We were drawn to document the work and life of Charles Busch because of his highly unique accomplishments—a successful actor who started his own theater company, writes his own scripts and screenplays, and has invented his own niche in the wide world of show business. That he usually performs in drag as a convincing leading lady only adds another layer of brilliance to his work. The greater exposure Busch has found on Broadway, in film, and on television proves that a wider audience has finally caught up with downtown theater devotees in appreciating Busch’s unique talents, as well as his great love of American theater and Hollywood tradition.
In his dead-on comic parodies of classic Hollywood films, Busch exposes the underside of American society: a culture of celebrity, falseness and deception, coupled with the arbitrary and limiting gender constructs that define masculinity and femininity. The female protagonists he writes for himself—strong leading ladies written in the style of Jean Harlow, Norma Shearer, or Barbara Stanwyck—all exhibit false identities, but become better people, true heroines, by the final page of script. These tour-de-force female roles showcase Busch’s virtuosity in drag performance.
As long-time producers of In the Life, the Emmy-nominated PBS public affairs series on gay culture, we called on Charles Busch numerous times to appear on the program. A 1993 In the Life episode in which Busch portrayed a-half dozen, offbeat characters—Tracey Ullman-style—is now held in the Museum of Television and Radio in Los Angeles and New York. Of the many dozens of artists we’ve profiled, we found Busch’s life the most compelling, a moving, universal story of transformation and personal realization through art. No one captured our imagination and inspired us more than Charles Busch.
Through working with Charles Busch across a decade’s time, we gained his trust to tell his one-of-a-kind story. He has given us complete access to a rich archive of New York’s downtown theater, and his openness in letting us cull through hundreds of hours of footage of his classic 1980’s Theatre-in-Limbo plays enabled us to act almost as theater historians. Now Busch’s wacky and irreverent performances, enjoyed by thousands of adventurous theatergoers over the past 20 years, will be seen by a completely new army of enthusiasts.
Charles Busch has given us extraordinary access to his life and we hope to achieve a level of documentary storytelling that is told with the flamboyance, flair and insight it rightly deserves.
John Catania and Charles Ignacio