As live performances return to Ocean Casino Resort, that also includes phenomenal Off-Broadway productions like Anthony Wilkinson’s My Big Gay Italian Christmas. As the fourth production in a series of now four smash Off-Broadway productions, My Big Gay Italian Christmas is sure to bring the hilarity, heart, and surprises that the first three productions did from this multiple Emmy-winning writer and advocate. We sat down to talk to Anthony recently about the My Big Gay self-proclaimed “quadrology”, his work with The Trevor Project, & what his background in daytime taught him about storytelling.
MC: You’re bringing My Big Gay Italian Christmas to Ocean Casino Resort on December 18th. What does it feel like to bring your production to a property that you love so much?
Anthony Wilkinson: I am excited, not really nervous. I am excited because it is my home away from home; I have been coming to Ocean as a player since it opened. The people that are there have become like family. It is a very cool vibe there because I know everyone. I am really excited because we are finally going to get to do one of my shows there.
MC: Writers are always encouraged to “write what you know” which many consider the keys to their success. Did you ever dream when you wrote your first production that it would become what it has become?
AW: I never thought that, no (laughs). With My Big Italian Wedding, I had no idea that it was going to take on the life that it did. I thought that it was just going to run for a year or a year and a half if we were lucky. Mostly because of Wedding, the excitement built because of the whole marriage equality movement. That really projected us into where we are today, it is amazing how the shows have developed. Wedding is what really made it a “quadrology”; first it was Wedding, then it was the sequel which was Funeral, then it was a trilogy when I added Mid-Life Crisis, now it’s a quadrology (laughs)!
MC: The backbone of the shows always remain a strong and massively funny Italian family. Did it ever cross your mind to not write one thing or another because it may offend someone? Or did you simply decide you were going to write what you wanted to?
AW: I decided I was just going to write what I wanted. What I write is what I believe, like you said I write what I know. All of my stories are half fiction & half non-fiction. They’re based on some kind of reality. That is what I think is interesting for a lot of people because they see themselves in a lot of these stories. So often, people come up to me and say that they went through “this” or “that” happened to them. It’s always so cool when people relate to you that way.
MC: You are a Daytime Emmy winner for One Life to Live, writing for families like the Lords and the Buchanans. Do you think that writing for soaps helped in writing your stage productions?
AW: I would definitely say that my soap background comes through in a lot of my shows. A lot of people have said through the years in reviews that some of the shows have that soapy element. Wiring on a soap opera, the arc of the story was something that played on and on through all of the years that I was there. It was a different type of writing when you’re writing for a soap operas, but it definitely helped me with character development and things like that.
MC: You wrote for One Life To Live for so long and won three Daytime Emmy Awards. I have to ask, where do you keep your Emmy Awards? So many people keep them in crazy places!
AW: (laughs) I keep them in my office at work.
MC: When writing for One Life To Live, you got to see LGBTQ people start to come to prominence on daytime soaps. Was it surreal seeing the life people like you were living start to be played out on-screen?
AW: Absolutely. When I first started as an intern in 1995, it was definitely not the story; it was more traditional type of stories. You did not see LGBT related stories; before I got there, they did a story with the AIDS epidemic, but that was it. It was very taboo at the time. As time progressed, you started to see more. I was very proud of some of the stories that we did; they involved LGBTQ issues like bullying, which is part of the charity I work with.
MC: Everyone has their passion projects; The Trevor Project is so important to you personally. What makes it so important to you personally?
AW: I was bullied as a child. I attempted suicide and had all kinds of problems when I was in my early teens; I was home schooled for a year and a half because I was afraid to leave my house. I was fortunate because I had a support system at home and at my high school, but I put it away and never looked back. When I turned thirty, I was asked to come to my school and talk about my story and I was afraid to do it; it was something that I did not want to connect with again. It helped a lot of kids and when I realized that the talk backs were helping a lot of kids, I started to do more.
Now, whenever a school calls me and asks me to talk to the kids and do a bullying assembly, I will do it. I talk to the kids, teaching tolerance and acceptance and it has become a great give back for me. The Trevor Project and I connected when I started on Broadway and they asked me to do a video, and my whole cast did one.
Going back was so weird, but it was very rewarding in it’s own way. If you can see through it, it can be very rewarding. It goes beyond being gay also. Now you have a lot of cyber bullying, which I didn’t have to deal with. People don’t realize what they are doing by attacking innocent people on social media; I have seen kids go into severe depressions due to that and it’s just terrible.
MC: For an outgoing and creative type of person as yourself, the last two years not being able to be on stage was probably immensely challenging.
AW: Absolutely. Between running my own shows and seeing all of these shows get pulled, it was just terrible. We had to reschedule so much. It was a tough time for all of us in the industry, but at least now we are at a place where people are excited to get back to live theater and I am excited to help bring it back.
MC: What do you think is the biggest lesson that you have taken from the past eighteen months of not being able to perform live?
AW: I definitely didn’t like being alone for so long, I was losing my mind (laughs)! Not having the venue and not performing, it helped me appreciate what we have and the things in life that we took for granted. You still need a vaccine card and to wear a mask to see a Broadway show; some people don’t mind, but it does make you miss the days where we didn’t have to worry about such things. If anything, it has made me appreciate what we had and hope to get back there so people can fully experience live theater again the way that it is supposed to be. There is just nothing like the experience of live theater.