, as a gay man in a great relationship. I loved playing a character who happens to be gay and is well adjusted and happy with his life.

The cast during a break in rehearsal for the Broadway show in 2018.

Playing Alan in The Boys in the Band on Broadway was an amazing experience. I know what that pain is, the confusion, the fear. My initial reaction to seeing the original film had been so dark that I kept it at arm’s length. But now, comfortable with my life and career, my sexuality, and happily married to another man, I felt so much freedom in exploring what this character was about, his humanity.

Matt Bomer and Robin de Jesus in rehearsal for the play.

The play was charmed from the start. Rehearsal was a blast, working closely with all the cast members and “falling in love” with them in the way that happens in the best of theatrical experiences. Unexpectedly, I discovered common ground, working with a cast of all gay men, unlike anything I’d ever experienced in my career—there was a lack of filter and, though we all grew up under vastly different circumstances, we all had similar reference points. There was joy, love, kindness, support, empathy, and a decided lack of ego, knowing we all wanted the play to succeed. And, then, there was the understanding in a play like this with so many strong characters, that we all got our moments, then passed the baton, and on and on. In the best circumstances as an actor, you feel when something is good, but, it was clear here that we were creating something really unique and special. 

The move into the theater was quick and, after a few days of tech (adding lighting, sound, the set, and costumes), the show was ready to begin previews. There were so many memorable moments that first night. From our dressing room hallway, we listened over the monitor. Jim Parsons and Matt Bomer opened the show and immediately we heard the rolling laughter—the audience was going nuts. The laughter continued from there. The audience sat transfixed throughout the entire performance. And, while we reminded ourselves that first-night audiences were maybe not the most honest barometer, it was clear the next night and from the performances that followed that our audiences were ready for this—to watch a play that represented a world and a time when being gay wasn’t accepted and when people couldn’t live their lives honestly, or if they did, were fearful of losing their families, friends, and livelihood. 

The cast on set in LA: Matt Bomer, Charlie Carver, Zachary Quinto, Brian Hutchinson, Jim Parsons, Robin de Jesus, Andrew Rannells, Tuc Watkins and Michael Benjamin Washington

When Ryan Murphy decided to produce the film adaptation for Netflix, we all were really excited to do it. Not only would we get to hang out again for a few months, but the film would be seen internationally, bringing the story to a far wider audience, most of whom wouldn’t be familiar with the original film.

The film, as with the play, feels different than what I remember from the original film version of The Boys in the Band. The script is almost identical to the original, but it seems more poignant. The relationships feel really deep and loving despite the vitriol. We see the love underneath and the desire for connection. The viewer no longer has to see this as the single representation of gay life, but rather as a benchmark of an era about to undergo cultural liberation. When the play first opened in 1968, ticket buyers shielded their faces leaving the box office at the theater. The same was true for the film’s release in 1970. It was a secret curiosity for so many men to see their lives (or, in many cases, the lives they couldn’t bring themselves to lead) represented on stage and in film.

Tuc Watkins, Andrew Rannels, Jim Parsons and Brian Hutchinson

Viewing the film now, post-gay liberation and post-marriage equality; seeing our community grow to support other sexual and gender identities, we can view this film not with fear for what we might become, as men in 1970 did, but as a measure of how far society has come since the show was first produced. The Boys in the Band had a role in bringing about these changes. Today, there is a pride and ownership that people feel in seeing their history represented in this way.

Shortly after the original play opened in 1969, the Stonewall riots erupted, giving rise to the gay rights movement, followed a decade later by the emergence of the AIDS epidemic. A heroic response to the AIDS outbreak by gay men, lesbians, and their allies was the catalyst for the LGBTQ community’s fight for and eventual victory in winning its civil rights. This chain of events empowered all of us to live more fulfilling authentic lives.

Today, fascism, bigotry, and hate threaten to undermine all we’ve achieved in promoting equal civil rights across the country, not just for LGBT people, but for people of color and different ethnicities, too. There is a famous line in the script that, for me, encapsulates so much of what has changed since the play was first produced, and what Boys In The Band helped depict by providing audiences with an early window into LGBTQ lives: “If we could only learn to not hate ourselves so very much.”

Hopefully, the film will spread a message of acceptance across our country, or globally, and we can understand more about our history and the direction we need to be headed.


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