Picture it: December 5, 1991. Trenton State College, Cromwell Lounge, 8pm. A healthy audience has come in and is seated, waiting for the lights to go down. Love Shack by the B-52’s is playing. It is opening night of another show by the student run All College Theatre. Relegated to performing in alternate locations all over campus and in some cases off campus while the college’s theater was undergoing a multi-year renovation, All College Theatre is proudly debuting the work of a new playwright, their very own Vice President of Publicity. The cast is assembled behind the makeshift stage and the playwright has just arrived. He is accompanied by TSC faculty member Kay Potucek and they are joined by an adjudicator from The American College Theatre Festival. The playwright, who also has served as the play’s director, is dressed in a makeshift tuxedo. In addition to his playwriting debut, this is also his directing debut. He is a sophomore Theatre/Communications major and this is a truly triumphant night. He excuses himself to speak to the cast backstage. After some hugs, words of reassurance and smiles, he takes his seat with the audience as the light dim and the sounds of REM play and the room fills with the song Losing My Religion. The show has begun
The show’s title- Running from the Horizon.
The show’s playwright- me.
They say you always remember your first. And I still do remember my playwriting first. I had dabbled over the years in small ways but this was my first big venture. As it was a student production, I had a budget of $500. And I came in under budget AND the show made a profit. It performed for only three nights, but each night saw the audiences grow. Friends and family attended over the course of the three nights. My journey to get there was something of a serendipitous one. The slot where Horizon landed that December of 1991 was supposed to have been filled by a professor who unexpectedly retired over the summer, leaving a gaping hole in the 1991-1992 season for A.C.T. I had been working on a play all summer and when the opportunity arose for a student directed production to fill that December slot, I jumped at the chance. The play wasn’t even done when I submitted it and yet it was still selected. I wouldn’t have had the time to direct it or finish writing it had I been cast in the first show of the ACT season that year. And despite everyone’s conviction that I would be cast (including my own), I was not and this suddenly opened my schedule and my sights wide open. The title of the show came out of a joke my roommate at the time had made when he was half mocking me and another friend discussing the Academy Awards the previous spring. The title stuck in my head and I began creating quotes around that title and characters. The creation of a title before all else is something that I still adhere to today. The subject matter and storyline of the play developed that summer.
The story is a tale where nothing is as it appears to be. There are nine characters and each one, in some regard, is on the run from something. The main story centers around a battered movie star on the run from her husband and a broken hearted comic book artist on the run from his sorrow. They are joined in a Schwabs-like drug store on Hollywood Boulevard by a teenage hooker, a desperate mother, a faded yet razor sharp beauty queen and a bitter socialite. The layers and secrets are peeled away one by one until the end when the comic book artist’s secret is finally revealed- the real season he came to the drug store. He had come in looking for sleeping pills to kill himself. Unable to stand the pain of what had become his life, he came in with one thing in mind, and leaves at the end of the play, not with the pills but with something more potent- hope.
Needless to say the comic book artist in most regards was me, and I had gone through a very similar experience that very summer. Minus the faded beauty queen and battered movie star, of course. I had hit an emotional rock bottom the summer of 1991 and when I did not give in and fold, I took that experience and used it to fuel my first play.
So celebrating December 5, 1991 and its significance and the significance of Running from the Horizon is very important to me for so many reasons.
Long before there was a Trevor Project and the “It Gets Better” Campaign, I stood on that dark precipice as a troubled and sad gay youth.
But I did not take that final leap.
Instead, I hung on for dear life.
And I wrote.
And I continue to write.
To say theatre and playwriting saved my life might be a tad dramatic-
But there is some truth and accuracy to that statement.
Actually, a lot of truth.
Had I given up that summer of 1991 I would never have seen Running from the Horizon come to life. I would never have seen the staging of three more of my plays or the creation of nearly a dozen more. I would have missed graduate school, and my time in Angels in America. I would have missed many, many things along the way.
One of the characters in the play says to the comic book artist- “Running from your problems is like running from the horizon, no matter how hard you run, every time to you look back, it’s all still there.” Those words still ring true for me to this very day.
I have considered a substantial re-write of Horizon over the years. Have tried to turn it into a book. Have tried re-writing it over and over. It even spawned two sequels in what I like to call the Horizon Trilogy along with A Damning of the Doves and The Dance of the Midnight Angel. But I can’t. Not now, anyway. Not yet. Like any playwright, I fantasize that when I am finally “discovered” there will be a wild call for all my plays and the “rediscovery” of my early work. Maybe then a re-write will be warranted. I will have to wait with eager anticipation to see. That play was written at a particular time in my life for a particular reason. And I must honor that. For now.
Over the years I have been tempted to give up on the writing. For good. And both times I can now see it was also times when I was ready to give up on myself. But I kept going- both artistically and personally. I’m not ready to throw in that towel just yet- not by a long shot!
As far as that ACTF adjudicator, she met with me and the cast afterwards and gave us some great feedback. We did not make it to the regional ACTF competition that year with the show. I did, however, emerge with something better- something that has endured a little longer…
Some of the best friendships of my life have come out of the theatre, and specifically out of that play and those who supported it and me-
Many of whom are still in my life to this day-
Thank you Facebook!
That magical cast of characters is pictured here- Becky Crowe, Michael Keith Manning, Christine Perkins, Johnny Burling, Ben Palombo, Mary Ammann, Bitsey Garza, Jenny Morris and Joy Glover. As is an impossibly young picture of me and my two leads, Keith and Perkins. My college nickname “Sparky” was borne the second night of the production and has stuck ever since.
December has been something of a lucky month for me when it comes to productions of plays, both my own and plays I have acted in over the years: the most recent being a staged reading of a commissioned work last year honoring Ben Franklin’s amazing wife Deborah Read Franklin in Dear Deborah…
Today- am I where I thought I would be twenty years ago? Nope. I am somewhere far more delicious than I ever could have dreamed or expected. As far as running from the horizon- I’m still running but instead of running from it, I run right towards it as often as I can. It ain’t over til it’s over. So here’s to twenty more fabulous years of writing and friendships and that magical thing known as theatre.
It does get better.
It gets down right fabulous.