Write what you know.
That’s the only thing I know – at least when it comes to writing. Obvious, I am. Genius, I am not.
So, here’s the thing. Tech Week for The Lost World begins TODAY. One week from now and it’s all done. And then I can die.
We have been working hard on this play that I wrote. My second of three actually. Two produced and one that needs a little more nurturing before I kick it from the nest. (That’s my Winter Project this year).
And yet – I am NOT a theater guy. At least, that’s what I’ve often said. Now that I’ve seen myself referred to as “local playwright” a number of times in print – I realize my protests are starting to seem a little silly. You write and produce a couple of plays, you have to expect you’ll be called a playwright. It’s sort of right there in the name.
The thing is, I came to all of this accidentally. A happy accident, sure – but one that was completely born from “right time and place”.
One night out to the theater to see my wife star in a local community theater production of The Sound of Music was all it took to add such rich color and depth to a life that was starting to growing a little stagnant. Not on the personal end of things but certainly professionally. I’ve got a good job BUT it’s not the love of my life. It’s not my passion. It’s not what you hope to attain when you are so little and young and dream so large.
But this one night out transported me and when the curtain closed, I knew I had to have a little of what she was having. So, I went and auditioned for their next show, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and the next chapter in my life began to take form.
Cuckoo’s Nest (and the other plays I appeared in since) gave me that much needed break from reality. The ability to step from the stresses of grown up life and just play make believe. To grab hold of the age-old rallying cry – “Hey Kids, Let’s Put on a Show“. To reach back to that much younger version of myself who used to feverishly write little “sci-fi action movie-esque” plays and then somehow coerce an entire neighborhood of ragtag kids to drop the Whiffle Ball bat and put on a highly choreographed, loosely scripted battle royale in our backyards – AND somehow convince our parents to pony up a dime to see our makeshift rendition of Raiders of the Lost Ark – albeit with a Big Gulp cup standing in for that golden chalice.
My newfound roles infected me in a new way. I started paying careful attention to the scripts; their structure and form. I’ve been writing since I was a kid – and gave it a go a few times over the decades at writing short stories and novels. None of them ever stuck the landing. I’d get an idea but would start pulling at the threads and when I was done – they never resembled what I had pictured in mind.
Often times, I was trying to write the stuff I enjoy. Action. Conspiracy thrillers. Flights of fancy. Supernatural creepshows.
I may like that stuff BUT I can’t write it. Every time I try, it fees so forced.
Then I got laid off from my job in the Summer of 2009 and found myself; day-after-day standing on a playground – watching my kids play. It was my break each day from the job hunt. I noticed a group of women there – just doting Stay-at-Home Moms connecting with each other while their kids played – and knowing a few through my wife, I wandered over to talk. That year long experience gave birth to The Monkeybar Mafia.
I wrote what I knew and where I needed drama in the script, I just let my imagination take over.
All of this rambling preamble has a point.
The Monkeybar Mafia is very personal to me but it’s also me learning how to ride a bike.
With The Lost World, I ripped the training wheels off.
I got the idea in the one year that spanned between finding Monkeybar a home and sitting there with an audience watching it. The Gateway Players had agreed to stage it BUT it wouldn’t be produced until the following Fall. At my 20-Year High School reunion, I connected with so many old faces. At one point, I was standing at the bar – ordering a drink – when this huge muscular guy looked over at me and said “Drink’s on me.”
I had no idea who he was but thanked him all the same.
“That’s for making me laugh almost every day.”
I apologized and told him I had no idea who he was. He said his name. He was one of the guys from our varsity football team. His circle and mine never collided. Not in any meaningful way. And now here he was buying me a drink.
Turns out I had befriended him on Facebook in those early days after joining up when you accept almost every Friend request that comes your way. While he and I never really chatted online – it turns out he was a fan of my stupid sense of humor. In the weeks leading up to the reunion, I had been doing my part to drum up interest by writing a humorous daily “Reason #[FILL IN THE BLANK] you should go to the 20 Year RHS reunion”. That’s all it took for him to come and he told me he was determined to buy me a drink.
We laughed a bit and then erased the past by talking about our present – sharing stories about kids; in particular – our daughters and the shear number of times manly Dads get called upon to wear fairy wings at tea parties.
I looked out at the crowd that spread and I had two quick thoughts.
1. If you want to slay a high school demon, use laughter.
2. “There sure are a lot of people here. I wonder what it would be like if only six people came – and not just any six. Six people who hated High School the most.”
So that’s how this came to be.
Once again, I was self-charged with writing what I knew.
