Who’s Next: Tim Federle, Novelist, Musical Book Writer

Playbill Pride   Who’s Next: Tim Federle, Novelist, Musical Book Writer
As part of Playbill Pride 2016, we set our sights on the next generation of LGBTQ artists. Meet performer, novelist and musical book writer Tim Federle.
Tim Federle
Tim Federle Monica Simoes

Tim Federle, novelist, bookwriter

Okay, so he’s written seven books, and co-wrote a Broadway show this season, and sold a screenplay last year. He’s spoken to more librarians, school groups and theatre kids than anyone could imagine. And he has time to tweet for both himself and for Virginia Woolf in the Times Book Review Section.

I first met Tim, 36, on The Little Mermaid nine years ago where he was playing a fish and a seagull. Don’t get me wrong, Tim was superb. Ignored by what I can only assume to be ichthyophobic critics, but superb nonetheless.

I first learned then, there is much to marvel at with Tim. His determination, his discipline, his unending wit, his heartbreaking compassion, his fundamental decency—and most of all his giant talent, all hit you pretty fast.

His writing first took my breath away in his delightful books Better Nate Than Ever and Five, Six, Seven, Nate! I was simultaneously proud and jealous. Proud of my dear friend for creating a character so specific and appealing and funny. Jealous of the kids across the country who were discovering Nate (and themselves) here in the early part of the 21st Century.

As a gay, theatre-obsessed kid growing up in the San Francisco Bay area in the 1970s, my head would have exploded reading the Nate books. I would have known Nate. Nate would have been my fantasy best friend.

Tim’s children’s books—about a quirky kid discovering himself—arrive at a time when state legislatures around the nation are attempting to destroy the lives of kids just like Nate.
The elegance and charm with which Tim unfolds the Nate story is emblematic of Tim as a man, and as a man of his time.

In his latest book, the young adult novel The Great American Whatever, he goes appropriately further following the story of a gay teenager who is dealing with issues far beyond just his sexuality. This book would have changed my life in high school. I would never want to return to that tortured time, but doing it with Tim’s book in my backpack would have made it vastly more tolerable.

Tim is a star with kids of all stripes and in all communities. It would have been impossible for my young self to have imagined such a thing.

How far that little candle throws its beams. So shines a good deed in a weary world.

–Thomas Schumacher, President Disney Theatrical Group


What is your earliest memory of theatre?
When I was six my mother gave me a pair of shiny tan shoes to wear with a tiny pink tuxedo as part of my overall costume as the ring bearer at a distant aunt's wedding. All night long I flitted around in those shiny shoes, and they made this funny tap-like sound on the parquet floor at the wedding venue. All my aunts surrounded me, my first de facto audience. That's my earliest memory. After that: the first national tour of Cats stayed with me now and forever.

Who has been especially crucial in your creative development?
Tom Schumacher has been a mentor and a mensch from the time I was cast as a fish in his Little Mermaid. I later “came out” to him as a writer — or at least a chorus boy who wanted to be a writer. He encouraged me to follow that dream and here I am.

Who do you regard as a mentor?
Early acting and dance teachers in Pittsburgh who taught me that professionalism is not earned when you get an Equity card, but when you start acting like a professional. Show up on time, take the note, don’t bad-mouth your peers.

What’s one thing that surprises people about you?:
I barely graduated from high school.

LGBTQ theatrical moment that most impressed me:
The kiss between two men in the tour of Kiss of the Spider Woman. I was 14. When the audience gasped, I felt outed, myself. I turned red in my seat. But then the show got a standing ovation and I saw that everything would be ok for me in the end.

Untapped talent ready to make it big:
You mean my OWN untapped talent? I've always wanted to host something. Others untapped talents? Every boy who ever played Billy Elliot or his best friend Michael, in the show; they've all become brilliant young scholars and professional dancers and personality traits of each of those boys inspired my characters in Better Nate Than Ever.

I wish the theatre had more…:
Room for scrappy upstarts whose voices deserve an audience. 2016 theatre can sometimes feel all-or-nothing: either genius little productions at Ars Nova or corporate spectacles up north. Being the middle guy is tough. But we don’t get into theatre for guarantees, we get into it for the glory.

Favorite artist of all time and why:
Well, that’s impossible, but today’s answer is Bernadette Peters, because as a middle school boy I dreamed of someday getting her autograph, and instead I got to make my Broadway debut dancing 10 feet away from her in Gypsy.

The next challenge I want to take on is…
Seven continuous hours of unmedicated sleep.

I hope my legacy as an artist will be…
Remembered. Fondly. And with a few laughs.

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