‘Bi Panic’ by Ben Willows from the Sightline Theater Company – Palatinate

By Ben Willows and Jennifer Lafferty

Author’s note:

By Ben Willows – Writer and cast: play “Bobby”

First of all, Bobby is not me. (Most of) the things that happen to him in this room never happened to me.

In writing this piece, I never wanted it to be autobiographical. Instead, I wanted to articulate the various idiosyncrasies and anxieties of the bisexual man. Rather than telling anecdotes from my own life, I wanted to use Bobby’s voice to interrogate concepts of sexuality and gender roles. Bobby is not me – but he is a vehicle for expressing the pitfalls of the bisexual life. There are so few truthful portrayals of bisexual people in fiction, and even fewer of bisexual men. This piece aims to correct that.

Bi-panic was to be a one person room. As the play goes into more detail, there is a fascinating gender divide in one-person plays, and I wanted to write one where the main character wasn’t a horrible person. Another challenge of one-person plays is that, on the whole, they are temporally removed from their subject; because there are no other characters to interact with, these plays often become a retelling of past events, a character telling you a story that has already happened. In writing this piece, I wanted to challenge myself to get in touch with the present, the here and now.

I especially wanted to write something fun! Don’t let the discussion of gender put you off. The play is really funny, and there’s one sight gag in particular that I can’t wait for the audience to see. We are dealing with serious subjects, but I also wanted to show the light. Life is never all darkness or all light, but a strange little mixture of both.

When I wrote the screenplay, I didn’t know if I should play the role, but I’m grateful to everyone who pushed me to take on the challenge. It’s been a terrifying process, but the process of building a character from scratch has never been more engaging than this project, and I’m indebted to my incredible production team. Thanks also to those who gave feedback on the drafts, especially Em Oliver.

Stay bisexual. Stay panicked.

Director’s note:

By Jennifer Lafferty – Director

As you can imagine, directing Ben Willows in a play written by Ben Willows, in Ben Willows’ latest DST production, was a bit daunting. Also, accepting my very first directing job for a play I hadn’t read yet was just as trying. To my relief, however, Bi-panic is amazing… and Ben is fine. Kidding aside, my take on this piece was raw naturalism. Bi-panic delves into the struggles of individualization and sexual identity; sex, aging, relationships, making mistakes and holding yourself accountable. These themes require organic authenticity to have a real impact on the audience and I attempted to achieve this by implementing strategies of decontextualization, which Ben handled wonderfully.

Throughout the production process, what has been important to me is that “Bobby” is not Ben, but he is still human with impulses, reactions and imperfections. The “less is more” approach was key to achieving this naturalistic journey and ensuring that Bobby’s self-discovery and reflection resonated with the audience. My basic “want” for this piece was simply for the audience to resonate with Bobby. I want you to feel something as you sit watching the highs and lows of Bobby’s story, even if it’s just to agree that David Bowie is hot.

The script itself is brilliant. It’s true, it’s funny and it has just the right amount of Ben Willows style. There are some rather outlandish moments that I hope you’re ready for. In the end, the script made my job incredibly easy. Most moments speak for themselves, and all you have to do is let the words land.

My assistant directors, Samantha Wong and George Thomas were crucial parts of this piece. Both flourish beautifully in areas where I struggle as a director. They were enthusiastic blocking and movement specialists, which allowed me to dive deeply into Bobby’s emotional journey. They and Ben have just been great.

Thanks to Sightline and, of course, Ben for this deliciously terrifying opportunity.

try not to panic xx

Image credit: Sightline Theater Company