Wednesday, April 26, 2006

INTERVIEW: Ruff Yeager

The Spotlight’s on Ruff Yeager

Ruff Yeager is a man about town. He’s an actor, playwright, musician, and gay Dad.
He has a solid commitment to theatre, so much so that he recently got brave enough to say a fond farewell to his long-time employer. Currently he’s nothing less than a theatrical acrobat, flying about San Diego without any financial or artistic safety net. He’s got a new show debuting at the Adams Avenue Studio of the Arts called Cool As We Fly.

I was lucky enough to catch up to Ruff this week with a telephonic conversation that had the sounds of his kids coming and going in the background.

Cuauhtémoc Q. Kish (CQK): You’ve been a part of Sledgehammer Theatre for quite some time. Can you speak to us about that relationship?

Ruff Yeager (RY): I’ve been an ensemble member of Sledgehammer since 2000. All of the members have a commitment to this theatre and artistic contributors like myself help define the vision at the “Sledge,” along with artistic director, Kirsten Brandt.

CQK: Sledgehammer Theatre offers guest spots during their season. Will your upcoming show be premiered at the Sledge?

RY: No, it’s going to be performed at the Robert Korbett’s Avenue Adams Studio of the Arts. However, Sledgehammer Theatre does offer space to other disciplines. This year Kirsten has offered the open space to Sushi Performing Arts until the City builds them the space they lost with the opening of the new ball park. I’ll be performing in this production and following that up with a role in A Dream Play opening October 16 as part of Sledgehammer’s current season.

CQK: You’re a musician as well. What projects are you currently involved with that lend themselves to musicality?

RY: I am currently composing the score for Bright Shiny Objects which is written by one of the other ensemble players, David Tierney. This one will be directed by Kirsten Brandt as well and I’ll even be playing the piano on stage.

CQK: Sounds like the relationship you have with Kirsten and Sledgehammer is a wonderful opportunity to hone all of your artistic talents. How did you find the time to write Cool As We Fly?

RY: I’ve been a writer all my life. I’ve had a few successes in San Diego that you may have heard about. In 2000 Friends of Dorothy was produced at Diversionary theatre. I had a 1998 production of it in Provincetown, but I expanded it from a two-actor play to 10-actor show and it enjoyed a nice run. In 2001 I did a Christmas show called Sounds in the Key of Winter at what is now the 6th@Penn Theatre.

It is clear to understand why Ruff Yeager had to quit his managerial retail position with Robinsons-May. Corporate America robs artists, young and old, of the necessary creative juices until they have nothing left to offer their public. In addition to creative juices Ruff has been with his partner for 14 years and between the two of them they have nine kids and some grandkids. His 20-year old son currently lives with Dad while the other kids come and go. Ruff says he’s a family oriented kind of guy.

CQK: Where did you get the idea for your current production, Cool As We Fly?

RY: It’s auto-biographical to some extent while the time period is about 1984. It deals with issues of strangers in hospital rooms. There’s a gay character, Troy, who’s there as a result of an attempted suicide. In addition to Troy, there are two female characters, Wendy and Kim, one dying of breast cancer and another who has just lost a child.

CQK: How would you categorize the genre?

RY: I would say it’s a supernatural mystery about strangers who somehow find that they are interrelated. A deaf, 9-year old girl, using American Sign Language, connects the lives of three individuals on an intimate, emotional and spiritual journey. She’s an interpreter of dreams in a somewhat supernatural landscape.

Ruff is no stranger to the stage, nor is he a fledgling playwright. He won an award for best new play at the Fritz Blitz for Losing Mother. He’s called upon to direct when available, as he did for Diversionary’s production of Bent and Sledgehammer’s very well received recent production of SIC. He’s currently involved in the Playwright’s Project where he teaches playwrighting at high schools. The mission is to improve the student’s literary skills. They even conduct a playwriting competition each January for those 17 and under which is showcased at the Old Globe Theatre.

When all is said and done, Ruff and his partner do more to raise the rainbow flag than most. By communicating openly with their family and community they are showing the world that gay men can be models of parenthood as well as gay models in the community.

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