By Katie Klingsporn, WyoFile.com VIA Wyoming News Exchange
In an explosion of creativity this fall, Jackson actor and playwright Andrew Munz wrote a one-man play called “Tumbleweed.”
On its face, it’s about Munz’s experience of growing up gay in Wyoming.
But “Tumbleweed” covers so much more ground than that. It explores isolation and loss, cowboy culture and community, equal rights and identity. It’s about finding your tribe, gathering your confidence and the impact of solidarity. It touches on the murder of Matthew Shepard and the suicide of Trevor O’Brien, a young gay man in Wyoming. It takes a particularly off-color joke told by the author and humorist David Sedaris about gay men and tumbleweeds and turns it on its head. It even includes a scene starring Wyoming’s relentless wind.In fact, one of the most remarkable features of the play is just how much Munz managed to weave into the stripped-down, hour-long show.
Munz recently gave several “Tumbleweed” performances in New York City in partnership with Destiny Manifests, a gallery, theater and organization that features artists who create work in tandem with the western landscape.
He sat down to talk to WyoFile about the play, his journey as an LGBTQ+ activist and what lessons he wants audiences to take from his work.
WyoFile: You grew up in Jackson. How did you find theater?
AM: I was in fourth or fifth grade, and I did a production with Missoula Children’s Theater of “Alice in Wonderland.” I played one-sixth of the caterpillar. I liked the sense of expression and portraying someone other than myself. It was something totally new, and I really loved it.
WF: And you went out into the world before coming back to Jackson. Tell me a little about that journey?
AM: In 2011 I moved to Chicago for two years to study acting and improv theater at Second City and the Annoyance Theater and iO Theatre. Chicago was overwhelming. I enjoyed doing theater and I loved the aspect that improv offered, which was completely collaborative and a format of theater that celebrated uniqueness. I got addicted to that. However the competitiveness of improv and everybody’s desire to be on “Saturday Night Live” was a little detrimental to that collaborativeness. Ultimately, it was not what I wanted.
Iceland ended up being a big reason [that I returned to Jackson.] I went to Iceland for the first time in 2012. I thought it would be a new unique place. What I found there was a very similar place to where I came from. In Wyoming, all the towns are far from each other, there’s a lot of empty space, a small population and a certain heritage and culture. Somehow Iceland kind of paired all of that together for me. It was such a change from Chicago, and it made me realize, ‘oh I kind of belong somewhere that isn’t as congested.’ So I came back home and got right back to the swing of things.
WF: What spurred you to write “Tumbleweed”?
AM: I recently had a big tragedy in my life. I lost my father and step-mother at the beginning of September to a murder-suicide. I ended up escaping back to Iceland right after it happened.
The Destiny Manifests project run by Erin Roy and Roy Productions was an opportunity I knew about prior to the murder-suicide, which I think now of as “the event.” It was something I kept in mind and knew I wanted to do. So I came back from Iceland and I was like, you know what, I’m just going to do it. I called up Erin, I said, hey I’m going to write something. I’m not sure what that is yet. The Wyoming Arts Council offered a small grant that paid for my flight. The pieces just started to come together.
I wrote a script before I left Wyoming. Then I got to New York and half of that script just wasn’t feeling right. It felt like getting therapy out in front of people. I didn’t want it to be that. I wanted it to be honest and I wanted it to be more about who I am in this journey of figuring out what I value in the aftermath of a tragedy like this. It was a path for me to really put myself out there entirely. Kind of a big honest confessional. A dispatch, as I call it.
But another part of it was, I wanted to give Wyoming a happy ending. Give gay people in Wyoming a story that did not end in death or break-up or someone contracting AIDS. All of that is so frustrating when you are growing up in a place like Wyoming, that is already telling you that you need to suppress who you are, if you’re different. I was always different.
WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy. This story was edited for space. The full story can be found in its entirety at wyofile.com.