The fourth annual Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis unfolds May 9-19, 2019 across the Gateway City. This year's main stage production is The Night of the Iguana at the Grandel Theatre and features headliners Jim Butz, Lavonne Byers, Nisi Sturgis, Elizabeth Townsend, and Harry Weber as Americans who are hiding—or seeking—or both—at a seedy Mexican hotel during the run-up to World War II. Tim Ocel will once again direct, having guided last year’s A Streetcar Named Desire to a record 11 award nominations by the St. Louis Theater Circle. 

 

The festival will also stage A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur with an all female cast. This comedy was the inspiration of The Golden Girls. The show is directed by Kari Ely at The Grand Hall, upstairs from The Grandel Theatre. 

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Rounding out the festival will be award-winning actor Bryan Batt, with his performance of Dear Mr. Williams at the Curtain Call Lounge, May 10-11. Written and performed by Batt, Dear Mr. Williams explores the tumultuous—and sometimes treacherous—journey from adolescence to adulthood we all must take. But as Batt’s one-man tour de force proves, it's oh-so much more fascinating and fun with Tennessee Williams as your guide. 

 

#Boom recently spoke to the out actor, author and entrepreneur about the show, the festival, his performance, and his connection to Tennessee Williams.

 

For readers who might be unfamiliar with your work - who is Bryan Batt?

 

I’m an actor, writer, designer, retail shop owner, civic activist, and nice guy. As an actor I appeared in nine Broadway shows, and bunch of off-Broadway (Drama Desk Award nominee for Broadway’s Sunset Boulevard, Cats). [On] TV I am most known as Salvatore Romano in Mad Men (a SAG award winning ensemble role). I am a writer of three books: She Ain’t Heavy, She’s My Mother; Big Easy Style; Pontchartrain Beach: a Family Affair. I'm co-owner of Hazelnut: New Orleans, with my husband, specializing in home accessories and gifts, some of which I design. And I have been involved in and raised awareness for numerous charities and causes, especially Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS...

 

How did the idea come about for Dear Mr. Williams?

 

It was completely organic, not forced, not over thought. It just happened, and that never happens with me; I’m a planner. As New Orleans’ tricentennial approached, I had the idea of an evening celebrating Tennessee Williams' works and lesser known stories, quotes, etc. that celebrated the city he loved so much. The Tennessee Williams/New Oreleans Literary Festival said, “Write it!” [Be] careful what you wish for; as I researched and started to compile my ideas, it took on a somewhat autobiographical feel. I realized that through my formidable years, Tennessee Williams' plays and life had a dramatic and profound influence on mine.

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You have a history in live theatre and film, any preference? 

 

I love them both, but they’re apples and oranges and I do love a good fruit salad! The role is the thing, the medium is another, there are great aspects of both. I love that theatre is one take, you fly with no net.

 

How would you describe Dear Mr. Williams?

 

It’s my personal journey guided by the brilliant words and life of Tennessee Williams; it is funny, poignant and quite moving. I performed a short excerpt at the St. Louis Arts and Education Awards in January, and the audience really enjoyed it...fingers crossed for May!

 

You're from New Orleans, which you mentioned has its own large festival dedicated to Tennessee Williams, has that had any influence on you?

 

It’s the reason this play came about. I’ve performed and participated in several panels for our Tennessee Williams Fest both as an actor and author. It definitely rekindled and strongly ignited my love and admiration for his work.

 

What kind of research went into your work?

 

The piece draws from a myriad of Tennessee Williams' works. Some popular and a great deal of obscure jewels that some people may have never heard - pearls, rubies, diamonds - they all support and influence my story. Tennessee wrote every day for years, so there was a great deal to draw from. Tennessee Williams had to leave his home and come to New Orleans to find himself; I had to leave my home of New Orleans - which I loved and love - to discover who I was. Like so many young gay men of my generation, I did not have any role models, none! No one to talk to, I thought I was alone, but luckily I had Tennessee.

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You’ve taken this show to many different places, how has it been received?

 

It’s been received very well. I’m thrilled that my truth, my story, resonates with so many people.

 

Any ideas for the future of the show?

 

I would love to have an off-Broadway run...why not?

 

Anything you’d like to plug?

Oh just come to the show, shop at Hazelnut!

 

Final thoughts?

 

Play nice, Tell your story, live your truth. [And] see live theatre!

 

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