Theater for the New City is a regaled playhouse located in Manhattan that is well-known for producing quality and original plays from emerging and established playwrights. From September 21 to October 15, 2017, the theater will be presenting “Up The Rabbit Hole.” It's a play about an adopted young man who is trying to escape his obsessions with sex and drugs while searching for his birth mother.

Playwright and actor Andy Halliday based the play on his own life experiences, which made it an extremely personal project with truthfulness, tenderness, and even humor.

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In a recent and exclusive interview, Andy discussed this new play, his experiences as an actor, and more.

Theater, plays, and acting

Meagan Meehan (MM): When did you discover your love for the theater and how did you break into the performing arts scene?

Andy Halliday (AH): Growing up in my household was pretty crazy.

My parents were in their early 40’s when they adopted me. They loved my sister and I tremendously and we were their whole lives, but the atmosphere in our house was chaotic and not very happy. I was constantly criticized, and due to my father’s severe alcoholism and my mother’s out-of-control raging, I always felt as if I were walking around on eggshells. I still jump ten feet high if someone walks up behind me or quietly enters a room! So, for me, theater was a natural way to escape. I broke into the scene when my father built a little theater in our downstairs playroom. The first show we performed was “Sleeping Beauty” and the script was written with dialogue from a Disney coloring book. I played the Prince and the neighborhood kids were all in it, so all of the neighbors on our block came to see us acting in it.

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We donated the money to The Library Fund. From then on I was hooked.

I moved to New York in 1974 to be a Broadway chorus boy, but I was too short and not that great a dancer. In 1984 Charles Busch, whom I had known since we were fourteen, asked me to be in a play he’d written called “Vampire Lesbians Of Sodom” which he wanted to perform at this new kooky downtown club called The Limbo Lounge. The show brought people down into the depths of scary Alphabet City, a section of the city with burned out apartment buildings, homeless people camped out in the park and crack vials littering the streets. Because of our overnight success, Charles, and our director, Kenneth Elliott formed our theater company and named it Theatre In Limbo.

MM: "Up the Rabbit Hole" is an intensely personal play, so was it difficult to write about your life experiences?

AH: Yes and no; writing a play about my life has been in my thoughts for several years. A lot has happened to me over my lifetime, so there were several plays in me that I had thought about putting down on paper.

I was coming up on twenty-five years of sobriety which has given me a second chance at life. Over the years, when I would tell my story of being adopted, the way I found my birth mother, and my battle with cocaine addiction, which all happened at the same time, people said I should put it on paper. After my last play “Nothing But Trash” closed, I started jotting down notes.

I was feeling more confident as a writer, and I had an incredible collaborative relationship with my friend G.R. Johnson, who directed “Nothing But Trash”. He loved the idea and helped me develop the story into a two-act play. We had six table readings over a two-year period. Many ideas and additional story-lines fell away, and characters were dropped. It wasn’t hard for me emotionally, to put it all on paper.

When it was finally ready to be produced, and we hired this amazing press agent named Glenna Freedman and she put together a press release. After reading it, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the feelings of “what have I done?!” Everyone was going to know about my crazy experiences and that I was a coke head! That’s when it became difficult for me, and I felt a great deal of panic. But my psychiatrist upped one of my medications and I talked about my fear with friends and now I’m very excited instead of scared. The play has basically become just a play about this young man searching for peace and answers to why he is who he is.

MM: A lot of the themes in this play are quite tragic, so how did you manage to interject humor and hope into them?

AH: I see the world in such a cockeyed and titled way. My life has always been like a movie; such amazing and outrageous things have happened to me, along with some awful things, and after the dust had settled I tried to find the humor in those situations. My personality is a bit “over the top”. When I take the dog for a walk or go to the grocery store, I leave music playing in my apartment, so that when I enter, I enter to a sweeping romantic melody or a show stopping dance number. It makes me happy. There are times in my life where I can get very worked up and hysterical over little things, and my hysteria is always “fear based”. There’s no real rationale for it. My head becomes a tea kettle. Steam builds up and finally, the only thing I can do is explode.

I think a dramatic play must have humor. I think a humorless play is pretentious. They’re exhausting, and I hate it when I see one. I wanted to make the main character of Jack, in “Up The Rabbit Hole” whimsical and funny, which also makes him touching and you care what happens to him. Jack lives in a dream-world for most of the play. He walks in a dream from place to place, meeting these people whom he hopes will have the answer to his problems. But they don’t, and he sinks lower and lower till suddenly the answer becomes clear to him. The answer is that a person needs to have hope to survive.

I believe that things always work out and when I lose that belief I fall into a panic or get terribly depressed. You have to try and accept things the way they are. Right now, we’re living in such a topsy-turvy world that it feels like we’ve been invited to The Mad Hatters Tea Party! It’s awful and frightening, but you have to accept life. It’s hard but you have to find the humor in it.

MM: Do you feel like the theater helped you overcome some of the hardships you have faced and are you in a happier place now?

AH: Yes, writing or performing is a healthy way to escape, as opposed to drugs or drinking. When I want to escape my feelings, which is most of the time, I sit down and write a story on Facebook or I jot down notes for a new play, or work on an existing project. I lose myself in what I’m writing or performing, and the feelings of loneliness, self-doubt, whatever they may be at the moment, lift for a time.

Performing arts, producing, and projects

MM: What was the process of getting this play produced like?

AH: I’m very lucky, due to Charles Busch and Ken Elliott giving me this amazing theater career. People know who I am now, because of the career I had with Theatre In Limbo. The legendary Crystal Field, who owns and operates Theater For The New City has graciously agreed to produced “Up The Rabbit Hole” as she had with my last play “Nothing But Trash.” G.R. Johnson and I developed the play through our own theater company, Windowpane Theatre Company, which we created about two years ago. When we felt “Up The Rabbit Hole” was ready, we approached Crystal, who loved the theme of the play, and agreed to produce it but we still had to raise the $24,000 to mount it. I took to FACEBOOK and just started asking for money. The money was then funneled through FRACTURED ATLAS, a nonprofit company who works with theater companies and other artists.

MM: What other plays have you worked on and what kinds of themes and characters most interest you?

AH: I’ve been writing most of my life. In 2004, I bought a movie camera and editing system and made six short films, which I wrote and directed. They have just been released by TLA Video in a DVD set called “The Five-Year Itch and Other Short Films.” I love “bigger than life” characters. I think it’s wonderful to create a wacky world but ground it in reality so the audience is drawn into this unbelievable world, and can just sit back and go on this crazy ride with these nutty characters.

MM: What are your favorite things about being a theater professional and what other creative projects or events are on the horizon for you?

AH: I love to make people laugh. I like to have the reputation of showing up on time, knowing my lines, and being reliable, because for many years I wasn’t at the top of my game due to my addiction problems and my insecurities.

I have a musical comedy I’m shopping around called “Those Musclebound Cowboys From Snake Pit Gulch.” I have a wonderful composer, Frank Schiro, and amazing. lyricist CJ Critt and again G.R. is helping me develop it and will direct it. Writing a musical has been a challenging project but really fun and I’m very proud of it.

I get up every morning at 4:30 AM or five and I write and I’m constantly thinking up new stories. If some situation happens to me, I think “how can I turn this into a play or a movie?” The performing arts is very hard work, but if you’re at all artistic, don’t wait for some producer to come along and pick you up, and tell you you’re good, and that they want to cast you or produce your work. You do it and love what you do. Life’s too short to do anything else.