Direct from the mind of writer/director Michael Cicetti, the digital series 5A5B is a departure from the litany of amazing online content available to the LGBT community today. Merging real life scenarios with a myriad of relatable characters, 5A5B presents a hilarious and heartfelt look at real life relationships in New York City. I sat down with Creator/Director Michael Cicetti to talk about the origin story behind 5A/5B, bringing real life into his on screen life, & why right now more than ever, it’s all about finding our “escape”!
Michael Cook: Tell me about the origin of 5A5B?
Michael Cicetti: 5A5B sprang from my real-life friendship with the actor who plays Jan, Angela Atwood, and the year that Angela moved down the street from me in Harlem. We became an unstoppable NYC-duo of sorts, buying each other groceries, doing the wine n’ Netflix thing, and getting into all sorts of tipsy debauchery uptown. That’s what 5A5B is all about: the magical simpatico between gay men and straight women!
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MC: So that’s how the project actually launched?
MC: The project actually started out as a short film about Kevin Ruskin, a scruffy geologist, and next-door neighbor Jan, a mother-of-two and Jersey divorcée. As I developed the short into a series, I thought it was important to portray a real New Yorker “family of choice.” So I approached another real-life friend, Ángelo Luis Rios, to play Andre, Kev and Jan’s fellow roommate and over-the-top gay “culturista” who keeps them in check. Now, we’re this trio of two gays (mid-30’s) and a divorcée (50’ish), well past our post-college adulting years, but still bouncing between odd-ball jobs, and sipping chardonnay from the fifth-floor fire escape. Not that I know anything about that sort of lifestyle!
MC: What can we expect from the characters on the show? Any hints?
MC: Each episode of 5A5B is a twenty four hour mini-quest following the characters down a rabbit hole of a New York City day. My character, Kev, continues getting into hot-n’-heavy trouble with devastatingly handsome ex (Dan Domingues, West 40’s). Jan (Angela Atwood) scrambles to put out the latent fires of her divorce and mom-manage her collegiate boys, while finding herself between the sheets with new men of all ages. Meanwhile, Andre (Ángelo Luis Rios) hustles his ass off as a rising star in the queer nightlife scene.
MC: The story includes both a straight and a gay character bookending you. Was it important to showcase straight as well as gay relationships?
MC: I set out to make a show about a gay guy that wasn’t about him being gay. The series has a uniquely queer sensibility because I’m a queer creator. While I think exclusively LGBTQIA+ issue-based series are absolutely critical to our politics of queer representation… my gay life, my “family of choice” includes a lot of straight people! Straight people are part of my gay bubble, so I’ve featured them (and all they’re straight sh*t!) in my straight-inclusive-gay-show.
MC: Web series have really taken off and are becoming massively popular; what are some of your favorites?
MC: I call 5A5B a “digital series.” I think of “webseries” as short-form (5-12 Minute) genre. The initial plan was indeed a “webseries” of shorts, but I found myself organically writing network-length scripts, and made a choice to pivot towards developing a network length series. Not many indie teams have produced content at the 20-25 minute level. That’s usually the terrain of studios.
There’s this amazing renaissance of queer creators making new high-quality digital episodics. Film festivals have also started to recognize “episodic series” as an awarded category to legitimize the genre.
The most refreshing thing I saw on the fest circuit this summer was Abby McEnany’s Work In Progress, about a self-identified “fat, struggling, queer dyke” which is produced out of Chicago by Showtime. Loved it! I continue to revere Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair’s High Maintenance as the Holy Grail of cinematic short-story telling; I would add it’s a very queer-inclusive show. Lately, I’m obsessed with Comedy Central’s The Other Two, from Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider, which is also super-LGBTQIA+ without being explicitly packaged as such. Can I throw Tom Perrotta’s Mrs. Fletcher in there to? I mean, who doesn’t live for Kathryn Hahn making suburban sexual discoveries?
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MC: When did you know that creating stories would be your passion and that you wanted to follow it?
MC: I live for comedy-that I know. If I can make people laugh, iif I can make myself laugh, I feel very fulfilled. There’s nothing more powerful in the world for me than laughter. Just talking about it now makes me want to figure out how I can make myself laugh this very moment; I haven’t yet today!
MC: What do you think it is about a web series that make them so addictive?
MC: Escape! People want to escape! Don’t you want to escape? I want to escape all of this! That’s why I tell stories, to have more than just this life. Why have one life when you can have many? I think that’s what a novel, the theatre, all these series provide: an alternative mode of existence, a dream world, that acknowledges, “well, maybe it’s all just a dream.” It certainly feels like a dream these days.
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MC: How are you finding your creativity is flourishing (or not) in this new world off social distance?
MC: Full disclosure: I have been triggered as f*ck these past couple weeks! But… comedy is my therapy. I’m writing new stuff. And as one of our most prolific gay playwrights, Terrence McNally, has shown us: comedy can co-exist within the chaos of real tragedy. My plan is to keep churning my fear into laughs, not just for my audience, but for my own sanity!
Also, yes, we’re physically distanced. But emotionally I think people are more attuned, more connected than ever. Personally, I’m Zooming everyone! I’m even calling my real family?!? My true hope is that we can emerge from this very real and fearsome health crisis a little more connected. A little more real. That is my hope.
MC: What is next for you post the premiere of 5A5B?
MC: Right now we’re sharing our YouTube Channel (#5a5b) and asking people to take the time to comment! We’re gonna’ build the rest of the show off of what’s resonating.
RevryTV, a premier queer-inclusive streaming network, licensed the series as part of their new app that’s coming out in May, so we’re massively stoked to be a part of their creator community and their launch!
Oh, and we’re actively seeking a showrunner with immediate industry clout to co-partner with and creatively evolve the show to the network level, so… if anyone knows Greg Berlanti’s cell phone number, please DM me @michaelcicetti!
Grab further information on 5A5B here