your heart is a radio

Wait. We need this before we can start talking.

Okay now that I’ve gotten Donna Summer out of my system(for now), I’m excited to share that my new play “Your Heart is a Radio” is getting ready for staged readings! It’s been a year in conception and writing so it feels good. Did I say excited? I meant terrified. After all, it’s not really theatre unless you’re scared shitless, right? The crazy thing about this show is how personal it got during the writing process. Like split open my insides, put lights around them and throw them inside-kind of personal. But before we go any further, I need to tell a Fleetwood Mac story.

On the morning of my 26th birthday in Los Angeles, I loaded up my beautiful but hyper dog and took him for a hike. It was one of those perfect beautiful LA days and my drinking felt like it was under control (ha ha ha) and my relationship hadn’t gotten terrible so that morning was pretty fantastic. On the way up the canyon, I listened to one of LA’s classic rock stations. Before playing the above song, the dj, one of those guys with a gravely voice and endless rock knowledge, told the heartbreaking story of how “Sara” by Fleetwood Mac was written. At the time,  Stevie Nicks claimed the song was about a friend she had loved and lost (It would later be revealed that Sara was about a baby she had with Don Henley and lost making the story even sadder.) The dj’s story was impactful to me for some reason as I parked the car. I then just sat there and listened to the song and felt incredibly moved.To this day I cannot hear that song and not think of that morning, that birthday, that moment.

Flash forward 16 years later, at age 42 my husband and I were having a conversation about writing and he said, “Music has such a profound impact on you. You should write a show about it.” He’s one of my most succinct collaborators and as a director he has an insight into theatre that I don’t. At the time, I thought, Hmm that could be interesting but didn’t know how or what I’d do exactly. This lead to thinking about the moments and the songs I’ll never forget, like “Sara” on my birthday or the time I was blaring Tom Petty and again with Stevie Nicks and got into a car accident with my sister

Or listening to the Promise by When In Rome on repeat and pining for a douchey, hipster goth guy.

Or dancing to “Thinking of You” high on ecstasy as the sun came up.

Turns out my life was filled with these moments and I suspected other people’s were too. Like Donna Summer, my life, my loves everything could be heard on the radio. So I took to Facebook and asked,”What’s that song the immediately takes you back to a place or memory?” Suffice it say, my suspicions were right. Over 100 people responded with touching, funny, bizarre stories.  It was then I knew I was onto something.This wasn’t about the best song or your favorite song it was about music impacting your life and your life happening while music was on. The responses were genuine and really inspiring. I started really writing the show, with the help of my writing group, in January. Piece by piece the show came together as s series of monologues that I starting calling Your Heat is a Radio, a monologue mixtape”. As my own memories of songs shaped the monologues, the show got really personal. And scary. Like I said at the beginning of this post, terrifying. Putting that much of your soul out there is freaking intense and I clutched onto the script and didn’t want to let it go. Until this week.

My plan was to have the show up in October. Pneumonia had other plans, however, forcing the show–and all writing into hibernation. Feeling better and ready to finally birth this darn thing, I got the courage and opened the document. Turned out, it was in excellent shape. (I mean aside from needing an ending and having whole portions rewritten or tossed out completely. Aah theatre.) I dove back in this week and it felt good. Of course I had the requisite, “Oh my God. This is horrible and it should never see the light of day” but that’s art for you. Being sober has taught me to not pay too much attention to the voices of fear. I can hear them and acknowledge they’re in the room wreaking havoc, give them the finger and keep going. My story, this story has merit and deserves a life so fear can suck it. I’m now planning on a staged reading in spring and submitting it to some festivals. The cool thing about theatre is once it gets in front of people it stops being about me. The audience gets their own relationship with it and takes it somewhere else. And I love that. At the end of the day, I’m proud of it and I’m proud of me and that’s fucking huge.

