Ben Curtis on “The Crusade of Connor Stephens… by Uinterview

In Ben Curtis‘s off-Broadway play, The Crusade of Connor Stephens, the actor, known for his ads as the “Dell Dude,” finds himself discussing issues and events he saw and experienced up close while growing up. Connor Stephens is the story of a Southern Baptist family, the patriarch minister, and his gay son, dealing with issues of family, religion, and morals after a violent event forces them together.

Curtis plays Jim Jr., the gay son who is happily married to another man, with whom he has recently adopted a child. Like Jim Jr., Curtis’s father was a minister but there is one large difference in their stories – Curtis’s father is gay.

“I grew up in a very unique Southern family,” Curtis told uInterview exclusively. “My father, also, half way through my childhood came out. He was one of the first gay ministers in the South and one of the first people to help move the Episcopal church towards accepting everyone, both gay and straight, black and white, and everything in between … I was always taught to love people no matter what.”

Still, Curtis saw conflict similar to that which takes place in The Crusade of Connor Stephens. Growing up in Tennessee and being around a strong religious culture, he had many friends and knew many people with whom his father’s beliefs didn’t necessarily align.

“Every other Christian around me had different beliefs and I went to an all-boys Christian school,” said Curtis. “I had friends there who were gay that went through conversion therapy against their will. And, you know, it doesn’t really work.”

In knowing those friends, and witnessing their experiences, Curtis feels that he saw exactly what his play is trying to get at.

Said Curtis, “When you are told you can’t be yourself, you either shove it down and it comes out some other way or you take it on and become an activist. And so, my character isn’t really there yet but he does believe in being himself and I think that’s what really underlies in the story.

The Crusade of Connor Stephens will make its off-Broadway debut on June 17 at the Jerry Orbach Theater.  Get tickets here.

Check back next week for Part 2 of our uInterview with Ben Curtis in which discusses being arrested for buying pot and being fired by Dell.


Q: What is the plot of 'The Crusade of Connor Stephens'? -

'The Crusade of Connor Stephens,' this is the world premier off-Broadway, and it is a play about the divide that our country is going through today. The really moral divide and it's about family values. And resilience, tolerance, and, what I would call, conditional love. So, a lot of people think of love being unconditional between family members but if you think about it a lot you can choose your friends, but you can't always choose your family. And when you have different beliefs within an immediate family, how do you deal with that? So this play takes place in Texas, in a Southern Baptist family, and through an act of violence, they have to deal with ghosts of their past and they have to deal with their differences. And so it looks at what happens when we have to deal with people and moral beliefs that we feel very strongly about. And then, from there, unconditional love, what that means, and does it even exist?

Q: What is your character's role in the show? -

My character, Jim Jr., is the son of Big Jim, who is a Southern Baptist Evangelical minister with his own TV show and he's the hot you-know-what around town as we say in the south. And my character is his gay son who is happily married to another man and has recently adopted a child. Of anyone who may have grown up in a very traditional Southern Baptist lifestyle, and religion, and tolerance, and morals, there's not much of a place for homosexuality. The play and the characters deal with, where that line is, and when is it ok to yourself, and when is it ok to be a human being whether you love someone of the same sex or not? Where does religion draw the line? Where does our country draw the line? And where does your family draw the line?

Q: Have you been doing more stage work recently? -

Yeah, actually I have. I do several stage pieces a year. Stage is by far my passion, I love it. I love film and TV, I do a lot of voice overs but stage is where I was born. So, I'm actually the son of a preacher, and there are so many stories about me running around trying to take over the stage as a child. And, you know, I grew up in a home that was sometimes difficult. So I immediately started performing and using comedy to lighten things up at home and also to deal with my family. But, yeah, I am really excited to be on stage.

Q: As a Southerner, how did you deal with gay issues? -

I grew up in a very unique Southern family. So we were some of the only Democrats around in Tennessee. My father also, half way through my childhood came out and he was one of the first gay ministers in the south. And one of the first people to help move the Episcopal church to accepting everyone, both gay and straight, black and white, and everything in between. Now, clergy are also a part of that. So I was always taught to love people no matter what and I was really blessed to do that. I also grew up being the only white kid in an all-black baseball league and the only young kid working in civil rights with my father. So I was always taught love and tolerance no matter what, that's our code. However, I have many friends for whom that was not their story and that was very clear growing up. Every other Christian around me had different beliefs and I went to an all-boys Christian school so there was a lot of beliefs there. I had friends there who were gay that went through conversion therapy against their will. And, you know, it doesn't really work. They usually ended up, I don't know if there is such a thing, but gay-er. When you are told you can't be yourself, you either shove it down and it comes out some other way or you really take it on and become and activist. And so, my character isn't really there yet but he does believe in being himself and I think that's really what underlies in the story.