Sweet, Delicious, and Banned :: Grant MacDermott Gives the Scoop on ’Cupcake’
Beginning in 2009, Scott Cunningham sold cupcakes on the streets of Provincetown. He had no problem that first summer - the town even issued him permits to do so.
But during the summer of 2010, after hearing a complaint from another would-be street vendor, the town realized that issuing Cunningham the permits had been an inadvertent violation of the city's rules about selling food on the street.
His permit was revoked. Cunningham defied the ban, and ended up facing charges and a fine. In early 2011, the charges were dropped and Cunningham went looking to establish his business indoors, only to find that rents were too high for the sales of $3 cupcakes to cover.
Cunningham's business, ScottCakes, has fervent supporters--there's a Facebook page, "Bring Back the Pink Cupcake Man to Ptwon," and glowing reviews at Yelp.
Recipe for A Musical
Now there’s a musical, and the way it came about is almost worthy of a theatrical production to tell the story. When the story of the sweet treats being banned from street sales hit the headlines, Michael Wartofsky and David Reiffel read all about it, and decided to take the story and run. The project was bound to be a musical; Wartofsky is a composer, and Reiffel a lyricist.
The fates seemed to smile kindly upon the idea of making a musical about the cupcake controversy: When the two men mentioned their idea to Bradley Seeman, with whom they were acquainted through a book club to which they all belonged, Seeman, a writer, whipped up a book for the play in an astonishing three day period.
The rest is (almost) history. "Cupcake" took to the stage for its world premiere at Club Café earlier this month. Coincidentally, Wartofsky will also see another of his projects premiere in Boston this Spring, when "Car Talk: The Musical," based on the popular NPR radio show, begins its inaugural run at Central Square Theater in mid-June.
The Streets of ’Summertown’
Boston-based actor Grant MacDermott stars in the world premiere production of "Cupcake," along with Karen MacDonald, Hallie Brevetti, and Max Sangerman. MacDermott spoke to EDGE recently about the play, his role, and his own small business ventures.
"I play the part of Tom," a fictionalized version of Cunningham, MacDermott told EDGE. "He is the cupcake guy. He is the one who illegally sells cupcakes on the streets of Summer Town."
Is this musical meant to be a tongue-in-cheek comedy? Or is it a protest?
"I would definitely call this tongue-in-cheek first," MacDermott said. "I feel like the only thing this might be in protest to is conventional musicals, but it pokes a lot of fun at every sort of genre. No, it’s definitely not a protest about the events that happened. It’s more like an homage, and kind of a tribute to that bit of fun silliness that Scott had to take part in due to his cupcake proclivities!"
What is the message to the play? That cupcakes should be sold on the streets after the clubs close on Ptown? (Move over Spiritus.) Cupcakes to the people?
"One singular message?" MacDermott mused. "I don’t know. I would just have to go with [the idea that] there are only moments and you can only live for those, and to enjoy them while you can. I think that would be the central message of the musical."
MacDermott, who was a co-star in SpeakEasy’s 2010 production of "The Great American Trailer Park Musical," told EDGE that preparation for a role in musical theater is markedly different from preparing for a role in a non-musical production.
"Just in terms of the rehearsal process, the music is always tackled first," MacDermott said. "In a sense, you’re not thinking about character just yet: It’s technique, and approaching it completely musically, getting the notes and rhythms and dynamics correct. Getting the intent behind the music. And then you layer character blocking and the rest on top of it."
MacDermott likened non-musical theater to the song-and-dance kind, noting that it’s always the case that "in plays there are notes that you have to hit, and there are beats, and there are dynamics, so it’s the same kind of thing [as performing in a musical]. For me, it’s a score without music, though that might sound pretentious."
Laughing, he added, "But ask any playwrights, they’ll probably back me up."
Even with a musical, "by midway it’s always the same because you’re really looking for character: What the character wants, where they’re going, what the obstacle is, even if it’s something small like, ’Tom wants to sell his cupcakes and Officer Stone won’t let him.’ That’s very large in Tom’s world even though it seems small" if compared to world events.
A ’Gay Play?’
"Cupcake" deals with events that took place in Provincetown, was created by three openly gay men, stars McDermott who himself is open and out of the closet... is this a "gay play?"
"I would say, colloquially, super-gay," the young actor allowed. "But not ’homosexual.’ It’s super-campy, and there are some gay characters, and it really embraces the kitschiness of musical theater, but... I don’t know that I would characterize is as a ’gay play,’ even though it does take place in a gay bar in a fictionalized gay town. (Modeled on Provincetown.) It’s for everyone, but I would say it appeals even more so to the gay community."
