Before I start blogging on regular again, I feel obliged to briefly catch you up on how the run of The Untitled Sam Mullins Project, my latest one-man show went.
It was a real journey with this one…
And it could not have started out worse. In June I premiered The Untitled Sam Mullins Project in Montreal, and it was a complete disaster. No one came. I hated the show. The audience hated the show. I was having meltdowns on stage and it was just a train-wreck every night. I vowed never to do the show ever again.
After Montreal, I had three weeks with which to write a brand new show for the rest of my tour. So I spent the first week in NYC, before returning home to Toronto to write the brand new script. And I did. And it was a satisfactory script. BUT! I didn’t finish it until 5 days before my opening in Winnipeg, and I knew that that wouldn’t be enough time for me to get it on its feet and ready. So then I cried a bunch and realized that I had two options:
Retool the piece of shit show from Montreal. Or quit.
And truly? The only reason I didn’t quit? I couldn’t financially handle the blow of NOT doing it. Even if it went poorly. I had already paid the festival fees, made the deposit on my accommodations and paid for my flights. I was prepared for more failure. I just needed to go make some of that money back.
So I flew to Winnipeg, frantically rewriting my old show on the plane – and I honest to God was still writing it in the first 90 minutes of my tech rehearsal. The main goal of these rewrites was simple. I promised myself:
Even if it’s awful, I just want to talk about things that I, at age 28, give a shit about.
“Look ’em in the eye and speak from the heart.”
I locked myself in my U of Winnipeg dorm room for 48 hrs and tried to memorize this new show. Then opening night in Winnipeg, I walk onstage – and it just. Felt. Right. And better. I felt like I was speaking in my voice again all of a sudden.
The reviews came out, and then I was fortunate enough to have a sold out run in Winnipeg. And then in Edmonton. And then even in the city which has never really showed me the love – Vancouver.
The lesson? I guess sometimes you need to fail in Montreal.
I needed to have those meltdowns onstage, because in those moments when I’d stop the show to engage with the audience in an honest way, it felt like I was coming up for air. I was like, “Oh yeah! This is what it’s like to be present. And to be talking about things that are relevant to this moment. This! This is the thing.”
A special bond happens between you and a piece of work that feeds you. That takes you so many interesting places. That brings you so many beautiful people into your life. You become grateful for these 24 stupid pages.
You were in this thing together. And like any relationship, you had to work at it to make sure it was a worthwhile one in the end.
After one of my final performances at Havana (where I used to wait tables in Vancouver), instead of my usual thanking everyone for coming and plugging my friends’ shows, I read this:
I have a special guest here tonight, and I wanted to take the opportunity to publicly thank Gina Ness, she’s the GM of this very restaurant – I was an employee here for 3 ½ years when I first started out doing storytelling and comedy. I was living a few blocks away, and I came in here with a resume. I was just this totally lost 23 year old who needed a job. I came in here wearing a baseball hat and a hoodie and begged for a job.
Gina hired me on the spot.
And I wouldn’t have been able to do any of the things that I did early in my twenties if it weren’t for the support that I received in the community of this restaurant. Gina gave me the freedom to sort of come and go as I pleased, while I was booking off work to do comedy shows and to tour.
We’re all so apologetic, I think, as artists about working the Joe job. But knowing that I never needed to worry about paying my rent, and knowing that I would always have a place to come and be in such a loving, positive environment freed up a lot of brainspace for me to focus on my artistic endeavours.
I did my first one man show in this very space. And Gina encouraged me to do some of my first self-produced sketch comedy shows with my friends in this very space – now we all write comedy for the CBC.
I’ll always remember one thing that Gina said to me when I was working here: I was in the weeds one Sunday brunch shift, and Gina recognized that I was in the first stages of a panic attack, so she put her arm around me, took me aside and whispered in my ear, “It’s just eggs. We’re just selling eggs. It’s okay.”
Gina, I love you with all of my heart, and I’ll never forget all the things you did for me while I was figuring out how to be an artist and a man.
It’s YOU and employers like you who are the ones who TRULY support the arts.
The reviews ended up looking like this:
At a festival overflowing with world-class talent, you shouldn’t throw around the title “master storyteller” lightly. Especially with a young performer such as Sam Mullins, whose career “saying words in front of people” is only going to climb higher.
But God, he’s good.”
–Winnipeg Free Press
Hilarious and profound.”
Mullins knocks it out of the park.”
Captivating. He marionettes the audience through hilarity to heartbreak.”
And now we return to our regularly scheduled programming.