 

 

Advertisements

the dig

One of the things I’ve grown to like the most about being a writer is research. My version of research is probably a little different considering the subject matter of my plays doesn’t require me meticulously recreating a 14th-Century courtyard or delving deep into the patterns of the human brain. No, when you write shows about Craigslist personal ads and karaoke bars, the research process is decidedly a little more lighthearted. Whatever I’m researching, however, the process of digging is one that excites me and since recovery its one I’m no longer afraid of.

feKLK1nCdQT

My past used to be like the attic of an old recluse. You had to be careful when you were digging around in there because you didn’t know what horrifying thing you might find. I had tucked away memories, thoughts, beliefs that I just knew were all too scary to deal with. I thought if these things were tucked away, they’d never hurt. And just to make sure, I dumped tequila and cocaine on them so they wouldn’t pop back up. Well, as you can imagine, that didn’t pan out the way I wanted. When I got sober, I had to unpack that attic.I had to look at all of the things I was hiding and drinking over. While uncomfortable and certainly not as fun as watching hours of karaoke videos on YouTube, it wasn’t terrible. It actually felt good. Not only did these ‘awful secrets’ from my past not kill me but a lot of them that I was convinced would kill me weren’t really that bad. I was miserable enough that I had to just trust that digging around would be okay. And it was. More than that, it saved my life.Digging-22

Several personal inventories, meetings, therapy sessions and years later, it doesn’t freak me out. My new show, Welcome to Ladyland, is in the research process right now. Since the show is maybe more autobiographical than my others, the digging here is more personal too. The show deals with relationships and as part of that I’m looking at my own behaviors and personality traits that maybe aren’t so great. Uncomfortable? Yeah. Ugly in parts? Uh huh. But I’m hoping by addressing these character flaws honestly, the work will also be really funny, human and uplifting too. The amazing thing about digging and being open to learning more about myself is that by welcoming it, nothing I find can ever hurt me, regardless of how deep its been buried.

Humanizing the Goddess

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.

Freyja

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:

Botticelli

or these gals:

charlie-s-angels-charlies-angels-1976-26220814-395-500

and of course my all time favorite goddess– Wonder Woman!

wonder-woman-lynda-carter.206202403_std

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.

Misunderstood

“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.

miss understood01

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! 

The Singing Room: A Playwright’s Thoughts

I’m taking a break today from my usual neurosis today to write about my new play, The Singing Room which opens here in Denver on April 27th and runs through May 18th. It occurred to me that even though I rewrote the show itself about 13 times, I’ve never actually written about the show itself. What was it about a story that revolves around a birthday party in karaoke bar that I was drawn to?  How did this play start out as one thing and morph into something else? And why was I obsessed with writing a show about karaoke?

483165_522877127754916_2139839505_n

I guess should first explain what the play is about. The central plot revolves around April, a fashion writer celebrating her 25th birthday at Sunshine’s Singing Room with her friends- Dan her timid  co-worker, Leslie her controlling but out of control childhood friend and Ava, her actress neighbor with a surprise of her own. This birthday party mixes with the regular barflies at Sunshine’s Singing room including Leroy, a karaoke legend in his own mind, Ruby a former, would-be rock and roll goddess and the owner of the establishment as well as our salty emcee for the evening Sunshine, herself. My own tireless research in bars in Los Angeles helped inform these folks, naturally.On the dubious occasion of her birthday, April finds herself at a crossroads and before the night is over thanks to the help of some friends and some strangers, her life might just get turned upside down. I was compelled to write about April mainly because that moment in a person’s life when you start to see through the cracks of how you live and start to think “Hmm. Maybe this doesn’t work for me anymore” is one that interests me very much. In my own life, I needed a series of those moments to happen before I made a change but since we’re trying to make an entertaining little show here, April gets to experience it in two acts. Lucky girl. But leaving the people and things that don’t work or that are no longer good for you isn’t always a happy ending either. Therefore, the story since its inception has never been clear-cut and the ending in my mind has always been ambiguous. This decision gave the show from the first draft to the last what we in the production have been calling “funny-sad”. You know, that hilarious yet kind of real and heartbreaking quality. The first few versions were primarily focused around just the birthday crew and April’s conflict. While funny and entertaining, there were parts that  read like a bad episode of “90210”. Something else was needed to give the story an edge. After toying with even more rewrites, we figured out that the story really needed more of the bar folks to help express the themes of love, disappointment and transformation. Duh. They were sitting at the bar the whole time.

