Creator Of ‘Weed Shop The Musical’ Talks Cannabis, Queerness And Theater

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Photo Credit: Oliver Draper

Los Angeles artist Becca Grumet has made a short film, a stage musical and a “Bachelor”-themed podcast all about cannabis. Weed is a central aspect of her identity these days, but when she first tried smoking it more than 10 years ago, the experience was less than positive.

“I actually had a terrible experience,” Grumet said in an interview with HuffPost. “I was sleeping over at a friend’s house, and she had recently begun smoking weed. I wanted to try it with her, and I remember I just got a terrible migraine. So I didn’t try again until a couple years later.”

When Grumet tried cannabis again, the plant soon became an integral part of her life.

As a film student at the University of Southern California, Grumet wrote and directed a short movie called “Weed Shop.” In 2016, she and her now-writing partner, Madelyne Heyman, adapted the script and produced a stage performance called “Weed Shop the Musical.”

The show, which recently put out a cast soundtrack, is a quintessential love story. It’s also a tale of “coming out,” a term borrowed from the queer community to describe the experience of opening up about one’s cannabis use in a potentially hostile setting.

“Weed Shop” follows Dave and Alicia ― a dispensary owner and a doctor who prescribes medical marijuana, respectively ― who begin dating but are reluctant to disclose to one another their love for weed. It takes a series of hilarious misadventures to help the pair recognize their compatibility.

When Grumet and Heyman first proposed “Weed Shop the Musical” at a North Hollywood theater, it was welcomed into the company’s 2016 season. But they encountered some hiccups throughout the pre-production process.

“As it got closer and closer to actually putting on the show there was huge inner turmoil within the theater company, with long time members being really uncomfortable with the subject matter,” Grumet said.

Grumet and Heyman’s show isn’t the first musical to deal with weed. Some classics like “Hair,” and perhaps lesser-known but still wonderfully campy tributes like “Reefer Madness” have explored cannabis use to hilarious ends.

“There were just some members of the company who, I think more than anything, weren’t super excited about the title being just ‘Weed Shop,’” Heyman told HuffPost. “There were some instances of people not liking that they were doing a show about civil war, and then there were ads about a show called ‘Weed Shop.’”

Heyman said she was surprised to experience pushback in the musical theater community, which has for years been an important venue for artists to explore subject matters many consider “taboo.”

“There are so many musicals that very overtly deal with sex, suicide, death and all kinds of subject matters that are deemed taboo and inappropriate,” she said. “It was kind of funny that having a show called ‘Weed Shop’ was such an edgy idea.”

When it came time to publicizing their show, Heyman said she and Grumet experienced similar difficulty. “There was a specific issue on Facebook when we created our fan page,” she said. “It got flagged because you can’t advertise for selling drugs on there, and we had to appeal it and say we’re not a weed shop ― which by the way is technically legal. It’s just a musical called ‘Weed Shop.’”

Grumet is an advocate for talking openly about cannabis as a way of combating the kind of bias that may have propelled the obstacles she and Heyman encountered. Throughout her creative endeavors Grumet works to foster a positive image of cannabis use and do that, she said, “intersectionally as a queer person and as a woman.”

Though not exactly autobiographical, “Weed Shop” carries resonance with Grumet’s own experiences of coming out about her sexuality and her cannabis use.

“I came out to my friends as someone who was interested in women, not really knowing what that meant, when I was in 7th grade,” Grumet said. “And I came to college as an openly queer person, though I didn’t know that that’s what I wanted to call myself.”

She didn’t fully open up to her family about her sexual orientation until she was 21.

As a cannabis user, Grumet said, she was one of the first of her friends to seek out a medical marijuana license in college and then to be vocal about her use. “It just seemed that if this was something that was legal then why not empower myself to do it,” she said. (Medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996.)

For Grumet, seeking out a medical marijuana license was an act of empowerment. When her peers were exploring the party lifestyle at USC ― Greek life, football games and heavy drinking ― Grumet was cultivating her autonomy as a cannabis user.

“When I go to a party or social situation I am in control of what I’m ingesting because I bring it myself, and I don’t drink,” Grumet said. “At a party I’m usually the one with a vaporizer, or a joint and a lighter, or ready to pack the bowl, and it provides a place for me in a social setting. I always feel empowered by it, too. The first screenplay I ever finished was about a woman kingpin drug dealer at a very USC-type university because that’s what I wanted to see. I wanted to see a woman with that kind of power.”

But walk into any given cannabis dispensary ― especially on a big sales day like 4/20 ― and that’s not always the image of feminine power you’ll see. Dispensaries are notorious for hiring young, normatively good-looking women to work as “budtenders”  in an effort to, as Grumet described it, “give off that friendly, sexual vibe in selling the product.”

“I knew I would have a really hard time if I wanted to get a job in that part of the industry because I don’t fit the mold of that kind of budtender,” Grumet said. When she’d peruse listings for potential openings, she said, the job descriptions frequently asked prospective applicants to “send pictures.”

“It’s pretty gross,” Grumet said. But she noted that women are increasingly creating their own lines of cannabis products, opening their own dispensaries, launching media spaces and creating things like wellness retreats and women’s cannabis gatherings to reclaim the plant from the patriarchy.

This will become increasingly important in California as the state enters a new era for cannabis use starting in January. In November 2016, the Golden State passed Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), legalizing recreational cannabis use for adults 21 years and older.

Grumet will be celebrating the plant’s newfound legality in the way she knows best ― by writing and producing another weed-themed musical with Heyman. This one will build off of Grumet’s podcast project, “Bachelor Budz” ― described on Soundcloud as a “420 friendly Bachelor Nation recap podcast” ― to parody the wildly popular “Bachelor” franchise.

Where the podcast finds Grumet and her co-host, Caitlan Moore, smoking pot and discussing the series, the musical will dramatize a fictional season of show complete with an original score.

“We’re not writing this because we think ‘The Bachelor’ is this perfect piece of media,” Heyman noted. “It’s really a chance to take down all of the problems we see with it. Writing a parody is a great way to talk about all the things we want people to think about and still keep it entertaining.”

The show will feature a largely female cast and a repertoire of songs ranging in style from Broadway to country rock.

Grumet said: “We’ll be premiering the show on Valentine’s Day, which just adds that much more to the absurdity of the whole concept.”

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