In this intensely personal one-man play, award-winning actor James Morrison recounts his beloved son’s struggle with and ultimate recovery from brain cancer. It is a tale of losing a language and learning a new one, of a child teaching the parent, and the power of hope in the darkest of times. Please reveal the ending to your friends. It may save us all.
The play began as a 15-minute monologue called “300 Steps,” about walking from the main entrance of Children’s Hospital L.A. to the room I lived in for three months with my wife and 10-year-old son, Seamus, as he was being treated and recovering from brain tumor surgery. I read it to the company of actors and writers in Risa Bramon Garcia’s In Rehearsal at The BGB Studio in Los Angeles, and after the reading, one of the company members said, “I’d watch ninety minutes of that.” That’s all I needed to hear. I had permission to tell my story.
Two months later, I had the first draft and I read it to my friend Kim Maxwell in Ojai, one of the co-founders of the Ojai Playwrights Conference. She offered some valuable dramaturgical feedback in addition to suggesting I submit it to the Conference for development. Robert Egan, the Artistic Director/Producer and co-founder of OPC, and I have known each other and worked together since the mid-1980s, so it was a no-brainer. About a month later, I got an email from the OPC literary department asking for a draft of the play. Three months, and several drafts and submissions later, I got a call from Bob inviting me to join them to develop my play and I told him I would only do it if he directed it. He consented and here we are.
Bob recently called upon the playwrights to share some thoughts about our experience at the Conference. This is what I wrote:
In the third act of my life, after forty years of work as an actor and writer, nothing compares to being seen and appreciated, respected, encouraged, and assisted, my work and vision cultivated in a such a collaborative, caring and creative free exchange of ideas, as it was while my play, Leave Your Fears Here was being developed by the Ojai Playwrights Conference.
In my lifetime thus far, I can winnow down the number of determinative events, those things that have defined who I am as a person, to four: 1) Meeting the love of my life, 2) The birth of our son, Seamus, 3) Seamus’ bout with brain cancer at ten years old, and 4) The play I wrote about how he faced it, was cured from it, and how he and that event changed my life and how I perceive our mission as human beings.
Under the nurturing guidance of visionary director and dramaturg Robert Egan, who saw what my intention was when I didn’t, and deftly, kindly and generously facilitated my realization of it from the page to the stage – which is the dream of both the playwright and the actor, after all – we were able to create what I feel is more than just a one-man play. It’s a father’s admission – my thankful insistence – that none of us can make it alone in this all-too-brief life and that making that need for unity, oneness, and service known to each other is essential to our survival as a species. The Ojai Playwrights Conference proves and provides that code of conduct year after year, like no other collaborative ensemble of artists I’ve ever had the honor of being invited to join. I’ll be forever grateful for their generosity.