Sean Patrick Cassidy will be directing his first play, Good Men and True, with his new theater company, Gypsy Buffalo, at the Fort Greene bar at 8 p.m. on Monday, April 3. In the play, a four-woman cast portrays classic Shakespearean leading ladies who find themselves stranded on a ship during a vicious storm. They're all disguised as men, and comedy ensues when they try to out each other as women, as they believe the reason for the storm is the existence of a woman aboard the ship.
Cassidy moved to Denver from Michigan in 2015 to start the next chapter of his theater career. He didn't have to look far. When he walked into his first home in Denver, he found a group of strangers rehearsing for Drunk Shakespeare, a local series performed regularly by the Wit Theatre Company. He joined in, and hasn't looked back. Before moving to Denver, he received his bachelor's degree in acting from Oakland University, worked as a production assistant at the Cape Playhouse in Massachusetts, and as a stage manager at Planet Ant in Hamtramk, Michigan. We grabbed a few minutes (and beers) and talked with him about his new show.
Westword: How did you get into theater?
Sean Patrick Cassidy: A girl. It was high school, and my drama teacher asked me to run the soundboard on a musical. After the show was done, we all hung out and had a cast party, and this girl was like, "Hey, here's my number. Call me sometime." She turned out to be my first girlfriend, eventually. She didn't stick around, but theater did.
What makes good theater?
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People like different things when it comes to theater. For me, I like to see things that are new, that I haven't seen on stage before, and I like to see things that are honest — honest theater. People standing up there and just baring their souls. So much of America's contribution to the tradition of theater has been the American musical, big spectacle, a lot of music, slice-of-life stuff. It's not of much substance, but it's fun, and it's fun to see. I like musicals; I like big shows like that. What I'm trying to do is bring the fun of a big show but also do something new with it. Theater for me is about telling the truth.
How'd you break into the Denver theater scene?
I was living in Michigan, working here and there. I had just gotten off a Shakespeare tour as a performer. Everything was very established in Detroit-area theater. Owners of theaters had their people that they work with all the time, and nobody was really doing what I wanted to do, so I was looking for a change of pace. I had a friend that already lived in Denver, and I moved. I just moved on a whim. My first experience in Denver theater was doing Drunk Shakespeare with the Wit Theatre Company. Since then, I've cultivated all of these amazing relationships with really dedicated professionals and went from there to start my own company, Gypsy Buffalo.
What do you feel the Denver theater scene is lacking?
I think that the Denver theater scene is lacking in underdogs. The little guys, the little theaters, the ones without money or resources. They're the ones that are more likely to surprise you because they have more at stake, I think. I'm scared all the time that my theater company or my show just won't work out, no one will come to it, whatever — but I can't do anything else. I just can't do anything else. Honestly, the real breakthroughs in art come from people who are scared as hell and keep going anyway because they don't know what else to do.
Why should people go to your show?
People should go see Good Men and True if they are looking for a unique theater experience that takes place where theater normally wouldn't. One of the main things about doing it in this bar is showing people that theater can happen anywhere. They should go and see the show to see that the underdogs and the unsung heroes aren't to be ignored. I'm incredibly lucky to have a cast of four of the most dedicated, fearless actresses that I've ever worked with: Meghan Frank, Lanie Novack, Bethany Richardson and Lauren Russell.
Why is a bar a good setting for a play?
A bar isn't a good setting for every play. This bar is the perfect setting for this play. It's an intimate show, and Fort Greene lends itself to that intimacy. It's old, it has dark hardwood floors, big mirrors, and a speakeasy feel. I'm really excited for my cast to make really deep connections with the audience that we have. It's a one-night-only show. It's going to go up, and it's going to go down. It's opening and closing night. If you miss it, it's gone.
Can you tell me about the play?
Good Men and True, written by Detroit-area playwrights Ian Bonner and Marty Shea, is a fictional Shakespearean farce. There's a tempest, a big storm, and the reason that the crew thinks there's a big storm is because there's a woman hiding on the ship. They all accuse each other of being a woman, but they maintain that they are in fact men. That's where the joke comes in, because they're all women. It's a farce.
You've acted before. What's it like directing people?
It's more moving parts. When you're in actor mode, you have your lines, you memorize your blocking, and you go and put on a show. It's very much just about you putting yourself out there and being truthful and honest on stage. Being a director is the exact same thing, but on the outside. I'm now instead in the position of watching all of these people act out these roles, and I'm just tasked with keeping them true to themselves. If I know that they're not connecting with a line or if they're not connecting with a moment, then I have to stop everything and go, okay, whats going on?
What are your goals as a director?
My goals as a director, as an actor, as a theater professional, is just to tell the truth on stage, because that's what people connect with. People know when they're being lied to, and it sucks. It's kind of like a bad date: You get all dressed up, you go out on this date, and all of a sudden this guy that said he was 6' 4" with a full head of hair is not that. People don't like being lied to, so I don't want to do that. People are coming out to the bar to see the show. They're buying drinks. It's a pay-as-you-leave performance, so hopefully they give us a little bit of money on the way out. But even if they don't, we have a responsibility to give them a good, honest show because they gave us their time, which is so invaluable.
What makes theater difficult?
One of the old theater adages is we do our best to keep people from shuffling in their seats. When you're on stage, you can hear people losing interest. You can feel it in the room. It's like being a standup comedian: You know when people just aren't feeling what you're putting out there, and you can either go down that rabbit hole and forget about it and just say screw it, it was a bad show. That's okay, that's fine. It's not ideal, but you can just give up in the moment. Or you can push forward and get their attention back. Just a small moment will get everyone's eyes back on you, and you just keep them for as long as you can. You just keep their attention.
Who are your influences?
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My influences have been my professors in school, other actors that I've worked with. I'm very inspired by reading about theater. One of my favorite playwrights is David Mamet, and he's a playwright first, but he also has written tomes, chapters on theater, and his thing is all about forget your back story, forget about all this research that goes into a role, just stand on the stage, look the person in the eye and do the scene, make a connection with them, and if they're not listening to you, make them listen to you and make them connect with you. If you can't communicate the message two feet across the stage, how are you going to communicate that to 200 people sitting in your auditorium?
What are your plans for the future?
As a company, we want to do more original works with local playwrights. I've written some plays I'd like to see produced. I just want to keep on growing and cultivating resources so that we can combine our efforts as theater professionals and take on the big guys.
Good Men and True plays at 8 p.m. Monday, April 3, at Fort Greene.