by Ian Sullivan
Where does this story begin? 72 hours ago, when the cast was together for the first time? Six months ago, when I sat with Adam and pitched this ridiculous idea to him? Eight months ago, when Ilana inspired and empowered me to actually pursue this insane life-long dream? Fourteen months ago, when I conjured up the notion that we could do a great production of Midsummer in my backyard? Eight years ago, when we sat in Matt Hamilton’s apartment in Albany and imagined what this wondrous thing could be? 1977, when my parents bought this tiny house in a still under-developed suburb of Long Island?
I just don’t know. Who can trace the genesis of a story? The roots of a tree stretch and grow with its leaves, the beginning and ending forever in flux and unclear.
On the morning of June 21, I awoke in the dark basement I spent most of my childhood in, with many of the boys I spent that childhood with. I was a little sick, very tired, stressed, nervous, and excited at the same time. My first fear was alleviated when I walked up the stairs and saw the sun poured in through the windows. It was beautiful out. I think it’s a good sign for our endeavor; the universe will listen to you if it’s meant to be. We made coffee and ran the show for the first time as a full cast in the performance space. It went well. The show started coming alive.
When board arrived, the ten founders of the collective were together for the first time. “Happy Founder’s Day!,” Ilana said, and we all greeted each other. It was a victory that we had even gotten this far.
Among the first guests were my first-grade teacher, one of my best friends, and his wife. Then, the neighbors. Then, everyone. My friend, Erin, from high school came—she gave me this notebook. Steve was late, but he made it, and the crowd raved about the art he donated to the raffle. Mikey was there (“my mentor” was all I could say as I introduced him), and Allison, too. Jerry wanted to know when the show started. “Not soon enough,” he said. I couldn’t have agreed more.
When Kevin’s son, Braedon, wanted to paint, my mom set him up in her studio. Everyone loved her work. And the house. And the backyard that my Dad worked tirelessly on. “I haven’t worked that hard in years,” I overheard him say to my Mom. “You used to, all the time,” she replied with a smile in her voice. I remember him doing just that: from the minute he woke up, working like a dog (as he would say) on the house and lawn. But the older Jimmy Sullivan replies, “Now, I just think, I’ll do it tomorrow,” and he has earned that privilege. But for us, right now, there is no “let’s do it tomorrow.” We must put in the work on this day and every day forth.
When we collected the chairs and moved them to the stage, Kevin asked me, “Are we ready?” I just nodded, and he began to thank people for coming and then seamlessly transitioning into his first speech. I stared from the back of the audience. What a privilege to see Kevin Mundy performing again.
The show went by in a whirlwind, as they always do, until we were singing the final song. “If we shadows have offended,” set to the tune of The Water is Wide. Steve later said, “It made me feel good feelings.” Adam came to the stage and thanked everyone for being there. He said, “This will always be a special group for us, you who are here today.” Now, it seemed like we had fifty founders. What a feeling to look out onto that group of smiling, loving, and supportive faces. People were very kind in their feedback. Good weather. Good people. Good show. Good food. Best we could have possibly hoped for.
And yet, there was a moment after that when I retreated to the sanctuary of my house, like Gatsby in his room full of unread books. Some of mine have never been opened either. There is far too much to be read in any one lifetime, far too much to be done. But some things must be done, and I took that moment to appreciate what we had all accomplished in that little backyard. We started a theatre company!
That night we laughed so hard, telling stories from days past and present. In the end, we are all just a bunch of wacky, goofy, crazy people… just like Bottom, Quince, and Snug. And that’s just it. It’s why I picked the play and adapted it the way I did: because anyone can make great theatre. You don’t have to be on a Broadway stage, or working for a million-dollar theatre company, or have one hundred lighting units on you. Theatre does not belong to the elite and privileged. It is all of ours. It is our stories, told in the ways we need to tell them. If you have Bottom’s presence, or Quince’s vision, or if, like Snug, you just try really, really hard, you can make something stunning and beautiful. And maybe, through the sum of all your work and the work of your colleagues, for a couple of moments on that stage, you can become more that what you actually are. The greatest possible version of yourself.
One of my favorite stories about Founders Day didn’t happen on the 21st. It was on the morning after. One of my neighbors walked into the backyard and dropped something off for the collective. My mom and I were wondering where she and her eighty-one-year-old husband had been. He had been sick, and just wasn’t up for it. She had tears in her eyes and she apologized for missing the day. I opened the envelope to find a very generous donation. And this: “We’re sorry we didn’t make it to your soiree last night, but John was not feeling up to snuff so I thought we’d just chill out. But never let it be said we are not patrons of the arts. So, we have decided to contribute to the cause. We also know that you and ‘the dude’ (that’s what they call Tommy) will be a huge success. Best of luck. We love you, John and Gee.”
So where does this story begin? I just don’t know. Perhaps it’s fitting, because we don’t know how its going to end either… and I hope it never will.