A year-and-a-half ago, hours before The People Downstairs was set for its world premiere, a global pandemic forced American Stage to shutter. Our former director of production, Jerid Fox, placed a ghost light on Scott Cooper’s magnificent set and we—the cast and creative team—gathered to watch the stage lights fade as that single, bare bulb flickered on.
Over the last eighteen months, as ghost lights guarded darkened theatres across the globe, I, like you, have watched and, more accurately, felt the world around me collapse in sickness, grief, and fear. I’ve also felt humanity harden with hate and—the thing that scares me the most—the condemnation of our fellow humans.
The People Downstairs, set in my hometown of Buffalo, is about how so many of us struggle in some way to hold on to a sense of home when it slips away from us. It’s about benevolence and the need to rescue our children—no matter how old they are—from pain. It’s about finding an unexpected family as we try to hold on to the past. And, as my fellow Buffalonians would attest, it’s about the undeniable healing power of laughter. Because, let me tell you folks, in Buffalo we laugh, loudly and often. My dad says it’s the hard cold winters that make us so hearty with laughter.
The People Downstairs is, quite simply, a play about love, laughter, and kindness. Yet somehow, back in early 2020, I felt like that wasn’t enough. Surely, I had more to say with this story than be kind and laugh, which frankly sounds like something I learned on the first day of Montessori school. So, I turned to our director, Chris Crawford, hoping he could unpack the play and discover that it was about something deeper, craftier, cleverer. What Chris found was, it’s a story about wanting to be seen. Ah-ha! Now that’s more like it! The need to be seen is far more profound than be kind and laugh.
In fact, the need to be seen might not only be profound, but I also believe it’s one of the biggest collective challenges we face; especially now, with social media giving us a distorted lens through which to see one another. So, the big question is, how can we see one another? Is it even possible? I don’t have the answer. But now, after living (and overeating) my way through the pandemic, the anger, and the civil unrest that has plagued this nation, I no longer shrug off be kind and laugh as a simple tenet. I’m now proud to say that I wrote a play about LOVE, KINDNESS, and LAUGHTER! Because perhaps those three words are how we can at least try to see one another.
Oscar Wilde said, “I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.”
There is no denying that we’re living in an age of outrage, and I’m certainly not suggesting that theatre will cure all that ails us, but I do think that it can and will give us a space to heal, to laugh, to cry, and hopefully to “share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.” In other words, to see one another.
So as ghost lights dim, replaced by rising stage lights in theatres from Broadway to Buffalo to St. Petersburg and around the world, I welcome you back to American Stage. And I wish you all much love, kindness, and laughter.
Playwright, THE PEOPLE DOWNSTAIRS
Info about THE PEOPLE DOWNSTAIRS
- Wednesday Preview, September 15, “Pay What You Can” at the door or $20 in advance
- Thursday Preview, September 16, $30
- Wednesday and Thursday Evenings & Saturday and Sunday Matinees, $44
- Friday/Saturday Evenings, $50/54
- Opening Night, September 17, $70*
- * “The People Downstairs” Opening Night will include a pre-show mingle starting at 7 p.m. along with two complimentary drink tickets for each Opening Night ticket buyer.