Playwright/performer Sean Christopher Lewis (You saw him here in Killadelphia and heard his words in ConAm’s Annual Xmas Spectacular.) is in the middle of a long run in Philadelphia, where Killadelphia is known as City of Numbers. A week ago he posted on the InterAct Theatre Blog about his experience in Philly and what it’s like to be a one-man, touring performer. The post is painfully honest, and bracingly sincere.
So, two weeks in and two weeks left to go…
It’s been a total experience coming back to Philly with CITY OF NUMBERS- ups and downs… It’s been strange in terms of coming to a place you once lived, walking around the places that you used to know, seeing people you once hung out with everyday. There’s a ghostly-ness to that. It’s unsettling in its own right.
Touring theater is not easy. And solo theater is even harder. You’re by yourself, by design and all the good and bad that happens you basically have to sort through on your own. There is something to be missed about having cast mates nearby to make a joke with, get a beer with- to have community with. I think many of us who get into theater do it for that reason- community.
My hope was to have that with the audience. They are basically your acting partner in a show like this and the audiences have been wonderful: word of mouth, numerous twitter, facebook and blog posts, lengthy talk back sessions and emails thanking me. That’s been amazing. Last night we had a girl from Deborah Block’s theater class at Temple who said: “I didn’t like plays before this class and I heard this was a one man show and I didn’t want to go but this was amazing. And I’m so glad I did.” This may seem self congratulatory at first- but I share it for a specific reason: this is why you do plays. This is why you share them.
A few nights ago a woman I mention in the piece named Meg Guerrerio- a close friend of a victim discussed in the play came and stayed for the talk back and said: “thank you.” In a week or so I should be going into her school near Kensington to move some desks out of the way and do the piece for her students. A group out of Constitution High invited me in the other day and it was fantastic to do the show for them and then work with those students as well… kids from areas that I talk about in the piece- kids who don’t ever see the verbatim story of their neighborhoods on stage.
We’ve had sold out houses which is wonderful. We’ve had a few great reviews, a few mixed and a few antagonistic and that’s always, well, not disappointing but a reality.
You know artists never want to talk about the bad reviews (the good ones we’re usually cool with! lol) but the bad are important too. If only to remind you about the process of this career. When I chose this route it wasn’t for fame (and clearly not for fortune) but more specifically for the pursuit of a more honest and realized self. Heady right? I liked that as a craftsman you continued to grow in your work and that each piece led to the next. And crafting art, as we know, has no grading scale. Basically, the same show the girl from Temple loves is the same one a critic attacks and is the same show still that another few critics in Ohio and NYC loved.
In the end if you believe anything that anyone says- you believe it all.
So, you are again, left with yourself.
I can say quite honestly the piece is the best and most challenging thing I have done. As a performer the run has been a gift. I’ve seen myself grow within the piece- all the muscles of an actor developing under the stress of no net- my writing continuously informed by the thoughtful and lively discussion afterwards.
I’m thinking now this is probably not the blog post I was expected to write! I’m sure it’ll be a bit of “don’t write about that!” But I see this really as an open letter to people who want to do what I’m doing. I mean that’s how I learned: by reading about Bogosion and Spalding Gray, devouring interviews and dreaming of working in that tradition. I learned from how they dealt with being loved and being reviled (often for the same show in the very same city) and saw their strength and determination as something worth emulating.
And this run has been an experience in that. So, fruitful and eye opening. Like I said- a true gift. Yet, it’s important to talk about the realities of what we go through when we live a life like this.
So, if somewhere there is someone reading this- manuscript, performance piece or anything else in their mind- I urge that young writer out there chiseling at their own masterpiece to be strong. Some people will love what you do. Some people will hate it. Some have more public voices than others but in the end you will be left with you. And the things you have made. People come through and review you every night when the show ends and they clap or they come up to discuss the work with you.
And it is work to remember. A task building towards something greater.
And on that note- thank you Philadelphia- you’ve been an incredible host.