Michael John's Mixtape : #Everyoneistrying
Written by : Michael John Ciszewski - creator & performer of OTP's Everyone is Dying and So Am I. Graphic design by Joanna Mahoney.
While we're not yet sure how to move forward with our theatre-making practice during this pandemic, I want to be as transparent in my decision-making and development processes as possible. Join me with MICHAEL JOHN'S MIXTAPE, an inclusive creator's diary, where I check-in with you on IG TV and my blog, keep us moving with curated playlists on Spotify and Apple Music, and try to manifest hope in these uncertain times. #EVERYONEISTRYING
My name is Michael John Ciszewski. I’m an actor and a creator based in Boston, MA. Since 2016, I’ve been developing on my debut solo show—a queer pop fantasia that endeavors to heal trauma and mitigate fear through dancefloor collective gathering, confession, and communion.
My solo show is called Everyone is Dying and So Am I and it is currently scheduled for its first full production April 29 - May 9, 2020 with Open Theatre Project at St. John’s Church, JP.
Meanwhile, society at large is gripped by this pandemic. Many are scared, many are suffering, and many have died.
I’m feeling very vulnerable about my place in all this.
I am an artist in a time of cancelled gigs, closed theatres, and mass anxiety. At present, I was supposed to be performing in a run of Martin Sherman’s landmark gay play Bent with the Umbrella Stage Company in Concord, MA. The day before our scheduled opening—with costumes hung, bows blocked, and performances glowing with life—our run was cancelled in the same wave of closures that brought the theatre community at large to its knees.
I’m still raw from that cancellation.
I am a creature of momentum. I feel most alive, most present with my life in motion. I was moving at full-steam through my days to bring life to my creations. I’d rise and run to my part-time post as part of ArtsEmerson’s General Management staff, assisting with logistics for the many companies—foreign and local—that perform in Emerson College’s spaces. Midday, I’d shift focus to Everyone is Dying. Work had been rapidly and beautifully unfolding. We were in meetings and conversations daily—about design, fundraising, community engagement, and production. My co-director Sarah Gazdowicz and I have been meeting weekly to workshop movement for this latest iteration. From meetings or a workshop, I’d commute to Concord, zone into the intense world of Bent, and prepare to work through life through historic, painful societal tumult. I’d get home just shy of midnight, indulge in a pint of ice cream (an everyday care-taking ritual of mine), and get myself to rest before repeating.
Momentum, momentum, momentum… exhilirating momentum!
And now, slow. Like everyone else, I’m home—moving from room to room, tweet to article, hopeful project to merciful distraction.
I mourn the cancellation of Bent. I figure out how to live in motion more contained. I look forward to realizing this production of Everyone is Dying.
That is our hopeful project right now. And considering the circumstances, I might wish I had the foresight to give it a less triggering title.
However, I’ve lived with this show for four years now. It’s called Everyone is Dying and So Am I because it is wrought from fear and panic, mortality crisis, darkness and despair. But I made it for me as a salve to all those things. I made it in a wide-eyed optimistic attempt to accept all those things. Everyone is Dying—Christ, it sure seems so… and So Am I. Well, yes. Duh, I guess? Of course… Okay. What do we do in the meantime? We must try and live.
Call that platitudinous or general. The show is less so. It is my big-hearted queer survival art, and I share it—in each of its evolutions—as a community healing ritual. Whenever we can gather and celebrate life together, we will. And the show will go on.
Will that be April 29 - May 9 here in Boston? We don’t know, and I’m scared of the likelihood it may not. Like everyone else in the theatre community considering their spring and summer programming from this precarious pandemic perch, we’re trying to figure it out. We’re hoping to make that call by April 1. Whenever it may be, it will be.
Over the weekend, we had our second production meeting, and it was a Google Hangout with our full production team of brilliant local artists beholden to a gig economy brought to a standstill by a public health crisis. The experience was simultaneously sobering and soothing—to coexist in our reality, to smile and breathe through this shared experience.
For the record, I’m a twenty-six year old queer man and I’ve been in the theatre for half my life. Despite my youthful glow and good health, I’m likely approaching the end of the “early career” phase of my work at large. I work very hard to be gratified with a professional life that has consistent work and exhilarating, enriching collaboration. That being said, this project feels like my first time in the driver’s seat in such a significant way. In my experience, I have felt challenged to feel or be confident. I fake it pretty well because I have to. But my time in the closet conditioned me to question space available for me to fill and whether or not I could be accepted as a strong leader in my life or work.
I have been trying to step up to that mantle more and more in my life in ownership of that privilege and in solidarity with members of my communities and communities with which I ally who do not have the access and resources that I do.
So I am leading my company. I am steering my ship. I am standing in my self and my art.
I need to continue to live and lead in the spirit of the show I’ve made. I need to be transparent about my fears and my losses with my communities, in hopes of healing them. I need to put myself out there and put on some pop music magic to move us. If we’re going to go through this painful surreality, I want us to go through it together and I want us to grow through it as much as we can.
I’m calling my check-in series Michael John’s Mixtape. Every one will come with a playlist—available on Spotify and Apple Music—to move us. Every one will also have a video component on my Instagram. This particular set of entries around processing my solo show will be called #EVERYONEISTRYING. In the arts sector, our communities, and our everyday lives, we are. And it’s my way of gently shifting my show’s potentially triggering title into the shiny and illuminative light of the work itself.
I hope you’ll join me here, as we all try to move through these unprecedented circumstances as artfully and intentionally as possible. I hope you’ll join me as we look forward to healing together, in the theatre, as soon as we can.
Watch the first video here: