Playing for Keeps

When people ask me how the premiere of See Amid went, the only word that comes to mind is success. And sure, you know, it was a tiny space at the Philly Improv Theater and our second performance had about thirty in the audience and if you watch the recording without a script in your hand it could be difficult to make out the exact words because I didn’t have the sense to pull the volume up in the clip before exporting and uploading to YouTube — and that’s my bad y’all. I’d reupload it but it took six hours to export and upload and I don’t have that kind of dedication at this moment to getting a slightly less shitty recording of my play onto the internet — and yes, sorry, all play recordings with a single, stationary camera are kind of shitty. It tends not to matter how good the show was - and I should know, I’ve seen most of the broadway shows I’ve watched through streaming video recordings.

Chelsea Cylinder as Daisy, Matt McWilliams as The Snowman

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I digress — the world premiere of See Amid the Winter Snow was a huge success! I took a step back from all of my social media the past week (or maybe just went back down to my normal presence on social media — I know I went ham on self-promo during the week of. Hadn’t found my own publicist at the time) and intentionally skipped a week of blogging to breathe for a second. Breathing unfortunately didn’t really happen last week — I took a lot of cater-waiter shifts and worked a couple overhire customer service at Walnut Street Theatre to offset the working time (and mostly money) I sacrificed to devote the entire tech week to See Amid. I drove to Lancaster to see my parents for the first time in a month and catch up on their trip to Greece and my premiere weekend. I visited with my grandfather and Sandy for the first time in about a year and we had a great conversation about faith and sexuality. I happily created time to network. I was a busy guy — It was hardly the do-nothing respite of a week I thought it would be, but that was certainly all right by me. We did some good things.

So anyway - in about 400 words just now, all of this to say: I’m back. See Amid was a successful debut as a writer/producer playing for keeps - and I like to boil that down into two facets that I consider it a success: it was an emotional success, and it was a financial success. In a perfect world, I don’t think I’d care about money at all - and in my previous two play premieres (Good Knight and Goodbye in 2010 and The Thousand-Year Rose in 2016), money was not a consideration whatsoever. It had to date always been all about how the experience felt to see a story I wrote come alive and to see people enjoy it and laugh along with the jokes I’d written and I’d ride that high for weeks and point to it as a major life milestone — and don’t get me wrong, producing a world premiere is a major life milestone, but when there’s actual money on the line like there was with See Amid, it’s sobered me.

I’ve taken this exact picture at each of my world premieres: Good Knight and Goodbye in 2010, The Thousand-Year Rose in 2016, and See Amid the Winter Snow in 2019. This also looks a bit like my alternate costumes if I were a character in Super Smash Bros. Or my Pokémon evolutions

The arts are wonderful. I’ve always considered myself more of a comedian whose medium of choice is in writing dialogue than a theatre artist whose genre of choice is in writing comedy — but semantics aside, I’m an artist. I’m a writer. I’m a comedian. It seems the only good reason to pursue a career as an artist of any type is if you both have talent and can predict future success. Every step in your career is something of a risky move and you have to be ready to accept what happens and move on to the next opportunity (which as someone with as risk-averse of a personality as mine — I’m an Enneagram type 6 wing 5, for those of you that means anything to — I’ve picked something of a torture chamber of a career). I’m still building to a full-time career as a writer, but I’m learning that this is the case. Having broken even and turned relatively significant profit with See Amid, I’m confident that I could do it again. I believe I have a degree of reproducibly bankable talent.

Breen Rourke as Santa, Deborah Glassman as Maureen Gaines Claus, Chelsea Cylinder as Daisy, Abdul Sesay as Mitchell

If I’m going to someday make a living only on writing and producing, it’s not going to be able to be a premiere every couple years, like it’s been six years between the first two and three more between the second and third. It’s got to be every year or every couple months, even. Which is good news - I’ve got three new scripts I’m currently working on: One light-hearted comedy screenplay, one dark comedy play, and one dramedy musical. In addition, I’m getting a brand-new draft of See Amid the Winter Snow ready to submit to agents. The drafts that follow actual productions of my plays have tended to be the best versions — because it’s no longer theoretical whether something works or doesn’t. You have proof and a memory of what it looked and sounded like in show and you can say, “why the hell did I ever write that?”

Chelsea Cylinder as Daisy, Abdul Sesay as Mitchell

My goal is to see a production of See Amid that I had no hand in creating beyond the script itself. (Or really, a production like that of any of my plays — please check out my page on Heuer Publishing if you want to produce Knights or Rose). After our premiere, I really think there’s potential for wide appeal in the play, and perhaps a full equity production. Most theatres are always looking for holiday shows and most holiday shows are either overdone or they just suck. I hold onto the belief that See Amid can aim higher than where I’ve previously submitted: It’s a show written for a cast of 8 actors (and most professional plays will have no more than 10 actors, which was the reason from draft to draft, I cut See Amid down considerably from 14 actors to 8 — the more ya know!) and I like to compare See Amid to a boozy batch of eggnog: it reminds you of everything you loved about the holidays as a kid but it’s enjoyed best by the adults at the Christmas party.

Matt McWilliams as The Snowman, Alexa Wilder as IdaLynn

I can’t afford to really “bask” like I did the first two premieres. I’m playing for keeps now — and that money from our premiere went straight to my rent in the month of October. Writing is a weird career move, but I have no other real bankable talents or interests — so it’s going to be a road like this for most of my life. It’s going to be one hell of a ride. I’m happy to have you along for it, because in the immortal words of Heidi Hansen,

“Does anybody have a map?

Does anybody maybe happen to know how the hell to do this?

I don’t know if you can tell but this is me just pretending to know

So where’s the map?

I need a clue, ‘cause the scary truth is:

I’m flying blind

And I’m making this up as I go”

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