That is the opening to "In The Dark" my autobiographical piece whose opening night was four years ago tonight on September 8, 2006 at Prop THTR in Chicago, Il. This world premiere production was directed by Prop THTR co-founder and Artistic Director, Scott Vehill and took place a year after the piece was selected to be part of the New Play Fest where it was directed by Emily Lotspeich. Leading up to opening night, I was excited and confident because this was my story. I wrote and memorized it. Above all, I lived it! Yet I never in my wildest dream could have imagined that this piece could get so far. It had been a few years since I decided the radio industry did not want to let me in so I had better attempt something else, but what? Screenwriting. I took a thirty minute film script I had written for a script writing class in college and turned it into a full length. I attempted to create other pieces. I began taking acting classes when I learned the school offered courses in writing plays taught by G Riley Mills. I had never even considered writing plays, but I figured there were basic aspects of story telling in plays I could take and transfer to films. Within two months, I had written my first full length play and began on my second. Then G suggested I tell my story. Could I do it? Would there be any interest? Of course not! I have a boring life. Mr. Mills disagreed and insisted. I mentioned the idea to actor, director, instructor, Eileen Vorbach who immediately stated, "If you write it, I'll direct it." Ultimately, she did not, but the mere fact that she was so interested and believed in it and me, I had to write it. I began to craft the piece. After several months, I had a draft. I soon heard from G that he contacted friends at Prop who were in search of new pieces previously unproduced and told them his friend, Israel, had a special piece which he would be sending them for consideration. Before long, I heard that Prop was interested in the piece and then I received word from Emily Lotspeich that my show was selected and that she would be directing for New Play Fest.
After a successful showing as part of NPF, I waited for the call which eventually came when Scott Vehill expressed interest in moving forward with the project which he would direct. I originally viewed the piece as a one man show in the same vein as a John Leguizamo piece, but I began to think I would want others in the show with me. Laura Sturm, actor, director, instructor, whom I respect greatly insisted that considering my training with her and others, it would be best to have others in the show since it would allow me to play off of them in the various scenes. So I asked my friend, Madelon Guinazzo who jumped at the chance to play nine different female roles. For all the male roles with whom I would interact, Ivan Ortega was brought on board.
I had been in shows in grade school and high school. I had even been the lead in a second grade play, but this was different. People were paying to come see what I wrote and to watch me carry a show. Scott Vehill was marketing me as a young Al Pacino. There were articles in the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times discussing how this piece was influenced by John Leguizamo. This was Prop THTR, one of the most respected theater groups in the city. This for me was the big time. How many people who start writing a film or theater piece ever finish the first draft? How many get it read upon completion? How many get it produced, star in it, and do so on a Chicago stage? On top of that, the fear of failing and embarrassing friends and family drives me so the pressure was mounting.
I arrived at Prop in the middle of a performance of "Hizzoner" written by and starring Neil Giuntoli. As I waited for the show to conclude, a couple friends, Lisa and Sunshine, walked up to express their excitement and best wishes. Wow, this is really happening and there are friends here to watch it. When "Hizzoner" ended, I walked into the theater and was greeted by Mr. Giuntoli. We exchanged pleasantries and I voiced my concerns for my pending performance, but Neil offered some encouraging words of wisdom and prayed with me that I may be guided through the performance. Madelon, Ivan, and I were ready. An announcement was made welcoming audience members to the show then the lights went out and it was time to go. As the song from Evanescence played, Madelon whispered to me, "Thank you for giving me the chance to help tell your story." She then paraphrases my dear friend, Therese Rowley, by saying, "Now let's go show the world how a blind man sees."
The night was a special one for me as was the run and the feedback from audience members after each performance. A special thanks to the many wonderful people who believed in me on route to opening night. Scott Vehill, Stefan Brun, Diane Honeyman, Emily Lotspeich, Neil Giuntoli, G Riley Mills, Madelon Guinazzo, Ivan Ortega, and so many others who played a role in making this happen!!