Out But Not Down: ‘Lovefool’ Charts the Post-Pandemic Pivot of its Silly/Serious Queer Creator

Photo of “Lovefool” co-creator and performer Michael John Ciszewski by @iAmZekeD.

BY SCOTT STIFFLER | It’s a case of Local Boy born and raised in NYC who moves away, gets some schooling academic and otherwise, garners raves for his stage work in Boston and London, has his heart broken into tiny pieces, and scours the carpeting for the shards with which to commence its reconstruction—oh yeah, and not for nothing, but the narrative arc also gets a goosing from an unexpected plot twist called “COVID” and the native son in question’s full-circle return to NYC residency, brand new solo show in tow.

Lovefool is the name of the show, and Michael John Ciszewski (he/him/Local Boy) is its co-creator and performer. Lovefool marks the third largely autobiographical work from Ciszewski, notable in part for its indication of a stylistic and thematic departure for this early career creator. Hmm… “departure” may be a bit of a stretch, given the word was plucked from suppositions made by reading the show’s advance press, and what we know of his 2019 debut solo show, Everyone is Dying and So Am I as well as the 2020-premiered The Sun is Sleeping—a feature-length film he created in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Having said that, here’s an educated guess as to what we’ll see in Lovefool: There’ll be plenty of laughs, of course. (Ciszewski cranks out tasty little verbal bon mots delevered withphysical aplomb at a rate akin to the high-speed conveyor belt that turned Lucy and Ethel into candy factory failures.) But as its title implies, Lovefool packs a bittersweet kick, the kind that only happens to a heart exposed enough to be hurt. Fitting, then, that the show will be one of the last before its host venue—Asylum NYC—abandons its longtime West Chelsea digs because the building it’s been housed in is slated for demolotion. They’ll be okay, having announced an early 2023 relocation to 123 E. 24th Street in the Flatiron District. But boy, talk about bittersweet! That “happy” accident of having booked his NYC Lovefool one-shot at a venue soon to have certifiable “You can’t go home again” status hammers home Ciszweski’s current station in life, and reinforces admirstion for the intestinal fortitude it takes to forge ahead in life, always, whether compelled to by circumstance or simply because one sees the value in change and growth.

In the name of clarity and “don’t take our word for it,” Chelsea Community News recently posed a few questions to Ciszewski via email and we’ve posted the exchange below.

Scott Stiffler for Chelsea Community News (CCNews): In the advance press for Lovefool, there’s mention of its use of ritual as a way to not only reflect, but to reconstruct. Is this, as we’ve noted, possibly a “departure” for your work, or is it more like a broadening out for what’s always been there?

Michael John Ciszewski (Ciszewski): While my three shows do come from the same impulse towards healing ritual, Lovefool was a very intentional pivot into embodying the joy and whimsy of my queerness as such has become vital for me moving through these past few years. I needed to make work that was, as I have put it to my collaborators, “radically anti-suffering,” and that has meant pulling away from more traditional theatrical structures and towards performance/comedy structures.

CCNews: In Lovefool, is this the first time the “broken bowl” motif was used in your work? Same question for its ritual and reconstruction themes…

Ciszewski: Yes and no. I have not named “kintsugi” in previous work, but the concept has been key for me in expressing the way I feel queer people have a unique ability to heal themselves and rewrite their stories. In Everyone is Dying, this manifested with a disco ball being our central production element. The disco ball there also served as a bowl (cracked open at the top) in which folks were invited to contribute notes containing that which they wished to heal.

Thematically, my works are very much tied together by ritual and reconstruction. I am uninterested in doing solo work, especially, that doesn’t engage and activate the thrilling potential of holding space with a room full of people and their stories, so I aim to make our time together as reciprocally potent as possible. I conceive of the ritual acts in my shows as gifts the audience and I share together. Furthermore, I have always felt that it’s a queer superpower to manifest our own narratives, from coming out to our unique relationships to chosen family and beyond. That’s an act of willful and joyous reconstruction I aim for all of my work to exemplify for my audiences.

CCNews: How did you come to know Brian Dudley (co-creator/producer) and Noah Simes (director, script consultant), and to what extent did they influence the creation of your current aesthetic, performance style, themes?

Ciszewski: First and foremost, Brian Dudley is my partner of nearly eight years. We met in Boston around our work in the theatre community there. Brian’s influenced my style, specifically, the same way he has my life. He is primarily silly and stubborn. His silliness has invited me to shed my self-seriousness and step into my own whimsy. His stubbornness has encouraged me to claim my power as a career artist.

Likewise, I met Noah Simes in the Boston theatre community and we became fast friends. Like me, he has a writer’s mind, and he seeks structure in his work. His creative experiences have made him something of a vaudevillian, so there is an ease he embodies moving from wild outbursts of clownery to tried-and-true structures of comedy. That has provided me with containers for my expression that I can fill and arrange into performance.

Most importantly, both of them have egged me on and encouraged me to be my full self in my work. As a queer creative, I have been long conditioned to hide away parts of myself for no good reason. Working with two people I trust so deeply, who I know love me for me, has emboldened me to really stand in my work as my full self for the first time in my career. They’re both so kind and so funny, very much embodying the sort of “so dumb it’s brilliant” sensibility that I’ve long looked up to in, say, Conan O’Brien or SpongeBob SquarePants. In the environment of our relationships, I’ve been able to really flourish as a sincere silly goose with a big gay heart. It’s been an unbelievable gift that I hope to share with my audiences in Lovefool.

CCNews: Was all of Lovefool written and worked on during the COVID era? How did going through it, if in any way, impact the intimacy of writing or performing a confessional-type solo show?

Ciszewski: Formally, yes—though a large piece of the show comes from a short story I wrote about my first love all the way back in 2014. Later, I first explored discussing my alcoholism in my work in my pandemic-era show, The Sun is Sleeping. Pieces of that show proved powerful enough with audiences that I was inspired to treat some text like a pop star might one of their hits across concert set lists—I gave the scene a bit of a new arrangement and adapted it into the world of Lovefool.

Following my return home to NYC from Boston, I wanted to write about falling in love, as I was—all over again—with my life and my communities… One of my closest friends, queer pop artist Sir Babygirl, came up to me after a loose speech I gave at a wedding and said, “That’s what I wanna see more of from you… just hanging out and telling us some good gay stories. All of the artistic stuff you worry about and labor over comes through. Trust that it’s there and have fun.” So, I did, and I moved into formally composing Lovefool with ease.

“Lovefool” plays Asylum NYC (307 W. 26th St. btw. Eighth & Ninth Aves.) on Thurs., Dec. 15 at 7:30pm (doors open at 7pm). For tickets ($20) and artist info, click here.

 

Chelsea Community News is made possible with the help of our awesome advertisers, and the support of our readers. Please consider taking part in our GoFundMe campaign (click here). To make a direct donation, give feedback, send a Letter to the Editor, or contact our founder/editor, email scott@chelseacommunitynews.com.