On August 15th, Project Y presented a reading of GOODNESS by Sean Christopher Lewis. Recently, we got a chance to talk to Sean about his new play.
MB: What was the idea that sparked GOODNESS?
SCL: I had read WHAT IS THE WHAT by Dave Eggers. I started thinking about the idea of a white writer, in the first person, detailing the story of an African child soldier in America. Around the same time the NY Times did a photo pictorial talking about Susan Sontag’s book about how people are engaged by the suffering of others. Suddenly, I was drawn to it. Alex, the photographer, is basically me. I have a lot of self hate and questioning. I’m a liberal who is really scared of liberals and conservatives. Basically, all of these things collected until I started thinking about how difficult it is to do anything ‘good.’ Tha invariably for anyone to do something ‘good’ something ‘bad’ must have happened.
Then I started writing.
MB: You’ve got this pretty amazing career. You just came back from directing in Rwanda before the reading. Did that experience in Africa change your experience of GOODNESS?
SCL: It did. When I wrote GOODNESS the African sections were all book research. The past two years I’ve been fortunate to go and work in East Africa. This past summer in Rwanda was really amazing- and then I got off the plane and went straight to the reading. It made me further appreciate the plays existence. I’m proud of this play, it’s a play that needs to be staged not simply about what it says regarding global atrocity but what it says about us as Americans. Plays aren’t doing that anymore in my opinion. Many avoid the American conversation that Miller and Williams started, that Naomi Wallace continued… I think our playwriting vocabulary as a country has grown vastly more imaginative and personal- which has its definite good points. However, the discussion of who we are- not as New Yorkers or Midwesterners, etc- but as Americans. Our country is politically divided, red and blue, and so are our conversations. We like to stay in our spectrums. I think the theater should demand more than that- at least the theater I make. This is the start of an ongoing conversation I’m interested in regarding who we are right now. Because we’re fucked up. And no one is talking about it.
MB: Since we’re on the subject, what was your reaction to the reading? Were there any differences from previous readings/drafts? What’s the next step for GOODNESS?
SCL: The cast was the best ensemble I’ve gotten to see- it made me fall in love with the play again. Because you have enough readings at all these places and eventually you fall out of love, you lose hope in the possibility your voice will get a chance to speak. You start to question if you have to boil everything down and censor it if you want notice. All playwrights are basically idealists and egotists. They want a better world but they also think they can bring it to fruition.
Then you see bad readings, or only readings, and you say if this is how I’m gonna be articulated then forget it.
We made some slight changes. Which helped. But mainly a good cast and some care from a director make an amazing amount of things happen. Plays aren’t meant to be read on paper but that’s all people do, read it, put it in a pile, move on.
MB: What are you writing now? What else are you working on in your many different talents – writing, directing, or acting?
SCL: I just got back from Performance Network in Michigan where I directed a reading of a play called RUST that I’ve been working on with NY Times Magazine journalist Austin Bunn. The rest of the year continues to be crazy. In October I’ll direct GOAT SHOW in Canada at Theatre Kingston. Then November I’ll act in my two solo shows KILLADELPHIA and JUST KIDS across the northeast at Touchstone Theatre, Sandglass Theatre, Hartbeat Ensemble and Pontine Theatre. and then the writing- I have commissions at Interact Theatre in Philly, Hancher Auditorium in Iowa and Adirondack Theatre Fest in NY that are getting finished up. And a musical I have been working on for the past two years is finally moving toward the workshop stage so I’ll have more than enough taking me toward December.
Read Sean’s bio page.
Pictures of GOODNESS taken at the Hourglass Tavern in New York City.