It took me 5 days to write The Monkeybar Mafia. Then – a few months wait before I could present it to the theater board for possible production, during which I rewrote and polished sections of it. That was September 2011 when we got the official OK. Following that, a long 10-month wait until late July, when the process really began at auditions. From there – it was 4 weeks until we reconvened and over the course of 70 or so days, our director Dave guided the cast of 10 to find their performances.
As I write this I am one month away from the end of our triumphant Opening Weekend and I think – finally – a few minutes removed from that post-play melancholy that always settles for a spell but this time stung pretty hard.
So, now that I turn the page, I think it’s high time I give one last memorial to one of the great moments of my life. I was originally planning to write one post BUT in this bite-sized new world of Twitteratti, I thought it might be more effective to chunk this into installments – something you can rip into and actually read before your lunch break or breakfast runs its clock. I’ll try to post a new one every few days.
Also, I don’t plan on boring you with the backstage shenanigans. No sense transcribing “guess you had to be there moments” – nobody on the outside likes an inside joke. Well, at least, that won’t be the focus although some cast tales may color what follows.
Nope – my mission statement is to hone in on elements in the play and give you all a peek behind the curtain. What inspired what and how much is real – how much is fiction – and what lies somewhere in between.
On with the show…
Monkey Business – Vol 1 – Knocked Up
My buddies Joe and Justin were among the first people to read the script. When I completed it in May 2011, I sent it out to a handful of people whom I trust to read through and give me the unvarnished truth. Joe and Justin, my brothers from other mothers, received copies and tore into it, reporting back to me almost instantaneously.
Yes, they’re my friends – but they are the closest kind who aren’t afraid to call you on your bullshit. That’s when you know a friend is your brother – or your sister… what have you. And there have been ample times I thought Joe might be my sister. All those Lilith Fairs he attended in the 90’s. All that Paula Cole. (shudder)
I kid… kid… I kid Joe, ’cause I love.
And that’s why it was so important to get their opinions. Justin gave some valued input on the Ryan and Kate dynamic. I’ll get to that in a future post. He has been an awesome sounding board on this project and a major cheerleader. Huh – maybe I don’t have brothers after all.
Joe came back with something that burrowed its way deep.
Over beers at our next Guy’s Night Out, Joe looked over at me and said – “Anything you ever wanted to know about Ed Humphries, you’ll learn in this play.”
Thus began the first of my daily, sing-song protest: “This isn’t my life.”
A disclaimer clearly precipitated by the subject matter. So much of that story came from me – at least, I planted the seeds. After all, the whole thing came to me when I was sitting on the playground, each afternoon, watching the kids play. Unlike the play, I came up with that idea on my own. Nobody prompted me to go pick up the kids. I just knew I needed a break by 2 pm – after staring at a computer screen hunting for phantoms all morning and midday – and needed to give my brain a little sabbatical.
Unlike Ryan, I quickly recognized people I knew out there and chatted them up.I used to hear my fair share of anecdotes, and after a bit of time, the ladies went back to waxing poetic on body waxing and voicing disdain for their latest vulva mishap (or was it a Volvo). And yes, I did take to Facebook and over-exaggerate the things I heard each day for maximum comedic value – eventually dubbing these fine fillies, The Monkeybar Mafia.
But all of it was light. For a guy who was out of work with zero prospects for a good chunk of the calendar – I kept things pretty light even if on the inside, I was seriously freaking out once I got on the back 9 of my severance package.
I think my biggest cause for concern was the dramatic invention of Kate. My constant refrain rings true. Kate is what takes my humdrum, real world tale and turns it into something people would actually want to pay good money to see. Nobody is emptying the coffers to see The Ed Humphries Story.
So, I had enough inspiration to lay a foundation but that only took me so far. I had to get creative and craft the rest of the story – build it up and really go to town decorating the place.
And that’s how Kate was born. Once I fixed my attentions on “the do-over” element, I needed someone who mirrored Ryan – so he could see a little of himself in that other person. And by talking to her, that would in turn get him thinking about himself. And of course, her role deepened the more I wrote. And the more I wrote, the less my life was mirrored and the more this became a fictional drama. I couldn’t wait to see where the story went next – which is not something I could cop to had I ripped every element from the headlines.
