Sean Christopher Lewis' Killadelphia... of The City of Numbers opens at John Jay College's Gerald W. Lynch Theater today for a four-day run. Here, the solo performer and playwright discusses that work – about the wave of murders in Philly during the summer of 2008 – fond (and not so fond) memories and memorable moments in New York theater.
The L: What projects are you currently working on?
Sean Christopher Lewis: Well, for the past 6 months I’ve been touring and re-tooling a new solo piece entitled Killadelphia. It’s based on interviews and experiences I had over the past year working with lifers at a prison North of Philadelphia. Basically, these guys are paid 50 cents an hour to paint some of the 3,000 murals in the Philly metro area. Their stories and ages are insane – incarcerated at 15, boxing matches with Muhammad Ali, music scholarships to Carnegie Mellon – and it’s sobering to see how quickly a life can get lost in our urban areas. I went on to interview victims, too – which was heartbreaking. Politicians, local hip hop artists, filmmakers and every day residents are heard throughout the piece as well. It’s pretty much taken over my life all for the better and led me to interact with community activist groups as well as theaters in each city I’ve taken the show.
What long-term ideas and projects do you hope to develop in the months and years ahead?
Next, I’ll be taking a two character piece called The Aperture to the Toronto Summerworks Festival. It details the story of a child soldier from Uganda who escapes to the U.S. only to have a photographer in Baltimore make him pose for mocked up pictures from his past – a bit of an investigation of the fetish we tend to have for global atrocity. It’ll star a brilliant Canadian actress (and playwright) named Jennifer Fawcett.
After that a friend of mine named Austin Bunn – who used to write for the Voice and New York Times Magazine – has invited me and a few dramatists up to Michigan to create a performance piece based on some of the recent auto plant closings… Clearly, I have a really cheerful few months ahead of me: genocide and financial collapse! Oh, it’ll be a summer full of giggles and horseplay…
What’s the best show you’ve seen recently? What did you like about it?
I caught Mike Daisey’s Monopoly in Colorado Springs a month or so back… I have a great affinity for the solo form and it was cool to see the wonderful simplicity in his work. Great storytelling – and he does something that looks easy in his performance but is actually quite hard – marrying historical fact, with political insight all through a personal narrative. I mean, politics and history lessons are two really hard sells. But he makes the journey so definitively his that it really allows us to live the story with him. The guy is incredibly funny which doesn’t hurt either.
What show are you most looking forward to (other than your own)? Why are you excited about it?
I’m hoping to see a tour of Telephone by the Foundry Theatre. I think it closed almost two months ago and I’m still hearing people talk about it. It sounds fascinating – three inter-related vignettes about the history of the telephone and our inability to communicate – sign me up.
And Our Town at Barrow Street. I haven’t caught it yet but I like a play that people either really love or really (and I mean really) hate. Besides, have you seen the interview he gave to American Theatre Magazine this past month? He claimed the future of the American Theatre was in refrigerator magnet theater. I don’t even know what that means… but somehow, just somehow, it makes me want to see him direct one of the most iconic plays in the American theatrical cannon.