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'Fun Home': How Alison Bechdel's queer coming-of-age comic became a musical

Creator of
Creator of "Fun Home" Alison Bechdel at the show's San Francisco opening at the Curran Theatre.
Steve Jennings/Getty Images for Curran
Creator of
Kate Shindle as Alison and Robert Petkoff as her father in the national tour of “Fun Home.”
Joan Marcus
Creator of
Karen Eilbacher as Joan and Abby Corrigan as the teenaged Alison in the national tour of “Fun Home.”
Joan Marcus

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Alison Bechdel's career as a cartoonist started with her comic strip, "Dykes To Watch Out For,” which ran from 1983 to 2008.

In 2006, Bechdel wrote “Fun Home,” a graphic novel memoir about her father’s troubled life and her coming out as a lesbian in small town Pennsylvania. Soon after "Fun Home" was released, she was approached about adapting it into a musical. Her response:

I thought that was insane. Really, I thought it was impossible. 

Jeanine Tesori penned the music and Lisa Kron wrote the book and lyrics. After a few years of workshopping, “Fun Home” opened off-Broadway in 2013. It then moved to Broadway and won the 2015 Tony Award for Best Musical. 

The stage adaptation follows Alison through two of the most formative stages of her life: early adolescence and her college years. As the young Alison confronts her own sexual identity, she reflects on her relationship with her closeted gay father.

Bechdel recently spoke with The Frame's John Horn as the touring production of "Fun Home" opened at the Ahmanson Theatre. 

Interview Highlights:

How Tesori and Kron's adaptation of "Fun Home" made Bechdel see it differently:

They plumbed emotional depths that I didn't quite get to in the book. They necessarily fleshed out the character of my mother more in the play. She was just a minor character in the book, mostly because I knew my mom was going to see the book and I was terrified she would read it. It was easy to write about my dad because he was dead. So I had kept my mother very minimal. But you couldn't stage this story without making her more three dimensional, so they gave her more to do in a way that was very authentic to who my mother was. 

Susan Moniz as the mother in the national tour of “Fun Home.”
Susan Moniz as the mother in the national tour of “Fun Home.”
Joan Marcus

On writing "Fun Home" and what her father taught her:

I didn't realize what the book was about until I had nearly finished writing it. I knew I was writing about my father's suicide, about the fact that we were both gay and growing up in this small Pennsylvania town. But what I realized as I was writing the last sentence of the book is that this story was also about how my father taught me to be an artist. He taught me to be someone who could write this story. I saw his aesthetic focus. He was always looking at stuff, moving furniture around, changing stuff. There were things that he loved, colors that he loved, colors that he hated — and just seeing that kind of discrimination going on all the time was very educational. And he had this confidence in the stuff that he did. I wanted to have that. I wanted to have that kind of skill and confidence in my own taste and judgement. 

A page from Alison Bechdel's graphic novel memoir,
A page from Alison Bechdel's graphic novel memoir, "Fun Home."
Alison Bechdel

On hearing "Ring Of Keys" for the first time:

The first time I heard that song on an mp3 I was just staggered. It was clearly this amazing butch anthem! That's kind of what it's become for young audience members. It's funny because in the play, the child actor playing me is 10 or 12 years old. This thing actually happened to me when I was much younger. I think I was 4. My father saw me noticing [a butch lesbian] and he glared at me and said, Is that what you want to look like? But of course, as a child, I had to say, No, that's not what I want to look like. But I did! And I knew I did. And I could see my father's shame and fear. He saw himself in that woman too.

Alessandra Baldacchino as young Alison and Robert Petkoff as her father in the national tour of “Fun Home.”
Alessandra Baldacchino as young Alison and Robert Petkoff as her father in the national tour of “Fun Home.”
Joan Marcus

On seeing her parents as stage characters:

My parents met in a play in college. They were avid theater fans. My mother acted in summer stock all through my childhood. And in a way, my childhood growing up in our house was a kind of performance. It was this play that they put on every day. I feel like there's just something really perfect and apt about seeing them turned into characters.

"Fun Home" is at the Ahmanson Theatre through April 1.

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