Theatre Summit Interview – Spring 2005

I Will Make You Orphans
Written and produced by Sean Lewis

May 11 & 12 at Axis Nightclub.

In a tale told entirely in rhyme Sean Christopher Lewis weaves together the story of Sean Boogie – a confused white boy in upstate NY who believes he’s “blacker” than his African American poetry professor. Fed by the rap music he listens to and the videos he watches he lives a constructed life of thugs, money and hoes. However, when his girlfriend becomes pregnant and his teacher questions where exactly this persona is coming from Sean is left asking not only who he is but who he wants to be. A hip-hopera, a ghetto comedy and a social drama I Will Make You Orphans is a genre-bending experience about what it is to ‘be’ and what it is to ‘wannabe.’

Who are you and where are you from?

My name is Sean Lewis aka Sean Boogie and I am from upstate New York. Though, right now I?m in Iowa getting my MFA in Playwriting from the University of Iowa?s Playwrights Workshop.

Why do you do theatre?

Because I?m angry and have a lot on my mind and this is the cheapest and best medium for what I want to say. It?s the same as you always hear- the communal aspect- real change occurs person to person in my mind. Also, I really love that there?s no money in it (seriously and a bit tongue in cheek) it does well to keep your purpose and ego in check.

How did you get started in theatre? Was there a formative experience that made you want to be involved?

I had been studying film and English literature at SUNY-Binghamton but never really thought about acting. I was on the wrestling team as well and when I injured my knee I ended up in a movement class trying to rehab it. My teacher happened to be a theater professor by the name of Anne Brady and she encouraged me after that class to go out for some shows.

Then what happened?

I got into some shows and didn?t get into some others. I got really lucky and got cast in a national tour of the Imaginary Invalid while I was still in school- and so I did that for about 6 months. The connections I made on that show opened up some other opportunities and I found myself working for awhile?

Talk about your recent theatre experiences. What have you been up to lately?

Well, lets see it?s been a busy year. Since I saw you guys in Cincinnati I ended up getting into the grad program out here in Iowa. I did a Brian Friel show at Shadow Lawn Stage in New Jersey. Played the principal in a show I helped create with the Ashtar Theatre of Palestine- whom I have a strange little relationship with. Saw a play I wrote read at the Orlando Shakespeare Festival?s PLAYFEST in January and right now am playing Giuliano in Big Love at the Riverside Theatre.

Who is the biggest influence on your work and why?

Sam Shephard has always been a big one. Public Enemy and Sage Francis. Saul Williams. Charles Bukowski. William Faulkner. Jonathan Franzen. The Sex Pistols. English playwrights like Philip Ridley, Anthony Nielsen all the way back to John Osborne. Fragments of each seem to make up a larger whole in my mind.

What brings you to Columbus?

BlueForms brings me to Columbus. Not literally, of course. But I saw them in Cincinnati and was like ?wow, this is really important theater.? Which is something that is dying- you know- really important theater for a younger generation. I met Matt and Acacia and the whole Blue Forms family and talked with them and it was really wonderful- because they were great people. In New York there is some good/important work going on. Not much, but some and usually it is being created for the wrong reasons (as a stepping stone or so someone can meet girls- like seriously people are doing theater to meet girls!) and the people behind it are awful.

It made me start to realize that the next major theatrical movement is not going to happen in an epicenter like New York or Chicago but in smaller cities or on the road. I tend to consider myself a bit of an instigator of this and saw BlueForms as a kindred soul, if you will. So, I decided to check their scene out.

What about the Columbus Fringe Festival is exciting to you?

Having an audience anywhere is exciting to me. I?ve never been to Columbus either so it should be fun. I love seeing these new and hungry companies as well.

Will this be the debut of your show? If not, when and where have you performed it?

Well, the show is always changing and growing and getting better so it always feels like a debut. However, it wouldn?t be what it is without the following places that put it up in many different forms: TIXE Arts Center, the Bowery Poetry Club, Changing Spaces Gallery, Theater Et Al?s Salon Series of New Work and the Cincinnati Fringe Festival.

How did this work come about? Where did you get the idea?

I had been threatening to do a solo show for a longtime and finally a producer I knew in New York was opening
a new space and they asked if I could perform my solo show at their opening. Of course, i didn’t have a solo show but I said yes anyway and spent the next two months going through all my old slam poetry trying to turn it into a narrative story. Over time it developed into something I was really proud of and wanted to show to people.

Why do audiences need to see your work here and now?

One we need to see more possibilities of what a theater experience can be. What I always loved about hip hop was how it wore its influences on its arm- rock, punk, blues, jazz- it was evident that this “new work” had a history to draw on and yet was truly unique in its own right. Also, the DIY aesthetic of all I need is two turntables and a microphone and I’m a band. Well, for me all I need is a stage and a chair. It’s theater that speaks to a very contemporary audience- I mean I write plays for the kids I grew up with who would never think of heading into a theater. I think if I can make something powerful and with meaning that at the end of the day they would spend money on- then I’ve really done something.

What do you want audiences to get from your work?

I’d like to bring up questions while still entertaining- I mean while people are laughing at parts of my show I hope they also question: “why do we appropriate culture? what gives us entitlement to say
certain words, to behave in certain ways?” Also, once again to open up what theater can be- it can rhyme, it can be a long story based rap song, it can be anything.

What was the last really great piece of theatre/performance art you’ve seen?

I’d say Pursuit of Happiness was the last thing I actually stood on my feet for. It was nice in this vast theatrical landscape to find people who- although not working in the same way as me- were as desperately humanistic in their work as I attempt to be. Philadelphia acto
r Frank X in The Tempest was a revelation as well- that was like 2 years ago.

Is there a theatre artists you fantasize about working with?

Honestly, no. I mean there are people I would be honored to work with- but I think it’s important that the artists of our generation begin becoming those people in their own right- making their own work. Pushing new voices forward whether those voices be directors, writers or actors…

What does the future hold for you and your work?

I don’t know actually. I have two more years in the program at Iowa. I’ll be doing I Will Make You Orphans as part of the Riverside Theatre’s season next year and I’ve just started a company out here called the Working Group with some of the artists I’ve come into contact with. I think we’ll make some great art, we may have to perform it in the middle of the street for anyone to see it, but I assure you- it will be very good.

What does the future hold for theatre in general?

I think we are on the cusp of something big. Many of the heads of theaters are growing old, literally, and are by-products of the burst of regional theaters in the 70’s and early 80’s. This is why programming has gotten dull and producing in this country has become difficult. I mean, these people did wonderful work FOR THEIR TIME. It’s not disparaging I just think we forget that theater is evolutionary and moves
quick in that respect. I mean I Will Make You Orphans will probably not be relevant in 20 years and I am aware and happy about that. Because, hopefully the art form
and society will have moved forward in such a way that it will be made obsolete. I think it’s something we as artists are scared of- being unneeded or making work that isn’t lasting.

No work is lasting- I mean Shakespeare has been for about 400 years- but who else? And will it last another 400? Probably but no on knows. But to truly answer the question: as I travel around I see more and more artists doing exciting work away from NY and outside of what has been deemed (for whatever reason) “legitimate” theater. Some of us are going to start taking over the legitimates and some of us will make our own work but I think that we are going to see some great again very soon and in high volume.