That said, when Joe said “Anything you ever wanted to know about Ed Humphries, you’ll learn in this play” – he nailed it. This thing is stock full of things I enjoy, thoughts I covet, fears I’ve faced, and little Easter Eggs that add color to the story and a smile on the face of those who know me and get the reference. On one of these posts, I’ll lay them all out. How this came to be is as simple as what Ryan reminds himself of a number of times in the play – “Write what you know. Write what you know.”
When I first began dreaming this up, it was a thriller. I remember standing on the playground, thinking that with the extra time, in my free time – I should really sit down and finally write something. To make something of this unfortunate interruption.
An idea came to mind – forged from my current situation.
Seeing all the parents (mostly Moms) hanging out talking amongst themselves while the kids played so carefree, I noticed that you could tell the new parents from the old pros. The parents of younger kids (3 – 5 year olds), often patrolled the playground, keeping a watchful eye on their kids. Once the kids graduated to first grade, those Moms mingled until their kids came to them, ready to go – presuming they actually remembered to pick them up from the classroom. (Never happened… I swear. Well…).
So, my original idea was not a play – but a screenplay… or a book.
The premise: a guy, newly unemployed – decides to take a break each day and watch his kids at the playground – looking to decompress. Unable to break through the pre-existing cliques, he just stands and watches and one day, sees a child take a nasty fall from a slide. With none of the Moms coming to the child’s aid, he jumps into action – stabilizing the kid and then hunting for his Mom. Nobody seems to know which child he’s talking about and when he drags a few back to where the kid is… the child is gone.
This follows day after day – as he sees this same kid out there and over the course of each afternoon – he always loses track of the kid, never seeing him leave with a parent. Eventually the kid is no longer there so the guy starts obsessing over this – leading him to research a dark mystery in his small town – all the while he is lying to his wife, telling her he is out looking for jobs. As his home life and marriage start to crumble, he finds a great struggle trying to keep his sanity in check.
That was the original idea. And when I sat down to write it – nothing came forth.
“Write what you know…”
“What the Hell do I know about undead, bloodsucking Hell beasts…”, as Ryan famously put it.
Or phantom ghost kids, for that matter.
Although I sifted that story through my brain pan a few times, there was no gold in ‘dar hills. Nothing I could latch onto. Nothing that bursts from my personal experience.
And that led me to writing The Monkeybar Mafia.
As I wrote, I continued to layer in some real-life anecdotes. Like I said, the purpose of this series will be to shed some light on some of those elements. In a nut shell, here’s what you need to know about me.
I am fascinated by the concept of two roads diverging – I’ll cover that in a future post. But that concept of what lurked down the path you didn’t take at every branch along the way draws my attention. Never at the time I’ve made decisions – but certainly in hindsight. The good news is I have a solid grasp on counting my blessings and know that if I didn’t make the choices I’ve made, I wouldn’t be where I am today. That’s key. Still, every few years, when I get real contemplative – I’ll play that little game of “What if?” – and I always steer myself back to my present world view and see how good I’ve got it.
I’m hooked on Halo. Well, not Halo exactly – first person shooters have lost my interest… but ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved the challenge of a good video game. Some people spend their leisure time seeking what’s new with Honey Boo Boo or discovering the Duck Dynasty. Others explore every Shade of Gray. Me – I like to challenge my brain and reflexes with a good video game. It’s an escape and one that sort of silences all my real world concerns when I let it all melt away for a spell. So – that’s where Ryan got his Halo obsession although unlike that slob, I didn’t spend my days killing the Covenant forces. I was legitimately looking for a job. Ryan and I may share some traits but he is definitely an Evil Ed. 🙂
I’m fiercely sentimental. I’m going to cover this in another piece but Ryan’s Impossible Dream monologue was ripped from my Blog. I wrote it several years ago and freshened it up for the play. It was playing in my head when writing the play, so I knew I had to work it in. More on that in a future post.
This has run a little longer than I expected and I promise that future installments will stay on point. But, I had to set that table.
So, one last anecdote to give this Volume’s title some meaning.
In Act II, Jennifer reveals that she was a teen Mom – a lovesick girl who got pregnant her first time out – after falling for one of the hot townie boys that haunted the beach at Chatham Light – just down the road from the cottage she and her family used to summer in.
In my mid-Twenties, my friends and I used to rent a cottage on the beach right down the street from the Chatham Light. On real hot days you could skip walking along the road and just take the dune trail to the beach. I don’t know if that’s where all the hot townie boys hang out. I didn’t look. And thus, I never got knocked up. Phew!!!
See, I told you this isn’t my life. 🙂