As far as karaoke goes, I’m a huge fan. I love that normal people  can get up on stage and rock out, whether they suck or not. Karaoke is less about vocal prowess and more about selling it to the crowd. It’s also huge to face your fears to just get up there and do it. I myself, suck at singing but it doesn’t stop me from having fun and being ridiculous although now that I’m sober it takes a little more coaxing than it used to. Go figure. But these themes of fearlessness and self-awareness were interesting things to infuse in the script too. We spent a lot of time at karaoke with our casts from previous shows and we both always thought that a karaoke bar would be a great setting for a play. Just the very nature of karaoke gives real life this musical/music video quality which is otherwise impossible to achieve. Also, karaoke is so random and sporadic and putting that energy on stage was an exciting and terrifying proposition. A little terror, I find, is a good thing and certainly keeps the work fresh.  Since karaoke is different every time so is The Singing Room. The characters all have a set of songs they’ll be performing throughout  the run and the show will have songs by the audience too.

My husband, Michael Emmitt, who is also directing this crazy show (bless his heart), talked me off ledges, reorganized the script and even wrote some of the shows best lines. Like April, we recently had to look at things that weren’t working and make huge scary, changes. This winter, we both finally left the theater company we built. It was painful but as April discovers, it was even more painful staying in something that we didn’t feel good about. Yet, The Singing Room has survived! From rehearsals in our living room to last-minute cast and script changes, the show, like most of them do, has gone on. We’ll be performing in an incredible theater space that we were blessed to find. Miraculously, it feels like the show we always wanted to make. And when it comes to life and art you really can’t ask for more than that.

TweetUp & TalkBack Event for ‘The Singing Room’ on April 19th!

Bluebird2_f

I don’t often to use these pages for whoring of personal projects but I have an event coming up that I wanted to let you guys know about and if you are in the Denver area, I’d love to have you attend! My new play The Singing Room opens at Spark Theater on April 12th and to celebrate I’m throwing a #TweetUpAndTalkBack on the following Friday April 19th! What the !@#$ is a #TweetUpAndTalkBack, you ask? It’s a chance for my friends to see my new show at a discounted rate (only $15 bucks!), eat some snacks and attend a post-show discussion with me and the cast of The Singing Room!

The Singing Room tells the story of April, a Spain-bound writer who’s picked karaoke as the activity of choice to celebrate her 25th birthday. Lots of drinking, lots of singing and lots of revelations soon take place. The Singing Room is about growing up, waking up and finding yourself even in the most ridiculous and dramatic of situations. Based on my own countless days spent in bars and some personal birthday disappointments from the past, The Singing Room is a play with real karaoke meaning that every show will be different, rowdy, sporadic and hopefully, hilarious. I’ve never written anything like this and I can’t wait to share it with folks who get me. Talkbacks are a blast and a fun way to get audience’s reactions on the show. To sweeten the deal, yours truly can make a mean chocolate chip cookie  and whip up a life changing batch of guacamole. How you like me now, David Mamet! Boom.

But seriously, I’d love to have you. So if you are interested in attending, I’m taking reservations at urtheinspiration@hotmail.com. We’ve only got 40 seats so act now as they say on the infomercials. And now back to your regularly scheduled blog…

xo,

Sean

A Dream Deferred No Longer

droppedImage

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

– ‘Harlem’ by Langston Hughes

I remember reading those words as a young kid and thinking, “Wow. That sounds awful. A life without living your dreams? How horrible.”  I read them again at age 36 and thought, “Tell me about it.” True, I have no idea about what living in the crime ridden Harlem of Hughes’ poem is like but I certainly knew a thing or two about deferring my dreams. The fact is I buried my dreams for a long, long time. Sure it sounds terrible but you’d bury your dreams too if you were me.  It’s because my relationship was bad. It’s because my childhood was tough. It’s because I don’t look like a model or come from a celebrity family or own a Mercedes. Actually, it was because I was high and drunk for a couple of decades and when reality slips away from you for that long, your dreams are the first things to go. It’s insane how easily I let my dreams just walk out the door. Things I wanted to do since childhood just vanished and I let them go without a fight.