And I want you to know that while TOTALLY fictional, each character holds some part of my DNA or is born from someone I knew. They are inflated, exaggerated pieces – with dialogue made up completely from thin air – but in writing this, I wanted to pay loving homage to the Halls I once roamed in hopes that it would spark memories in everyone else. These experiences are shared and common.
I knew a “Haley Pierce” (our “Basket Case”). I heard rumors about her and snickered when I did. And then I started working with her – during my Junior Year – and saw her for who she really was. A reputation does not define a person and this girl was at heart, a truly good but now slightly-damaged girl and once I got to know her, I hated myself for even once following the crowd. How dare they? How dare I?
Our tough guy jock “Parker Knowles” springs from the guy I chatted up at the bar that night but in a different way. I don’t know anything about him back in the day but he surprised me years later at that bar; challenging my notion of who I thought he was. I genuinely enjoyed chatting with him at the reunion. I thought that would never be possible in this life. Everything about Parker is fictional except for the fact that he’s got depth; much like that old high school acquaintance.
“Danielle Tenneman” (the “Princess”) is one of the Mean Girls we’ve all run across in those days when hormones are raging. I’ve found when we all grow up, we evolve and there are girls then who I would have dismissed with a “Ugghhh… Bitches” while secretly pining for them from afar – that now I see have become loving and caring Moms. Most everyone grows up.
“Theater Guy – Jamie Connor” is a memory of the first time I ever knew someone was gay. Just knew it my bones. My school was a sea of same-looking faces. We had like one or two African-Americans in my class. One Hispanic. One Asian. (Guess that fulfilled the school quote.) I felt like a minority because I went to a Protestant church and everyone else went to the Catholic one at the top of the Hill. So, needless to say – it was white bread. This guy was always just himself. Now, he wasn’t publicly OUT (not in that day and age) but you just knew. I became friends with him when I co-starred in Annie as Rooster Hannigan. He was a big-time theater guy and once I starting working with him on a daily basis, I really got to know him up close. Just such a great guy, who is so successful these days. But back then? One of the most courageous guys I knew.
“Michael Donatello” (“The Geek”) is my great shame. I’ve gone my whole entire life thinking I’m a pretty nice guy but once upon a time – and way back – for some stupid, fleeting moment – I took aim at one weaker than I. This kid was so gangly and awkward (let’s call it gawkward). While I had my close circle of friends, I was kind of shy and reserved outside that circle for most of my early years. Around Junior Year, I started getting a little more self-confidence and started speaking a little louder. Just enough that other cliques heard. So, I tasted a little more popularity. Not Big Man on Campus levels but enough that I could flit between social circles. With that came a little bit of stupid teenage boy hubris. One day, when I was walking down the hall with some newer friends, this kid caught my eye and started calling to me wanting to chat up a new Nintendo game he got (he and I would trade to each other on the side). I freaked and ran up to him – and in an instant – had the sickly stupid thought to dropkick his locker door. His hand got caught in it and I just kept on going, laughing it up. The next day, he showed up with a splint on one finger. I saw that and my heart sunk. For him. For the humiliation. And for what stupid, forsaken notion made me do that. I apologized then and I wrote this part to repent all over again. I’ll never stop feeling bad about that.
And “Hannah Belle” – The Artist. The character is original but the inspiration comes from a very specific time & place. When I moved to town – at the age of six (under the cover of Summer) – nobody would play with me. That is except for the little girl who lived down the lane. For two straight years (from 6 to 8) we were BFFs; exploring the woods behind her house – braving The Lost World. There was never anything romantic. Not then. Not later. Not in the years between. Not ever. I just never felt that way about her nor she about me. And though our paths parted before elementary school was done – we did walk out, arm in arm, to our High School graduation. A symbolic moment. We started school together. Let’s leave it by each other’s side. That girl is one of the reasons I had such a great childhood. When I wrote this play, I wanted to reach back to that time – that simpler time – and pay fitting tribute.
So there you have it. There’s a lot of me in this – even if so much of the drama was made up as I went along. This isn’t The Ed Humphries Story. Nobody is going to pay good money to see that. I know I wouldn’t.
But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that seeing this thing come to life and seeing this amazing cast take my mere memories and words and just completely make them their own – it’s incredibly surreal and humbling and inspiring. I may not move on far from this place but I don’t know that I ever need to.
Because what these guys have down – and will do – has already made all the difference.
The show runs this Friday October 17th and Saturday October 18th. Indian Ranch in Webster. $30 gets you dinner and the show. Dinner is at 6 pm. The show is at 7:30 pm. Tickets can be reserved now at IndianRanch.com or by calling 508-943-3871.