The Hum’n’bards didn’t start out this gay.
“Funnily enough, no. We got gayer!” said Wyatt Flinn, a founding member of the all-queer theater company. He’s also the artistic director of the group’s newest production, “We’ll Sleep When We’re Dead.”
“We all found each other before a lot of us knew how gay we really were. Our theater was queer before we knew we were queer because that’s how it happens: Your art speaks for you before you can speak for yourself,” Flinn said.
For the ’Bards, self-discovery has also gone hand-in-hand with success.
In the three years since its first show the post-apocalyptic folk-opera “Pangaea” at the 2016 Fringe Festival, it has turned out a handful of devised musicals and two more Fringe performances. The ’Bards 2018 show “God, Forgive These Bastards” brought a large-enough crowd to pay for their latest production and upgrade their practice space from a friend’s living room to a Mantua rehearsal studio.
“We’re at a point now where we don’t have to pay out of pocket for rehearsal space,” said Hum’n’bards’ managing director Taylor Plunkett-Clements. “We got some momentum going and we want to keep that momentum going, and now we’re here.”
“Here” is the last two weeks of rehearsal before the premiere of their newest devised musical, “We’ll Sleep When We’re Dead,” set to run during the second annual Philly Theatre Week.
The plot concept came from an all-nighter Flinn pulled back in college.
“I watched the sun come up and was like ... I wish I could just never have to sleep and I could just get all the things done that I would want to get done,” he said.
“So, we came into this with just the prompt of ‘What would a world without sleep look like?’” Plunkett-Clements said. “And then we started just coming up with the rules of the world.”
In devised theater, the script- and score-writing are a collaborative process. For “We’ll Sleep When We’re Dead,” the ’Bards set the parameters of their musical’s universe, and its four main characters together, democratically.
“We all went like round-robin and said things that we felt were absolutely true about the world and then everyone would either like ‘yay’ or ‘nay,’” said show director Reanne Maskart.
They settled on a queer cast of characters whose shared reality is a world where government-mandated implants make it required for humans to forgo sleep.
Except for Lou — the show’s protagonist, played by Monica Fischer. She missed getting chipped and spends her time hiding out in “sleep-easies,” underground hangs where counter-culture characters can flirt with the new taboo: sleep.
The ’Bards say weaving a world where humans hold limitless productive potential is a critique of capitalism.
“Of course, if this technology is available, it’s going to make sense that it’s going to get exploited; it’s going to make sense that it’s going to be mandated,” director Maskart said.
Infused with queer sex and witty wordplay, the music that drives “We’ll Sleep When We’re Dead” elevates it to something much more fun.
Songs include “Let’s Sleep Together (it would be my pleasure),” an acoustic duet between Fischer as Lou and her lover Poppy, played by Macy Jae Davis, flush with sing-songy come-ons between two lovers, like “close your eyes, open your thighs.” Plus, “Sex Bed,” a spoken-word electronic-dance number set to tinny synths and completed by Davis’ flexible choreography.
Flinn said that while he’s glad for the eclectic crowd past productions have drawn, he hopes this show brings out more of the LGBTQ community.
“I’m personally hoping that the queers find out about us,” Flinn said. “Some of them know. But as a trans person who is often seeking to watch other trans people perform on stage, I’m like, ‘Guys! We’re here, we’re queer, we do theater! Come support us and be our friends.’ It just feels like they’ll like it.”
“We’ll Sleep When We’re Dead” runs six times, Feb. 4-16, at three locations: L’Etage at 624 S. Sixth St. on Feb. 4 and 11; Tracey’s Loft at 2704 Girard Ave. on Feb. 9 and 16; and The Fire at 412 W. Girard Ave. on Feb. 12 and 13. All shows are pay-what-you’re-able. For ticket information, visit http://www.humnbards.com/. For information on other Philly Theatre Week shows, go to http://www.theatrephiladelphia.org/whats-on-stage/philly-theatre-week.