A few years into sobriety, I had what someone in recovery poetically referred to as “the country song in reverse”- you know, getting the car, the job, the wife and the dog back. And the dreams. Mainly, I got my dreams back. When I was a kid I wrote plays for my teddy bears and stories and poems and that’s all I ever wanted to do. Yesterday, I finished my second full-length play. Me the drug addict whose biggest accomplishment was finishing a case of two buck Chuck finished writing another play! One that people are going to come and see! How the hell did that happen? Frankly I have no idea. This process this time around was TOUGH. I wrestled back and forth with the plot, the dialogue, the characters. I second guessed my creativity, my sense of humor, my choices. I battled with it for nearly a year with tons of starts and stops in that time frame. Magically, a few days ago I surrendered and moved the fuck out-of-the-way. That’s when the miracles happened and here we are with a great version that will look good and hopefully make people laugh when it makes it to the stage this spring. 

However, most of that is out of my control. I can’t force people to love it or pay people to laugh. Or maybe I could but I’m way too lazy to mastermind that sort of manipulation. All I know is that I delivered on what I promised, I showed up and did the work. And today, that’s what a dream looks like. It didn’t dry up or rot or get put on hold. But maybe they do explode. Maybe they blow up and set a bunch of other amazing things, hidden wishes and  life-long desires in motion. I know. It sounds crazy but a guy can dream, can’t he?

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

You’d think after fifty years a play about an aging alcoholic couple who bickers and lures an unsuspecting couple into their web of insanity would lose some of it’s bite. You’d think that this subject matter would no longer be interesting or powerful. You, of course, would be wrong.

whos-afraid-of-virginia-woolf-movie-poster-1966-1020144132

Last night one of my favorite people on the planet joined me for an evening of theater. Being both of the alcoholic variety, it was fitting that our choice for such a date night was Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at Spark Theater.  For me, Albee’s masterpiece is the closest you can get to active alcoholism without having to pick up a drink. He so perfectly captures the delusional and paranoid thinking of the alcoholic mind without turning the show into a cautionary tale or after-school special. Each phrase is so pointed, so poetic and every twisted thought of the characters’ is laid bare on the stage. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is often referenced  by members of 12 Step groups when talking about alcoholic relationships and it’s easy to see why. The work captures the truly fucked up existence and warped behavior of an alcoholic couple. George and Martha prove that the couple who drinks together, loses their grip on reality together. Running at 3 hours, the show is an intense epic beast. I’m glad I waited for 4 years of sobriety to watch it again. Earlier in recovery, the work would have certainly fallen in the ‘too close to home’ category.

Like many of us, I lived through my own George and Martha moments while I was drinking. The “drinking and fighting” combination platter was one I ordered for many years.When I ended up being that person in that alcoholic relationship, I couldn’t believe it. I mean I knew better, didn’t I? Having grown up around drinkers who like to fight (or maybe they were fighters who liked to drink?), I always thought I’d never end up like them. I’d never identify with sad, awful souls like George and Martha. I’d never get drunk and yell in front of guests in my own home. Well, never say never. While non-alcoholics surely see George and Martha for the monsters they are, for me as a person in recovery it’s hard to not have compassion for them. If you’ve been there, you know how hard it is to get out and all of their crazy thinking seems rational to people like us.

If you’re in Denver, go see this show. Seriously. The acting is spectacular and seeing Albee live is something every American theater lover should do at least once. Spark’s productions are intimate and raw and this serves Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf extremely well. If you’re looking for a cushy opera seat and a production done by old, white corporate theater, skip this and go see Legally Blonde or some other mind rotting unoriginal piece of shit on stage. If however, you are interested in work that still has guts after 50 years presented with integrity, check this out. Watching this couple sink into alcoholic insanity on stage last night made me feel grateful for the life I have now, it made me feel grateful for artists like Albee who tell the truth about the human condition and made me feel inspired by theater and art and it’s ability to make us aware, alive and yes, even a little afraid.