Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congrats on the upcoming launch of Annex in this year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival! For those who may be unfamiliar, what can you tell us about the premise of this show?
Maddox Pennington: Annex is a dark comedy about queer family and survival. Elliot, a single parent dealing with ongoing mental illness, has had the support of foster parents Michael and Lee in raising their trans son, The Kid, who’s now a teenager. Michael and Lee, along with Elliot’s best friend Georgia, are taking steps toward centering their own lives instead of helping manage Elliot’s, which Elliot both wants and resents. Frustrated after a setback, Elliot conjures a talking bowl of light, Belinda Carlisle, who offers to intervene in her struggle to balance life, work, and parenting. Miracle cures are often tempting, but they always come with a cost…
BD: Maddox, as the playwright and director, what can you tell us about your shared creative process in working with the cast and crew to bring this production to life?
MP: In our casting process, I always look for actors with voices and experiences outside my own and encourage them to weigh in if there’s dialogue or a character choice they’d like to approach differently (a perk of directing the work of living playwrights generally, but especially your own stuff!). As the actors work the material, they create space for chemistry and connection that I couldn’t imagine without them, so all the credit goes to B Alexander (Elliot), Elisawon Etidorhpa (Georgia, Belinda Carlisle), Summer Benson (The Kid), Nicholas Hellyer (Christopher), Cecil Jennings (Michael), and Pastiche Queen (Lee), all accomplished artists.
I also want to shout out the incredible designers and tattoo artists who created our poster (Skye Kim) and tarot art (Joy Rumore), our sound/tech designer Nick Foran, my aunt Barbara Nole who’s baking our cookies, and venue manager Amber Bruegel at the Zephyr. It’s humbling to share your work with other artists and see how they process it with their own talents.
The more theater I get to do, the more I understand representation is not just for the benefit of the audience, it’s also for the people in the room experiencing the story. They get to see themselves and each other in roles that reflect real life—even if, as in Annex, that experience is refracted through magic and the supernatural.
BD: At Fanbase Press, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that Elliot’s story may connect with and impact audiences?
MP: Many of us bring personal experience with mental illness to our work on Annex, so it hits hard, emotionally—but we’re all here and well and able to tell this story, so even when the narrative is dark, we’re modeling resilience.
We have an all LGBTQ cast and creative team, and the majority (five out of six!) are nonbinary and/or trans. I would love for more producers and theater companies to get excited about nonbinary talent and be receptive to more inclusive casting conventions. My work always showcases nonbinary and trans performers, but when I submit it to opportunities or festivals, I’m still asked, “How many actors, how many actresses.” I don’t even think that way when I’m writing; I create characters, I shape how they relate to each other through their choices, and then I put out flexible casting calls that enable me to choose from a talented and dynamic pool.
As trans youth have the language to identify themselves younger now, transition becomes a process that kids and their parents navigate together, for better or worse. Parental support as kids navigate schools and medical institutions is absolutely invaluable. Making mistakes with your child’s name or gender pronouns can really damage their trust. Annex offers an opportunity for parents to see what a queer family navigating transition together can look like. Elliot, Michael, and Lee certainly aren’t perfect parents, but their Kid is certain that his identity will be honored, however he chooses to share it.
BD: Charity, in addition to the production itself, you have a number of events planned to compliment the show and enhance the audience’s enjoyment of the experience. What can you share with us about these events?
Charity Sade: On June 8th we have a tarot after-party event planned that will take place in the courtyard of the Zephry, with food, drinks and a local tarot reader that will be doing 1-card readings for folks. For our June 17th show, we will be having a talk-back with the cast and playwright/director of Annex at a venue nearby. (Stay tuned for details.) We are so incredibly grateful to be able to collaborate with many community partners to make these events come to life!
BD: What makes the Hollywood Fringe Festival an ideal venue for this production?
MP: Fringe shows tend to be scrappy and brave and heartfelt, which is a great environment to take a leap of faith with a show like this. Last year I learned so much that I felt ready for an even more ambitious show, thankfully with a producer by my side so I can focus on the creative whirlwind as we get closer and closer! The Hollywood Fringe Festival is very welcoming to first-time producers and artists in particular; there are so many opportunities to connect with people who share the same love of storytelling and community.
BD: The show will be appearing at the The Zephyr Theatre in June. Are there any future plans to perform the show at other venues?
MP: Not currently but stay tuned! We’ll be recording our June 8th performance, so if you donate to our GiveButter campaign, you’ll receive early access to that before the Fringe is over in July. You can also access a podcast reading of an earlier version of Annex at Theater Viscera’s Queer Play Podcasts, wherever you get your podcasts!
BD: Are there any other upcoming projects that you would care to share with our readers?
MP: I’ve got a busy June—my nonbinary rom-com Love Chicken which premiered at last year’s Fringe is getting an off-off-Broadway reading with the Cave Theatre Co on June 27 in New York at The Kraine Theaterzx.
Before that, my play, Central Standard Time, second in The Muldrow Cycle, will be read and workshopped at the Autry Museum of the American West’s Native Voices Annual Playwrights Retreat and Festival of New Plays. There’ll be a cold reading on Saturday, June 10th, at the Autry as part of the American Indian Art Marketplace and a workshop reading at the La Jolla Playhouse on Sunday, June 18. More info as it’s available at MaddoxKPennington.com!
CS: We have a few projects in the works for next year’s Fringe Festival!
Maddox and I are putting together a variety show (singers, comedians, poets, and other artists). Maddox had this incredible idea that I’m honored to help produce: a collection of interviews from Queer & Trans elders that have been crafted into monologues for Queer & Trans actors to perform. I think these stories are so important and will be a must see at next year’s festival!
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell readers who want to learn more about and purchase tickets for Annex?
MP & CS: Check out our ad in the Hollywood Fringe Guide! You can learn more about the show by following our Instagram (@Annex_ThePlay) and get tickets on the Hollywood Fringe page.