Gay playwright makes stage debut with Atlanta production

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Despite his brief time in Atlanta, gay actor and playwright Derek Dixon is making an imprint in local theater. His “When Things are Lost” is up and running now as part of Essential Theatre’s summer festival.

It's Dixon's first produced play and it was named co-winner of the 2016 Essential Playwriting Award. “When Things are Lost” balances humor and drama in a story of friendship, loss and forgiving. It also contains a major gay angle, amidst some twists and turns.

Project Q Atlanta caught up with Dixon to learn more about his background, how he put the play together, opening night jitters and what he's working on for the future.

Tell us a little about the play?

It’s about a man who thinks his friend has gone missing, and is searching for him everywhere, in different locations. Throughout the play, though, you realize that may not be the case and that the main character might not be all there mentally. So the play is dreamlike, a stream of consciousness kind of thing.

How long did it take to write?

I started writing it about three years ago. It took me about a month for the whole first draft. I went back and tweaked. I didn’t think it was fully ready until a few years ago.

Was there an inspiration?

It’s based on a friend. It didn’t start off that way, though. It started off as a piece in my mind about being lost. It was a place where I was in my life at the time. But it became a piece about one of my best friends. I don’t want to give away a spoiler in the play, but it’s about a friend who passed away.

Are there any gay elements?

Definitely. A straight man goes on a journey and discovers what one of his gay friends went through in his life that he never knew. He inhabits this gay man’s world, to see what it was like, high school and after. Someone just told me they saw the play recently and were happy I did it from this perspective because that story might not have relatable to a straight person if it wasn’t told from that point of view. That is what I envisioned. It would let someone walk in someone else’s shoes. A straight men walking in a gay man’s shoes. It’s really about friendship, getting to know people in your life that you might not know all about before.

How many plays have you written?

Four or five. This is the first one that I have had produced. The others, I am working on.

You are an actor as well?

I did a lot of theater in North Carolina. I lived in New York and did some off-off Broadway shows and a pilot that didn’t get picked up. I was in “Boys in the Band” and a show called “Happy Hour.” I also did “The Lion in Winter” in North Carolina. I haven’t done any acting in Atlanta yet. I have done some auditions.

When did you move here?

I am from Raleigh, but I moved to New York after high school. I was there about four and a half years and went to Marymount Manhattan College. Last year I moved here.

How did you find out about the Essential Playwriting completion?

I was looking at playwriting competitions online and saw this. It was easy to enter the contest. No letter of intent, no artistic statement, no references. Just submit the play. I did. A month later I got the email from [Essential Theatre Artistic Director] Peter Hardy saying I won. It was very exciting. I didn’t expect anything. It’s such a great opportunity for new playwrights. Essential Theatre produces it. It’s amazing to see it onstage.

Do you prefer acting or writing?

In my mind, I have always preferred acting but when I was working on this play, I was part of the WTP Ethel Woolsen Lab at Working Title Playwrights. Seeing people react to what is in your mind, your own words, is really cool. That is way more personal than acting. At this point I don’t know, both are really cool. I think I am itching to get back on stage.

What was it like seeing the show for the first time?

I was there during tech week and they were working on the sound and lighting. Everything was off a level. So I didn’t see it until opening night. I had nightmares in my mind. All my friends and family were coming. I had high anxiety, but it blew me away.

What do you want people to take away from this show?

To make sure we are reaching out to our friends and being there and helping them when they need it.

What are you working on next?

I am working on two shows. One is a play about what happens when a couple’s child goes missing and what it does to their relationship. I am doing research about that.

“When Things are Lost” runs through Aug. 27 as part of the 2016 Essential Theater Play Festival.

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