Brandon Rivera: Let’s start with what we all want to know: did you have to explain to your parents what “fml” stood for? Fiona Robert: Yes, I did! (laughter) BR: How did that conversation go? FR: My mom was like, “Well, what does it mean?” and I responded, “Fuck my life” and she said, “Is that something people really say?!” I guess it wasn’t much of a conversation. BR: That’s how I’m getting my peers to come to the show. I tell them, “it’s called fuck my life”- FR: -Yeah! “You might relate.” BR: Did you have any concerns or worries playing a gay character on stage? FR: When I first auditioned for the role, in the breakdown it said Jo must “read gay,” and I honestly had no idea what that meant. Because I think it’s really easy to pick stereotypes. Since I wasn’t sure what it meant to “read gay,” I just went in and tried to portray not necessarily a lesbian, but instead everything else I learned about Jo: she’s a confident athlete, someone a bit isolated, someone who lets things roll off her back. In the audition, I was worried Jo wouldn’t come off as... BR: ...a lesbian... FR: ...right! But, I just decided not to worry about that and approached her as I would any other character. BR: But, were you worried people would associate you with Jo, and therefore, assume you are gay? FR: I would love if people associate me with Jo because she’s great. She’s so strong and confident. That would honestly be fine with me. I’m sure people will ask me if I’m gay. I’m not, but I support it, so it’s not a huge concern. If people want to assume I’m gay, let them assume. BR: Do you notice any prejudices against LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) kids at your school? FR: Not at school, but outside of school, yes. I’m lucky because I go to the Chicago Academy of the Arts (CAA), and it’s a very supportive environment compared to other places. There are definitely kids who are out, and there are definitely kids who are not. Some kids are fully accepted by friends and family, and some who are out at school are not able to be out at home, which makes for a really difficult experience for those kids. BR: It sounds like at your school, being gay is not a huge deal. Is that correct? FR: We have this first day of school assembly where the seniors get to talk to the incoming freshman class, alone, without teachers or the principal, and provide them with advice and insights. When I was a freshman, the seniors told us, “If you’re gay, we’re here for you. If you want to come out, we’re here for you.” They told us we would be accepted no matter what. BR: Wow. FR: As I said, CAA is a very unique environment. BR: When you read The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, did you identify with John Singer as Jo does? Or did you have a different experience with the book? FR: When I first read it, I found myself identifying more with the character of Mick Kelly [the young girl at the center of the novel]. Jo and Mick both share this idea of an “inside room,” of feeling alone even when you have all these people around you. Jo doesn’t let people know when things get to her because she doesn’t want people to worry about her. She’s that person who says, “I’m going to get by. I’m going to get out of here. I’m going to make myself a better life.” You know? BR: So, in many ways, The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter is Jo’s “It Gets Better Project?”* FR: I think so. There is a lot of hope in the show. fml: how Carson McCullers saved my life is the title of Jo’s graphic novel. Through her book, she can tell anyone going through a hard time, “it does get better.” She has something to offer: hope that it does get better. If you have people there who are willing to help you, or if you have some sort of outlet like Jo, you can move past that kind of despair. BR: Do you have an outlet? FR: Like Mick, when I listen to music, I really put myself into it. I have certain friends who listen to a lot of music, and they eat it up, almost like a drug. They listen to albums two days straight, and when they’re done with it, they move on to something else. But for me, I listen to something over and over again. It becomes the soundtrack to whatever I’m going through at that time. I put my emotions into it, and I let the music take on whatever my feeling is. That’s my outlet. BR: That’s like me! This whole week, I’ve just been replaying this one song over and over again. FR: What song? BR: “Two Strangers,” Morgan Carr, pre-Broadway days. I was listening to it yesterday on the bus and sobbing. I was like, “What am I doing?” FR: I’m the same way. But it’s Bob Dylan for me. Like with every experience I’ve ever had. BR: What do you think fml is about? FR: It’s about being an outsider, and yet still having hope, even in the darkest times. And it’s about friendship—about being there for the people in your life and standing up for them. BR: What do you hope audiences will take away from the show? FR: I think we’re really lucky to be doing this show for exactly the audience members I think should see it: teens, kids our age. In terms of bullying, it seems there is a lot out there for parents in terms of how to talk to kids about bullying and a lot for teachers, “What do I do if I see bullying?” but we don’t have that kind of education for us, for students. I hope people who see this will be more conscious of their behavior. And for kids who are being bullied, I hope they will know it does get better, and that they are not alone. If nothing else, people should understand there is something going on, that the consciousness around LGBT issues is shifting. Like, you know—if you are stuck in the past, these times, they are a-changin’. BR: Did you mean to quote Bob Dylan just then?! FR: You know I did! BR: Thank you so much for talking with me. FR: Thank you. I hope you enjoy the show.