BD Wong Depicts Queer Life In The COVID-19 Era With Powerful Musical Project

The "Jurassic Park" actor and his husband reimagine 2005's "Songs From an Unmade Bed" to reflect the coronavirus pandemic.

Nearly six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, BD Wong is ready to take back the dance floor he and other LGBTQ people have long fought for.

The Tony-winning actor struts and flexes his way through a (virtual) nightclub in “I Want To Go Out Tonight,” viewable above. The clip is one of 18 music videos Wong and husband Richert Schnorr have produced for their new interpretation of the theatrical song cycle, “Songs From an Unmade Bed.”

First staged by New York Theatre Workshop in 2005, “Songs From an Unmade Bed” depicted the inner musings of a gay man living in Manhattan through music by 18 composers. As many U.S. states continue to experience a surge in coronavirus cases, Wong wanted to find a creative way to recreate one of his favorite theatrical pieces while reminding viewers of the “quirky humanity” of queer single life in an unprecedented time.

“It’s all from the point of view of this gay man in New York kind of musing on his love life, dating and all that. And he’s in his apartment, singing about loneliness, and needing to connect with someone,” Wong told HuffPost in an interview. “As a gay man in the early 2000s, he’s a survivor of a whole other pandemic. So a lot of stuff in these songs feels the way we feel now in this situation.”

BD Wong (left) and husband Richert Schnorr have teamed up for a topical reimagining of the 2005 song cycle, “Songs From an Unmade Bed.”
BD Wong (left) and husband Richert Schnorr have teamed up for a topical reimagining of the 2005 song cycle, “Songs From an Unmade Bed.”
Walter McBride via Getty Images

When lyricist Mark Campbell first wrote “I Want To Go Out Tonight,” the song was “about transgressing [and] the strong desire to rebel,” Wong said. Viewed through a 2020 lens, however, “it’s literally about going crazy not being able to go out,” he quipped.

It even includes a wink to “hanky codes,” which were historically used by gay men to identify sexual preferences.

Wong and Schnorr, a videographer, will unveil the remaining 17 videos of “Songs From an Unmade Bed” on Monday (Aug. 10), when the project will be streamed as a benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, a nonprofit group dedicated to HIV/AIDS-related causes across the country.

The couple began developing the project during their early days in self-isolation, and filmed all 18 videos at their apartment. The evening’s hosts include Awkwafina, Billy Porter and John Cameron Mitchell. Actors Maulik Pancholy, Daniel K. Isaac and Telly Leung are among those set to make guest appearances.

Still, Wong said the pair grappled over how to execute a shared vision as individual artists in the upper echelon of their respective fields.

“There are tons of challenging things about collaborating with your ‘person’ ― it’s often exposing a certain side of oneself that would not otherwise be shown,” he explained. “There’s an even greater sense of overcoming the creative challenges of a project when the person you’re collaborating with is someone you’re already intimate with.”

A San Francisco native, Wong rose to fame on Broadway in the original production of David Henry Hwang’s 1988 play, “M. Butterfly,” for which he won a Tony award. He delved into film shortly thereafter, starring as Dr. Henry Wu in 1993’s “Jurassic Park” with Laura Dern and Sam Neill. He reprised the role in 2015’s “Jurassic World” and 2018’s “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” and will return to the franchise in “Jurassic World: Dominion,” due out next year.

Wong (on right) with his "Awkwafina is Nora from Queens" co-stars Awkwafina, Bowen Yang and Lori Tan Chinn.
Wong (on right) with his "Awkwafina is Nora from Queens" co-stars Awkwafina, Bowen Yang and Lori Tan Chinn.
Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

He’s also continued to rack up a variety of stage and screen credits, starring in the off-Broadway drama “The Great Leap” in 2018 and appearing as a recurring guest on Comedy Central’s “Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens” last year.

Ultimately, he’d like his version of “Songs From an Unmade Bed” to encourage artists struggling with the reality of the COVID-19 crisis to create their own work, as well as to remind audiences that the performing arts are “a huge cornerstone of what drives our economy when it’s healthy.”

“It’s completely against human nature to refrain from cultural stimulation,” Wong said. “It’s exactly like the beach: it’s always there and we take it for granted. Then we tell people they can’t have it and they freak the hell out.”

Once the pandemic is over, Wong said he hopes Americans will “finally take to heart what ‘diversity’ is” in entertainment, media and countless other industries.

“The new movement in today’s theater to create a more diverse artistic landscape is directly related to Black Lives Matter, the killing of George Floyd and all of these things that are traceable to people living in quarantine, nerves frayed, simmering,” he said. “That change is actually thrilling to see. ...Though the change is probably less than it feels in the moment when viewed over history, it’s still change ― a kind of change that in many ways can’t happen unless something often seemingly unrelated lights the fuse.”

“Songs From an Unmade Bed” will stream Monday, Aug. 10, on the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS website.

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