After years of living in New Haven, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” composer Stephen Trask finally made it to a Master’s Tea.
“The irony,” Trask said as Berkeley College Master John Rogers introduced him Friday, “is that anyone of you could just ring my doorbell.”
Attracting a crowd of 60 students to the tea, co-sponsored by the Yale Film Society, Trask discussed his life and his music before starting an all-out gossip session about actors, acquaintances and the art of making it big.
“He was entertaining,” Alice Phillips ’05 said. “I could definitely picture him in an off-Broadway setting. He was very intimate, personal and engaging.”
In a conversational and humorous manner, Trask revealed exactly how he got started on what Rogers deemed an “unusual career trajectory.”
Although he said he knew during his college years at Wesleyan that he wanted to pursue music, Trask was unsure how to go about it. While writing music he worked odd jobs like carrying mail, often through a temp agency.
“I sprinted in my $10 Converses until my knees gave in,” Trask said.
He described how he earned money by running “unemployment scams” — working through a temp agency and collecting benefits at the same time.
But that was just the beginning. As a founding member and later music director of the Squeeze Box night club’s house band, Trask performed with the likes of Debbie Harry, Joey Ramone and a number of New York drag queens. While dancing with the Corner Store Dance Company, Trask also performed for money at local elementary schools.
“You mix in the dancing for kids and the playing for drag queens with the temp work and you just hope it works out,” Trask said.
The angry, misfit rock star Hedwig began as a character in Squeeze Box shows. After patrons wanted to see her more, Trask elaborated her character and eventually created the off-Broadway musical named after her — giving rise to a wide range of audience responses.
Lou Reed made the biggest impact when he caught the show.
“He made out while [“Wicked Little Town”] played, and I cried,” Trask said.
Adapting “Hedwig” to film last year may not have made Trask cry, but it brought its own problems.
“The fear [of adaptation] would be that it would suck,” Trask said, laughing. “It was really homegrown, and no one took it away from us. But when you have $5 million, you’re afraid someone will take it away.”
In bringing “Hedwig” to the silver screen, Trask and the film’s director John Cameron Mitchell, who both acted in the film, attempted to preserve Hedwig’s unique voice in a new medium.
“Film is a visual medium and theater is about language. We were trying a different way of creating the same feeling,” Trask said. “You only have people’s attention for an hour and a half — unless you push it, and we couldn’t do that for this.”
As Trask racked up the praise and awards for “Hedwig” — including an Obie Award and a Grammy — he kept his eyes open for the next thing. Currently, he is working on producing songs for another film, “Prey For Rock & Roll.”
“The investors [for the film] are sort of Wall Street types who have stock in Enron, Tyco and Kmart,” Trask said, alluding to failing giants. “It could fall through in a week.”
But even while sharing his insecurities, Trask expressed optimism about the future.
“I’ve been trying to figure out what to do next and see if lightning can strike again,” he said.