Not that the emphasis is on the sexuality of the play’s main character.
"Tom is so focused on his baking that there is a whole song devoted to questioning his sexuality," MacDermott said.
EDGE took a guess as to what the song might say: Do I like men? Do I like women? Do I like buttercream?
"Yeah, he knows, but no one else knows. The song is sung by two other characters who just can’t figure it out."
MacDermott noted that being openly gay in real life is no longer the sort of thing that might be worthy of musicals or even, in most cases, a headline.
"Sometimes I don’t find things to talk about" when asked by the press about being gay, he told EDGE. "I’m just a gay guy, living my life. I have boring habits like everyone else. I have always been gay; I’ve always been open about it. I’m totally cool about people asking about it.
"You’re not going to get a very interesting answer, because it’s not a very interesting [aspect of my] life. Lives are interesting because of who you are, not because of who you fall in love with."
So what about his romantic interests? Would MacDermott be more or less likely to date fellow actors? Or would he need someone in a completely unrelated field?
"I don’t believe I would ever date actors," MacDermott said. "I love actors, but I don’t think I could love an actor. Too much similarity; too much the same kind of creative energy and, at some point, probably, competition, even if we’re nothing alike. You know? It would still be, ’I booked a job, and you didn’t.’
"I think it’s great to have someone who complements you in a different way, who maybe appreciates art as opposed to wanting to create it," the actor continued, "or who is a very logical person, very left side of the brain as opposed to right side. Someone who lets your good qualities shine through, and helps bolster up the qualities that might be a little rusty."
MacDermott was scheduled to head to New York the day he spoke with EDGE, in order to be at an audition for a production planned for the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge. The director, MacDermott explained, was based in New York; hence, to try out for a part in a theater located in his community, the actor needed to travel.
It may sound odd, but it’s part and parcel of an actor’s life. "They just gave me a call and asked if I’d come down and audition, and I said, ’Sure, why not?’ " MacDermott said casually. "I like auditioning, and I like the A.R.T., and I like New York, so there you go.
"The actor’s life isn’t fixed." MacDermott continued. "I like that. I like that there is variety; occasionally there’s a little too much variety, and you think, ’I just want something to be the same, some sort of routine.’ But for the most part I’m pretty cool with it always being different, or with being totally on the run. That kind of fast-paced, high-adrenaline life can be really gratifying, but it can also be completely exhausting. I’m someone who thrives on that kind of thing, but I always thrive on silence and solitude, some quiet time where I don’t have to do anything."
Actor and Entrepreneur
MacDermott spoke with EDGE about his own entrepreneurial interests. The young performer markets himself as an acting coach, and sees this in business terms as much as vocational ones--rather as he views the whole "small business" aspect of being a stage actor in his own right.
"I’m part of a larger group called mycollegeaudtion.com that was started by a fellow Emerson alum. Her name is Chelsea Cipolia. She kind of began it, and along with my help and the help of McCaela Donovan, another Boston actor, we kind of made it into what it is.
"We are a seasonal business, and just beginning, so for now, I’d identify us as a small business," MacDermott added. "We offer a variety of services, like packages for people who want to try their hand at the performing arts, even if they are total novices who have never heard of [technical terms like] a monologue or a song--right up through people who have been this for years on end and need some polishing, need to understand the market they are getting into. It’s a small business, but it’s getting bigger."
MacDermott also has designs, as it were, to produce and market his own line of T-shirts, called Bad Bear Wear. (Company motto: "We’re good at being bad.") He described his creative vision for the fashion world as being centered around humor and fun. "Not taking myself too seriously," he said. "And making public all those private and, perhaps, slightly off-color private thoughts that we have throughout the day. That seems to resonate with people. They [see our shirts and] say, ’Omigod, I think of those terrible, weird things, too!’ "
McDermott noted that his shirts also have a gay slant. "My shirts tend to deal with [issues relevant to] the GLBT community, kind of challenging some of those things, and accentuating them as well, through humor. That’s the main thing."
Sure. But would MacDermott sell his T-shirts on the streets of Provincetown?
"No," the stage artist responded. "I’ve sold them in Provincetown, but not on the street. That’s not allowed. But I have sold them at the big market events that take place at some of the hotels there. So, I have done that... just not illegally. But if I do sell my T-shirts illegally, maybe someone will write a musical about me!"
"Cupcake" continues through June 24 at Club Café, 209 Columbus Avenue, Boston, MA. (Corners of Berkeley Street and Columbus Ave in Boston’s South End). For ticket information, visit