A SPECIAL KIND OF FRIENDSHIP: 'THE BENEFITS OF GUSBANDRY'
When Courtenay Hameister met Alicia J. Rose, about 10 years ago when they both worked for "Live Wire Radio," she didn't know what to think about her.
Hameister can't say she really took well to Rose.
"I was the host of this show, and Alicia is just this force of nature," Hameister says, chuckling. "We were friendly to one another, but we weren't friends."
"Force of nature" indeed describes Rose, a photographer, videographer, marketer and salesperson, music booker and now web series creator, and an energetic and whirlwind kind of woman. Of course, Rose won over Hameister, and the two have parlayed their friendship into writing an acclaimed web series that certainly fits into the Portland cultural scene.
It's "The Benefits of Gusbandry," a digitally scripted series now available via Amazon Prime Video and Seeds & Spark, where it's the flagship of the new streaming platform, and it's available on YouTube and Vimeo. Plans for the second season are underway, with new episodes likely to begin to be made in January after crowdfunding ends. It's an interesting premise: A woman, fed up and disenchanted with dating and significant others, enters into a platonic relationship with her gay best friend — her "gusband."
The thing is, it's based on Rose's real life, as she explores the conundrum of midlife — she's the creator.
Jackie is the main character (played by Brooke Totman), a straight woman recently turned 40 who escapes with marijuana. Her gay friend River (Kurt Conroyd) is her sidekick and the brunt of her coping and downloading about life, which includes topics of dating, babies, parents and a few pot cookies.
In real life, Rose is Jackie and River is Lake James Perriguey, "still my No. 1 gusband, a prominent attorney in Portland," she says.
"I was just searching for how to find my voice as a female filmmaker and auteur," she says. "I was looking for an idea that would represent me and the community, and come from the heart," and deal with inclusion, advocacy and marriage equality.
"It was a fun way to use humor and laughter and tell a story about people who believe in each other, without being romantic. I wanted to be able to show a woman making choices that weren't her mother's, that weren't toxic romantically, and investing her time in a different type of relationship."
Rose, 46, has not been married and "I don't have a particular interest in being married, but I like the idea of being with a life partner. I've had more gusbands than real partners, and they've stuck around longer than others." With her "picker" ability challenged, she says, she has tried internet dating and "it's crushing my soul."
Such relationships with gusbands are still intimate, she adds, with "foot rubbing in the hot tub." Rose says she has two primary gusbands, and a lot of secondary and tertiary gusbands.
"These men kind of fulfill the need for male companionship without romantic peril," she says. "It's a safe place for me. It's a way of love. I'm trying to heal 40 years of toxicity."
So she took her story and, after discussing the idea with Hameister, went to work on the series. They have a lot of fun writing the show
"She's so funny, authentic and genuine," Rose says. "I have tremendous respect for Courtenay. She's one of the funniest women I know."
Says Hameister: "I'm proud of my work on it, and it's been a real pleasure working with (Alicia)." They attended the Austin Film Festival (where "Gusbandry" made the digitial series competition), and "Gusbandry" showed at the Portland Film Festival.
Hameister says "authentic is really big right now, and it's difficult to get more authentic than what's based on someone's life." Rose's passion for the show has been contagious, and Hameister says they wrote a full-length feature film's worth of script (with 77 minutes broken into seven episodes).
Hameister, 48 and a former "Live Wire" writer, says the subject matter fits into the Portland dating scene, which "I don't know if you could say it's a dating scene, people just hang out in Portland," she says. "You could date someone in Portland for six months and not know you're dating them. 'No, we're just hanging out.' 'OK, that's awkward and uncomfortable, but OK.' "
Writing Jackie "is really easy for Alicia and I, because we're women in our 40s, perennially single," Hameister says, chuckling again. "We both just absolutely relate to her and her foibles and colossal mistake-making. It's harder to write for River, but they're both amazing actors; my favorite moments are improvised by Brooke and Kurt. Kurt has filled in (River's character) with beautiful improvisation."
The first season of "Gusbandry" dealt with the Jackie/River friendship and relationship. River slept with Jackie's ex-boyfriend, she later found out, and hilarity ensued. The second season will introduce more of their friends.
The series was written with Portland's LGBTQ community in mind, but Rose says that, interestingly, straight white men and heterosexual folks have given her positive feedback. They like the show.
The cast and crew are Portland-area people, some from "Portlandia" and theater ranks. It's filmed in Portland. The budget is small, and Rose has paid everybody except herself. The crowdfunding effort on Seeds & Spark has a goal of $25,000. Rose is optimistic the goal can be reached, with production slated to start as soon as possible.
"It's not necessarily inspired by 'Portlandia,' but I'm inspired by Fred (Armisen), Carrie (Brownstein) and Jonathan (Krisel)," Rose says. "I'm lucky, I'm friends with Fred, I've known him for years. Jon Krisel gives me great advice — including to give (the show) away and not be paid initially, which has been tough. But, it allowed us to make the show. I've had to hustle on my own, it's been an intense and interesting journey."
The New York Times' Neil Genzlinger wrote, as part of a review of short-form internet series, that Rose's show "works the straight-gay friendship thing deliciously, thanks to sharp writing and spirited performances by Brooke Totman and Kurt Conroyd. ... (Straight/character and gay BFF) has been around a while, but this rendition is more catty and crass than anything on network television, which gives the series a sharp edge."
Rose and Hameister would dearly like to make "Gusbandry" more mainstream, and they're working on a book together. Season two needs to happen first, but "it has gotten so much great critical attention, beacuse she struck a nerve with a lot of people," Hameister says. "There are a lot of people in their 40s who still don't feel like adults. They see themselves in the character of Jackie. Adulting is a difficult thing."