When Chris Harder left North Dakota for New York City to pursue a career on the Broadway stage, he had no idea what twists and turns his career would follow. While taking auditions, he paid the rent as a go-go boy at gay clubs and later by becoming a sex worker in the gay porn industry.
Harder tells his story in “Big Bright Star,” a one-man show receiving its regional premiere July 20 through Aug. 6 at Andrews Living Arts in Fort Lauderdale’s trendy FAT Village arts district.
“I’ve wanted to write a show about the adult industry that took a step away from the usual ‘I got into porn and it ruined my life’ narrative,” Harder explained. “I also wanted to create a show for myself that allowed me to get back into writing and acting and combine those loves with my burlesque career.”
Harder’s story begins two decades ago in North Dakota, where he was the awkward queer boy who played with his sister’s dolls, proving the road to gay porn stardom is paved with Barbie’s. He doesn’t regret any of the choices he’s made since and hopes to mount his show Off Broadway after the Fort Lauderdale run.
“Big Bright Star” is directed by David Drake, the writer and performer of the hit show, “The Night I Kissed Larry Kramer.”
It was a pleasure to sit down with Chris for this Hotspots exclusive interview.
(Photos: David Ayllon / Thomas Trinity)
Q: Were you always an actor, even as a kid?
A: Yes! I think my first role ever was playing a bunny doctor in kindergarten. I’m sure there was some kind of larger metaphor at work! I really fell in love with theater in high school though and was lucky to have several teachers who were amazingly supportive of me and my queer queerness. In college I also started writing plays and as part of my senior thesis I wrote and directed a one act play called “Steel and Snow,” which was about two young gay men coming out to each other and falling in love. It ran for two nights and sold out both shows and I remember just being thrilled that queer people were coming to see my show and that there was a need and a desire for that kind of work.
Q: What was your first professional/paid gig?
A: I was really lucky when I first moved to NYC nine years ago. My first summer in the city I was cast in a re-staging of Amiri Baracka’s “The Toilet,” originally written during the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s. We performed the show — which is a phenomenally written play with queer, interracial undertones –I n a park and were continually heckled by teenagers. I loved every minute though. Then, shortly after that show ended, I was cast in the dazzling role of the Old Sheep in a children’s theater production of “Charlotte’s Web.” I essentially left New York for three months to play some really beautiful theaters and some very brightly lit cafeteria auditoriums in a giant purple sheep costume. That’s show business!
Q: How old were you when you left North Dakota to go to NYC, and how did you make that decision?
A: I moved to New York when I was 22. I spent the summer before my senior year of college working as many jobs as my body and sleep schedule could handle and then bought a one-way ticket. I graduated in May and left in June. At the time, I actually was considering staying in North Dakota one more year because I was in love with my college boyfriend and part of me really wanted to stay and wait for him. One day during my shift as a barista, a regular customer who was a grungy, English ex-patriate artist who never combed his hair convinced me to seize the moment and move to New York. I’m really thankful I listened to him. I still have a thing for English accents.
Q: How was it to Go-Go boy at Gay Clubs?
A: I loved go-go dancing. I did it all through my twenties in all kinds of clubs and gay bars. There’s really a whole other one-man show just in those years. I think what dawned on me once I moved to New York was that I could actually be 1) valued for my looks and body and 2) potentially make a living from them as well. It had just never occurred to me that I was one of “those” guys. The idea that people would want me was so foreign, not because I felt ugly or hated in ND, but because I was actually really a late bloomer in terms of coming into my body.
Q: How did you get into the adult male entertainment industry?
A: By my late 20s –around 27– I had been go-go dancing and also working as a burlesque dancer non-stop for over four years. I loved both my nightlife worlds but I was also getting burnt out and really, just wasn’t making enough money. Through nightlife I had met all kind of sex workers both male and female as well as porn stars who would make appearances at clubs. Porn started to sound really enticing to me. Not just for the money but also because I was becoming more of an exhibitionist. I also became aware especially of Francois Sagat and his transformation from porn star to artist and actor, and I felt like I could combine my nightlife persona and work with the adult world and sort of become this ultimate adult entertainer.
Q: What made you decide to write this show, and when did you write it?
A: I started writing #BigBrightStar not only to reflect on my experiences in porn but also because I want there to be more narratives about sex workers that are less, “I got into the industry and it ruined my life,” and more, “I did porn/sex work/etc and I’m still a person. I still have my humanity. And I’ve also got some really crazy stories!” I’m also personally fascinated with how social media has become such a huge part of everyone’s lives now regardless of whether they are performers of any kind or just work in an office. I think more than ever there is a huge cultural obsession to be a star, whether it’s a porn star, YouTube star, or Twitter star.
I’ve now been working on #BigBrightStar for over a year. I began writing it in May 2016 and did several readings later that year and in early 2017. Then I paired up with the phenomenal director and Obie award-winning performer/playwright David Drake for the first fully-staged production of #BigBrightStar this past June.
Q: Are you excited to be making your regional premiere in Fort Lauderdale?
A: I am truly so excited to perform #BigBrightStar in Fort Lauderdale. I can’t believe the show is already getting new life but I really can’t wait to perform the work for Florida audiences and share David Drake’s direction and also work with Ronnie Larsen.
Q: What should the South Florida audiences expect from “Big Bright Star”?
A: Audiences can expect to laugh — at least I think I’m pretty funny! I try to give people not only a behind the scenes look at life in front of the camera, but also a comedic interpretation of my own life and persona. I’m just as goofy and weird as I am “sexy.” In creating and further developing #BigBrightStar. I’m always walking the line between sex and humor. I want to deliver both to the audience so again, expect to laugh — and expect an eyeful.
Chris Harder will perform “Big Bright Star,” July 20 – Aug. 6, on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m., at Andrews Living Arts, 23 NW 5th St. in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets are $35 – $45 at RonnieLarsen.com.