Before starting work on a new show, I do all kinds of wacky shit. From lurking in the library for hours to watching random shows on DVD, I try to dig up inspirations and try to get my brain fired up. Sometimes, an idea will happen right away. Other times, it takes months to simmer. I also mess around with numerology and etymology for characters names. I like naming characters things that mean something, even if it’s just to me. In this quest, I stumbled on website of goddess names. I was recently told that I write women very well. And I was humbled and relieved by that comment. After all, women have been my constant companions since I was little which is odd seeing as I grew up in a house with major macho energy. I’ve always looked up to women as goddess, heroes and saviors. Nevertheless, my relationships with women are many and storied but that doesn’t mean they’re any less complicated.
From my mom and sister to childhood friends and teachers, I identified with women at an early age. Yet my life with women isn’t just a big episode of Will and Grace. My most tumultuous relationships with bosses, friends and family members have all been with women. The biggest fights, the nasty breakups, the wounds that didn’t heal? All with women. People would say when I was a kid, “There’s Sean hanging out with the girls again.” And this little gay kid loved his dolls and the goddesses he saw on TV like this one:
or these gals:
and of course my all time favorite goddess– Wonder Woman!
My admiration for women is so great that maybe that’s part of the problem. The ones in my life don’t fly invisible planes or fight crime. They’re human beings who make mistakes and inevitably let me down. I had a dramatic altercation with a work colleague last fall (a woman of course. Can somebody say pattern?) which made me rethink the way I handle my relationships with women. I asked myself some serious questions. Did I have problems with women as authority figures? Was there still stuff from childhood that I didn’t forgive my mom for? And was I Sean Paul Mahoney, that Sean from “Sean & the Girls”, a little bit sexist? Gasp! It’s hard to admit this stuff but my repeated history with these matters suggest they require further investigation. These bombshells might not seem like the things that would make for hilarious comedy but they certainly have me inspired. The ability (thanks, recovery!) to reexamine the way I’ve always done things and relationships serves me well as a playwright. I think societally we lump gays and girls together because we do love each other but also just because we both sleep with men. We forget we are still mortal men and women who speak different languages. And now all of this is starting to sound like a very interesting and very funny show.
All I know at this very, early stage is that is one gay man and 10 women with goddess names. The rest I’ll find out as I keep writing. I’m looking into myths, anger management classes, books on rage and watching womencentric films. All in an effort to know this story better than before. As a sober writer, I’m lucky enough to work these questions out in a script and not back away from the truth about myself. The best case scenario? It all makes for a hilarious hit play. The worst?I gain a little perspective and forgiveness for the goddesses in my life. And maybe even for myself.
“Why the hell didn’t they laugh at that joke?”, “What are those old people near the front of the stage whispering about during the show” and “It’s a quiet crowd. Oh my god everybody hates it and hates me” are the kind of ridiculous things that race through a playwright’s twisted mind while sitting with an audience for the first time. At least this playwright’s mind. Having just opened my second show, I know these thoughts very well. I recently wondered, after not getting the kind of response I had anticipated if that maybe people didn’t get me and maybe I was in the wrong line of work.
Self-doubt is part of the deal with being an artist so I try not to put too much stock in these kind of thoughts. Plus, being sober and having worked my ass off to try to like myself and give myself a break as much as I can, worrying about what people think is a fruitless and boring activity. Still, we creative types are always on the hunt for approval and I have specific ideas of what that should look like. Just hours of thunderous laughter, glowing reviews, tear-soaked faces and write-ups in the New York Times are all I really require to feel properly loved and appreciated. Clearly, I know how self-involved I’m acting and if you’re going through really difficult time and reading this makes you want to punch me in the face, I totally get it.
First off, I should be clear that the response I was talking about was actually fine. And I mean this honestly. I really have had worse audience reactions. Like the couple who walked out or the guy who fell asleep during my first show or the audience member who wanted to meet face to face to tell me how bad it was. The thing about this crowd’s particular reaction on this night it was just “meh”. It felt like a solid mediocre and as a playwright that’s almost more insulting than being Fell Asleep During Your Show guy. Nevertheless, life and our show both go on and lots of work on this project and others had to get done. With some brainstorming and technical tweaking, we addressed some little glitches and then let it go. That’s right. The guy worried about what’s on the minds of mostly strangers, just let it go. We’re in the middle of a run and we had to move on. And that’s when something remarkable happened. By letting the show do its own thing, miracles happened. Reports of the highly sought-after laughter and tears combo platter came in from honest sources. Audiences howled at jokes that previously went unnoticed. Rhythms and magic moments never before seen were happening. Mainly, the show found its groove and looked like a show we set out to make over a year ago. While trying to figure why or why not people weren’t reacting exactly the way I wanted them to (the nerve) turned out to be an exercise in futility, something occurred to me about the show. It has an opinion and it tells the truth. Does every joke work? No. Are there five minutes we could trim off? Sure. Will it change drastically in the next round of rewrites? Most likely.
But am I proud of The Singing Room? You bet your ass. This singing, joke telling, tender, brilliant cast makes everything I write so much better and are worth the price of admission alone. Also, the show takes risks and doesn’t say apologize for who it is. Yet there’s even a bigger reason I’m proud of it. A friend whose been caring for her dying spouse made a point in telling me the other night how wonderful the show was and how grateful she was for a night out. It was then I realized that this whole making art thing isn’t really about if people love me or how amazing I am. It’s about telling the truth and hopefully providing light for other people. If everybody doesn’t get it or love it, that’s okay. Maybe a couple will. And if sticking to that mission makes me misunderstood, then its a badge I wear with honor.
If you’re interested in seeing it for yourself, grab tickets here!