INTERVIEW: Chicago Playwright Ike Holter Has Hit the Wall

The provocative author discusses his popular play about the Stonewall Riots.

Ike Holter
(© Ryan Bourque)
Ike Holter
(© Ryan Bourque)

Ike Holter’s Hit the Wall, being presented by the theater company The Inconvenience (of which he is a company member), has proven to be a huge success as part of Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s annual Garage series. Holter spoke to TheaterMania about the play, which centers on the Stonewall Riots, largely considered the beginning of the gay rights movement, his writing inspirations, and the use of music.

THEATERMANIA: What drew you to revisiting the Stonewall Riots at this particular point in time?
IKE HOLTER: I’ve always been fascinated by The Stonewall Riots. I consider it the last big fight of the 1960’s; an important flag to fly that crosses lines of sexual orientation, race, gender or class. It’s about the basic human right to exist — and I think everyone “has a dog in that fight.” And as a writer who gravitates towards characters who aren’t often seen on stage, I always considered the riots a minefield of great monologues, scenes, and moments to dig into.

TM: What do you think it is about the story that’s touching a chord with audiences today?
IH: Even though this is a piece set firmly in the 1960’s, I think an audience will always respond to a group of people fighting passionately for something they believe in. As an audience member, I’m always drawn to seeing characters finally “hit that wall”–I like seeing people go face-to-face and toe-to-toe with their issues; I like to see them get pushed to the limit where they finally explode. In real life, too few people actually take their oppressors head-on; I think it’s very cathartic to watch a rag-tag group of people fight back, and win. I also believe that the Occupy movement and the continuing fight for same-sex marriage put a mirror up to the audience and make the show resonate during an insane election year.

TM: How much research did you do to create the piece?
IH: There’s a lot of criss-crossing stories about Stonewall. Everyone who was there has their own idea about who threw the first punch, or who kicked the first cop. But there were no iPhones, there were no blog reports, there was no twitter. So, as a dramatist, I realized that the most important information had to come from what people experienced during that riot, from their perspective. In addition, I made sure I was flawless with the actual known details — the temperature during the day (it was insanely hot), the atmosphere of the times (the laws, the lack of rights) and the police reports about when the raid happened and when the riot police came to the village. I also listened to a lot of music, read a lot of magazines, interviews, investigative reporting, watched a lot of old sitcoms, movies, commercials. 1969 is one of my “wish I had a time machine” years, so it was a really exciting process.

TM: Are there any playwrights from the 1960s or early 1970s whose work inspired you while writing Hit the Wall?
IH: I have my own weird style of writing, so I wanted to remain true to that. However, I’m a big fan of Mart Crowley’s The Boys in the Band. It was a landmark for queer writing, and I was very careful not to use any of the amazing tricks and tropes that Band pioneered.

TM: What can you tell me about how music has been integrated into the production?
IH: I knew we had the infrastructure to have a live rock band throughout the show, so we grabbed company member John Cicora, and our mainstay musicians, Ryan Murphy and Josh Lambert, and they pounded out a score during rehearsals. Hit The Wall is not a musical, but the band is part of the action, underscoring scenes, hyping the audience, and just generally boosting morale. They’re as much a part of the production as any actor. And it helps that they are all very attractive.

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Hit the Wall

Closed: April 22, 2012