Thursday, March 5, 2015

FRIGID New York Interview - Mark Bentley Cohen of "Bi, Hung, Fit… and Married"

By Byrne Harrison

Show: Bi, Hung, Fit… and Married
Production stills: Sean Cummings
Standing in the Alley: Rita Ivanauskis

Mark Bentley Cohen is a writer, performer, counsellor, workshop facilitator, public presenter, and outdoor enthusiast living in Vancouver.  “Bi, Hung, Fit … and Married” is based on his revealing autobiographical book, “Confessions of a Bisexual Husband”. 

Mark has always been interested in sexual identity issues. He began experimenting with bisexuality at the age of 13, and continues to this day. Mark believes there is an inherent need for continued sexual growth and exploration throughout one's life, and modern partnerships are slowly evolving to accommodate those needs. After speaking with and meeting hundreds of bisexual men and women, Mark has discovered that the vast majority of them are deep within the closet, living secret double lives. 

He hopes that his work and ground-breaking relationship with Lianna Walden, his partner of over 20 years, will help them - and others - to take the first small steps toward accepting themselves and their unique sexuality. 

Tell me a little about Bi, Hung, Fit and Married.

The show is about my process of coming to terms with being bisexual within the confines of marriage and fatherhood, and the changes my partner and I made to our marriage after coming out to her. 

The truth is we were in a bad place before I came out. What the show demonstrates is that we needed something new. In our case it was my need to be authentic about my sexuality, but in other cases it's a matter of finding ways to revitalize your relationship. Quite often this revolves around issues of sex and sexuality. 

Long-term monogamous unions tend to stagnate because the two people involved are not allowed to grow, change, and express desire outside of their monogamy. This can become stifling in many ways. Allowing for dialogue and exploration around sex and sexuality often brings fresh energy into the people, and therefore their relationship. 

What we've come to learn is, this is a good thing, and far better than the "dangers" espoused by partaking in these activities. 

What inspired you to create it?

Once my wife and I could see that this sexual exploration and newly-found openness in our relationship
was actually very salubrious, we knew we had to tell everyone about our findings, which fly smack in the face of conventional "wisdom". 

The show is my way of discussing issues around sex, relationships, authenticity, which is why the focus of it is sex. So many other stories leave the sex out, because it's sex, and therefore personal/dirty/not important/secondary, etc. 

What we've found is that many others also want to discuss these things – as no one else seems to want to. The personal voice of the play makes the material honest, and therefore powerful. You may not agree with what I'm saying, but you will at the very least acknowledge that this has been our experience, and as such needs to be recognized as valid, if for no one else than us, although most people can relate to the work, regardless of orientation or relationship status. 

Who else is helping you bring the show to FRIGID?

I could not do this without my partner, Lianna Walden. When we met over 20 years ago she was to be the producer in our company and I was to be the writer. We've never strayed from that paradigm, and it still works for us to this day. 

We're also running an Indiegogo campaign to raise the funds necessary to pay for the production, so all those who have contributed are also a part of this. Thanks to all who have shown their support!

Who would be your dream audience for this show?

Besides highly influential theatre people who can take this show on a world tour, I'd like to see potential publishers for my book too, upon which the play is based. It's currently being shopped around the city by my literary agent, Lucas Hunt. 

As for non-industry people, the surprising thing is that straight, married people get the most from this show. There are very few other works out there which portray couples successfully crossing the monogamy boundary. Pretty much every other song, TV show, movie, play, book, advertisement speaks of the utter and immediate death to any relationship when people cross the monogamy line. 

As a theatre artist, who are your biggest influences?

I love David Mammet. I'm a bit of a "Glengarry Glen Ross" groupie, asking everyone I meet if they've ever seen it. I also love Spalding Gray. He's been a big influence, and I was deeply disturbed by his suicide years ago. I also love Michelle Tremblay's work. 

What shows are you planning to see at FRIGID?

All of them! We're huge Fringe fans. Lianna has run the Vancouver Fringe for a few years, has been a board member for many years, and we're both regular attendees at the festival. 

What is next for you in 2015?

Vancouver is the kind of city where you have to leave to make it, and then come back to show everyone how well you've done. When we return from New York we're planning a run of the show at a local club called "8x6". We're hoping the cachet of coming from New York will grab peoples' attention. It already has. When we tell people we're going to New York, they all get glass-eyed and mesmerized by the idea. 

Lightning round

Favorite theatre professional? David Mammet

Your best theatre experience? Performing my show at UC Berkeley as part of their "International Conference on the Future of Monogamy and Nonmonogamy". This audience really got my work, and showed their overwhelming appreciation for it afterward. It was a very special moment. They were all so moved to have seen "their story" being told for the first time. 

Person you’d most like to thank for getting you where you are today? My life-partner, Lianna Walden. There is no doubt in my mind I would not be doing this without her, in every way you can imagine. 

To find out more about Bi, Hung, Fit and Married, visit the FRIGID New York website.

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