Playwright Sean Michael McCord is the winner of SETC’s 2018 Charles M. Getchell New Play Contest dedicated to the discovery, development and publicizing of worthy new plays. Enjoy the following Q&A interview with McCord about the story behind his winning play, Moving, and his path to becoming a playwright.
Q: Where did the idea for Moving come from?
McCord: The story takes place in a Silverlake (Los Angeles) apartment that was my first bachelor pad after graduating from UCLA. I lived in that place for five formative years in my twenties, and was intrigued with the idea of how many people had lived there before me, and how many more would live there after I left. One of my characters in the script says something very similar.
When it came time to write my first full-length script, I knew that I wanted to place it there. The story begins in 1985 on the day that Paul — a not-very-successful Hollywood screenwriter with whom I share some biographical details — is moving out of that apartment and meets a cute girl who is moving in. Each act of the script jumps forward several years as different characters move in or out of the same space.
I loved the idea of placing a story over 30 years in one house, and how that space might affect the people who inhabit it. Of course, the day you move into or out of a home is always inherently dramatic, as it is a time of great change. The format allowed me to explore different important passages in many lives: the day you meet someone special, the day you fall apart, the day you move away, and the day the you truly commit to someone. Ultimately, it’s a story of how the choices we make when we are younger impact us later, and how we get wiser over time.
Q: Has Moving been produced? If so, where?
McCord: At the time that I submitted the script to SETC for consideration in June of 2017, the script had not been produced. However, three months later it became the debut production of the Charlottesville Playwrights Collective (CPC).
The CPC began with an idea that I had upon returning home after my second semester at the Hollins Playwrights Lab in the summer of 2016. It had been impressed upon me that one of the tools a successful playwright needs in their toolbox is to self-produce. We have a strong theatre community here in Charlottesville, so I approached my fellow playwrights and suggested we start a company devoted to producing our own works. The model is that, if a writer’s script is selected, they produce their own show with the support of all the other writers.
Moving opened in September of 2017 and ran for five shows in a small 40-seat theatre. We had an extremely successful run, sold over 200 tickets, everyone got a stipend, and the company still actually made some money! It is an exciting venture and demonstrated that audiences remain hungry for new works. We are gearing up for our second production in, ironically, March of 2017. I will have to miss the second week of that show because I’ll be in Mobile for SETC.
You can read a bit more about the production of Moving and find some links to our press coverage on the Charlottesville Playwrights Collective website here: http://CVillePlays.org/Moving
Q: What are the other plays that you have written/had produced?
McCord: Moving is my first full-length play that I have written and the first to be produced. Interestingly, it started out life as a 10-minute short which I wrote in 2012, then later expanded. I have written a number of short plays since 2011 that have been performed mostly in Virginia, although one short was part of a touring festival that was also performed in Kentucky, California, Colorado and Stuttgart, Germany.
Most of my short plays are comedies, or at least have strong comedic elements, and give me a chance to tell an interesting story in an economical manner.
When I originally wrote the full-length version of Moving, I called it a triptych to reflect that it is, in many ways, three short plays interlocked by one location. Since then, I have tried writing more full-length plays and I’m starting to get the hang of it.
Q: When not writing plays, you work at the University of Virginia Library. What’s your job there?
McCord: I have been at UVA for 26 years, since my wife and I moved from NYC to Charlottesville in 1991. I work in IT (Information Technology) and historically have changed jobs every few years, but the Library has been very good to me, so I plan to stick around. My specific title is A/V System Engineer for the Harrison Institute for American History, Literature, and Culture. Basically, I’m the guy who keeps the screens running in the University of Virginia Special Collections Library and research center.
I also have to give a shout-out to my employer, both the Library for allowing me to leave for six weeks over the summer to pursue my MFA at Hollins and the University for helping to pay for my education with their employee educational benefits. I wouldn’t have been able to devote so much of my time to this pursuit without that help.
Q: You were a screenwriter in your younger years. What pulled you into playwriting?
McCord: It is the inherently collaborative nature of theatre that brought me in and keeps me here.
I lived and worked on the fringes of the film business for much of the 1980s, but left after I realized that I still loved “the movies” but didn’t really care for Los Angeles. I moved to New York, met my wife, and we started a new life in Charlottesville. The first nearly 20 years of that time was devoted to raising a family and having something resembling a career, until our kids got old enough that they didn’t need me all the time and I began looking for a creative outlet. When my son was 12, he was cast in a play here in our local community theatre, Live Arts, and I began volunteering my time. There, I discovered Live Arts’ own writing group, also coincidentally called the Playwrights Lab. I started hanging out with other writers, and I wrote my first short piece, a highly personal monologue about a memory of my father, that was selected and performed in their summer shorts show in 2011. After that, I was completely hooked. What I love about playwriting is that you can just get together with your friends and put on a show, and if it’s worthwhile, the audience will come.
Q: What is your reaction to winning the Getchell Award?
McCord: I am stunned and humbled. When I was first contacted and told that I was one of five finalists, my honest reaction is that it is an honor just to be nominated. I realize that sounds like a truism, but I know some of the other nominees and their work, they are friends of mine and great writers, and so I was flattered just to be in their company. When I later learned that I actually won, I was in a state of disbelief for a while. I actually kept checking the SETC website regularly to make sure that it hadn’t all been a big mistake. I sometimes still feel that way.
I can’t possibly tell you why my script was selected over some of the others. I feel overwhelmingly fortunate to get this award and for the opportunity to attend SETC in March and meet so many other writers and theatre professionals. Between producing the show at the end of last summer, seeing how audiences responded to it, and now seeing a reading followed by a critical response session at SETC, this is turning out to be an amazing time in my life. I am deeply grateful. I also cannot help but notice the synchronicity in writing a play about the decisions we make as young people and the impact they have on our later lives, and now seeing some of the choices I made in the past leading up to this point. Everything so far tells me that I am on the right track.
A staged reading of Moving by Sean Michael McCord will be held Friday, March 9, 2018 at 7 p.m. as part of the 69th annual SETC Convention in Mobile, AL. The reading will be immediately followed by a in-depth response session and critique.