To connect with his country, actor Dan Hoyle got driving.
Dan Hoyle is invested in telling the story of the road less traveled. For that, he’s put on the miles. The actor and writer has been doing his own solo shows since he was 24. For the first—Circumnavigator—he traveled to eight developing countries. Since then, the SF native was awarded the 2008 Will Glickman Award for Best New Play for his third show, Tings Dey Happen, about his time living in Nigeria as a Fulbright Scholar studying oil politics. For his current play, The Real Americans (a term, you’ll recall, originally coined by Sarah Palin), he went on a road trip, searching out the blue highways and visiting 26 states in three and a half months. Onstage, his stories are fiercely retold with humor, wit and, most importantly, empathy. With every one of the 12-plus characters he embodies, Hoyle reminds us that when it comes to America, what’s “real” is relative.
Considering you just turned 30, you’ve done a lot of traveling.
I think in San Francisco, 30 is the new 20. It’s a really good city to have a prolonged adolescence. No one ever tells you to take off your hoodie sweatshirt.
What surprised you most about your road trip for The Real Americans?
The number of people who thought Obama was a Muslim. That, and having dead-serious conversations about the sixth day of creation. But also, how these towns are hurting economically, and not because of the recession. You see why people harbor this resentment about how much America has changed.
Favorite character in the show?
There’s a character from Appalachia in Kentucky. He has some of the tough country wisdom that I was searching for as an antidote to [SF’s] yuppie-without-the-wince—the self-aware wince that should happen when you order food at a restaurant traced to four farms made by, you know, a co-op that supports a village you’re never going to visit.
You poke fun at San Francisco just as much as any town you visit.
This city has pioneered a lot of things, but that pioneering spirit can be really funny too. The [SF] brunch characters I portray came out of a time when I was living near Dolores Park and walking down to Tartine and through the aisles of Bi-Rite and overhearing the most amazing things. I’m trying not to let anyone off the hook, even those who say, “Hey, can’t we all just get along?” Actually, no. This country is deeply polarized. I’m trying to put that conflict on the stage.
What did people in these small towns think of San Francisco?
A decent number of people see this as a city of total whack jobs, wing nuts and Communists. And there are some.
What are some of the most memorable places you went on your trip?
The Mississippi Delta, the bayous. I went to a church service in Cranks, Kentucky, where they were thumping and hollering with the music. And the Fourth of July parade in Graham, Texas—straight out of a movie. The last thing the guy said was “God bless Texas.” It’s so easy to say, “This is a stereotype.” But it was a genuine expression of culture.
Most beautiful places?
Western Montana is off the charts.
You grew up in San Francisco, in a pretty alternative family.
My dad’s an actor, and we traveled with the Pickle Family Circus as kids. The whole lefty-liberal-artists community I grew up in is pretty hilarious. It’s ripe for satire. But I’m just a reformist. I don’t consider myself radical. I get in conversations here with people and they say I’m a closet Republican. I just struggle with willful ignorance and reactionary anger.
What’s the lure of the solo road trip?
I think traveling, especially alone, is really sort of the rawest form of experience. I made a point of meeting people by going to a lot of community events, union meetings, softball games, demolition derbies, gun shows. It forces you to interact with strangers. You have to process your experience on your own and it makes that experience really dramatic.
Would you do it again?
I had a great time. You know, if you think you’re a guy who might enjoy traveling around the country in a van, buy that van! You should go out there and see your country. Show people that people in San Francisco aren’t whack jobs. (Don’t go if you’re a whack job.) I saw myself as an ambassador
The Real Americans plays at The Marsh through JULY. themarsh.org