"It's not like I'm going to be sitting there and balancing eggs on spoons," says actor/playwright Bill Spring about his new performance piece Miss Vanilla and the Hustler, debuting this weekend on Miami Beach. "It's accessible material." Set on South Beach, where the Atlanta native has resided for the past fifteen years ("I've had some very intense times living there"), the work deals with a gay man's evolution via coming to terms with loss. "It's not necessarily an AIDS play," he explains. "It's more or less about people who are surviving. We've all been doing that in bulk, whether it's the AIDS epidemic or 9/11. We've all had severe things happen in our lives."
And much occurs in the tangled life of Miss Vanilla, who despite the feminine-sounding name is not a drag queen. He's also anything but bland. Spring says "vanilla" is gay slang for someone who's "a goody two-shoes, the antithesis of kink sex, just very affectionate. Someone who's like June Cleaver!" While Spring won't don pearls or high heels, he promises comic and solemn moments that offer a hopeful message of swimming forward through a sea of constant change.
Spring wrote the piece a while ago and then polished it last year during a summer workshop at Miami Light Project. There he met director Rafael Roig, whom he recruited for the show. In a cozy collaboration, a few of Spring's other friends have also come on board to help. Buddies Fernando Ramos and Angel Marchese play supporting roles; author/bon vivant David Leddick raised funds for the production; and flamboyant South Beach fixture Merle Weiss dreamed up the costumes.
Good friends are great, but what's an artist to do when the place you live is supposedly withering? Amid multiple reports of the death of South Beach, will Spring stick around longer to pen any more plays about the island of lost souls? "This is sort of the summation of my experiences here," he says, noting that he's not opposed to relocating. "Everything that's in the play is everything that South Beach has ever meant to me."