How to Be a Sissy, a new solo work by actor-writer Brian Haimbach, opens with the memory of a little boy wearing a towel on his head and imagining that he has long, glorious hair.
“I always played with dolls, as early as I can remember,” says Haimbach, who directs the theatre program at Lane Community College. “I don’t remember when I started putting the towel on my head — maybe about third grade.” As a boy, Haimbach’s mother made him keep his hair closely cropped.
He recalls a neighbor and best friend at the time, a girl with “long, straight, thick blond hair … I remember how beautiful her hair was,” he says.
Lacking his own tresses, Haimbach took charge of his sister’s coiffure. “I’d brush it, braid it,” he recalls. “It got to the point that my stepfather started to see a problem. He wanted to send me in for counseling. He was pretty crazy.”
Haimbach came out as gay his senior year in high school, “which is pretty late, by today’s standards,” he says.
“As a kid, what disturbed me the most was being called a ‘fag,’ when I didn’t think I was one. I wasn’t fully understanding what that was, and I was not yet attracted to boys.”
Flash-forward to college, and Haimbach had the opportunity to work with Elizabeth Whitney, a queer solo performance artist and writer.
“She and I dated for a little bit,” he says of his relationship with Whitney. “We’ve had oddly similar paths, and now we’re both in long-term relationships with people of the same gender,” Haimbach adds.
“She [Whitney] has many shows. She takes her personal life and makes it theatrical.”
Haimbach credits Whitney with this takeaway: “Personal stories can be moving, and the more specific the moments, the wider your audience.”
It might seem incongruous, but that’s storytelling: finding the details, the little pieces of connection that might resonate for an audience.
“You’re really opening the doors, making yourself available to them,” Haimbach says. “Telling stories of pain, discovery, personal journeys — everybody’s gone through those, no matter how different they may be.”
Haimbach workshopped How to Be a Sissy, his first full-length piece, with Whitney. He says he benefited from her eye, and her heart. “She was a cheerleader,” he says. “In any writing process, there’s a point where you’re like, ‘This is shit. What am I doing?’ and she helped me get through it.”
One of the highlights of the show, Haimbach says, are the frequent visits from his alter-ego persona, known as Percy Q Shun.
“Percy comes out and teaches a lesson based on something autobiographical, like how to do hair or how to dance or how to dress fabulous,” Haimbach says. “Percy doesn’t care if anyone likes him or not. He can say whatever the fuck he wants.”
Haimbach says he’s enjoyed building a character he wishes he’d grown up with. “What if there had been a Sesame Street for little queer kids who like to play with dolls?” he asks.
How to Be a Sissy plays at 6:30 pm and 8:30 pm Saturday, Feb. 27, at The Wayward Lamb, 150 W. Broadway; 21 and over; $5, tickets available via The Wayward Lamb’s Facebook page or at the door. Proceeds to benefit LCC Theatre Scholarships.