Mustard Seed Theatre Blog

by Amy Loui

A one-person show:  an accurate description of The Amish Project but missing the part about one actor playing 7 very different characters. 

My work and growth as an actor has always been grounded in my belief that every role I inhabit deserves to be a genuine human being.  To bring these people to life I have to rely on the words in the script, the guidance of the director, and the interaction with my scene partners.

The Amish Project has not changed that fundamental responsibility but has challenged me to change my approach.  There are no scene partners, only seven distinct individuals on very different paths, all demanding to be real people, not “characters” and certainly not caricatures.  All with their own very real emotions, thoughts, and discoveries—and all happening at once.

As always, it started with the words.  I usually go into rehearsal with my lines well-studied but not necessarily committed to memory.  This allows me to develop the rhythms of each scene as I work with the other actors, allowing each moment to find itself naturally in the give-and-take of active rehearsals.  That’s when the lines learn themselves.  But with this play I knew I had to memorize my lines before beginning rehearsals (Aug. 3). This wasn’t so much about knowing the words as getting to know these seven people in the world of the play. The words were my guide to their world.

This took about two hours a day for two months..  A long time but that allowed me to hear the voices behind the words, and as the personalities emerged I looked for ways to shape their “becoming” by drawing on my own experiences, observations, imagination , suggestions from the director--the normal storehouse of tools actors use to create the inner lives of characters.  The physical process demanded equal time – finding ways to differentiate each character through posture, gait, vocal pitch and resonance, attitude, social class, upbringing, education, life experience, gender, age, and so on.

And now, in the final stages, I allow myself to let go.  Let go of the technical, mindful discoveries I have made for each of these people and see what happens when they are allowed to “be like a bird.”  Now is the time for me to get out of their way, trusting the physical and emotional foundation I’ve built for each of them, and let them take me wherever they fly. 

This is Michael Sullivan, Lighting Designer and Technical Director for Mustard Seed Theatre getting trained on his new "baby."  Thanks so much for bringing our lighting design into the 21st century!

by Shualee Cook

I just checked my computer for verification, and it tells me that I created the document that eventually became An Invitation Out on Wednesday, December 9th, 2009. Which means I've been working on this script in some form or other for a little over five years now, hoping that one day it would fully exist. See, just like a tadpole is not yet a frog, a script is not yet a play. There is still more growing to do, a few more appendages to acquire. You can dot the last i, type out the final stage direction, but you didn't write those words to be read. You wrote them to be seen and heard, and for that you need other people.

Deanna Jent read one of the earliest drafts of my script back in 2011. At the time, it was precisely one bazillion and eight pages long, and full of a great many ideas that were quite interesting in theory, but pretty much a mess in practice. Yet even in that state, she saw something in the sprawl, believed in it, and decided to take a chance on me.

In the summer of 2013, I had been working on a new draft, trying to solve its very problematic ending, but I'd essentially been working in a vacuum, and had reached the end of where I could take the script alone in a room by myself. And lo and behold, an email from Deanna showed up in my inbox. She was teaching a playwriting seminar, and had someone drop out at the last minute. Would I possibly be interested in filling the empty slot, continuing to work on the play in the company of other playwrights? 8 weeks later, I walked out of that classroom with a completely new ending and a tighter focus on what the story was. Deanna said she might be interested in producing it for Mustard Seed Theatre if I'd be open to making some more revisions. I kept at it, and in early 2014, I got the official good news: the play I'd been working to see onstage for what seemed like ages would be a part of Mustard Seed's 2014/2015 season. At the very end of it. So, four years of waiting down, one to go.

For most of the last year, this upcoming production hasn't seemed quite real. I'd spent so much time thinking about that it became more of a fuzzy idea that people would ask me about occasionally, a theory rather than a tangible fact. But then, early this February, we had the first cast read-thru. I entered the theater, and there it was - the tables pushed together with clusters of chairs around it, the stack of scripts, the pencils, the cups of coffee - all the signs of a rehearsal process. Suddenly, there were tech people talking about how on earth to make the things I'd written actually work, the sounds of actors chatting in the lobby. Then Nicole came in - an actor and good friend who's been in both of the other shows of mine that have been performed so far. On the way to her seat, she gave me a huge hug, and just like that, it didn't seem like only a script anymore. A play was coming together. With my arms around her, it finally flashed through my mind. "So this is a thing that is happening now."

March 24th was our first rehearsal. Before the actors arrived, Maggy and Katie - our S.M. and A.D. - snuck me into the theater where our crew were already hard at work on the set. It seemed gigantic. Even in pieces, it was already grander than I had imagined. I just stood there and stared at it all until Maggy asked me what I thought, bringing me back to lucidity. All I could stutter out was "All of this is here because of something I wrote down on a piece of paper once." The implications of that seemed enormous, but Maggy and Katie just smiled.

A script is not yet a play. You can dot the last i, type out the final stage direction, but it doesn't become real until other people pour in their talents, their time, their passion even when it's very difficult work. "This is a thing that is happening now." But it doesn't happen alone.

by Shualee Cook

When I first saw the full line-up for the Mustard Seed Theatre season that my play would be a part of, I felt a bit like the odd girl out. There was Human Terrain, about the relationship between a U.S. Cultural Advisor and an Iraqi woman during the Iraq War, then All Is Calm about the Christmas truce of 1914 during WW1, followed by White To Gray, a tragic cross-cultural romance in the shadow of Pearl Harbor and the opening days of WW2. And then there was me and my very silly play about online dilettantes in gravity-defying dresses who talk funny. Cue the song from Sesame Street - “one of these things is not like the other...” But as the months have gone by, and I’ve had the chance to see each production, I’ve started to think my play may not be as out of place as I had expected it to be.

A glance at the poster and synopsis for An Invitation Out makes it fairly clear that I wrote it with modern technology on my mind, but may be a little less clear about what was in my heart. I conceived and wrote the first two drafts of the play at a pivotal time in my life, when I was finally coming to terms with being transgender and what that meant for my future while simultaneously wrestling with the legacy of my strict Pentecostal Christian upbringing. It was a period marked by long stretches of feeling like a stranger in a strange land pretty much everywhere I went. And in a way, the online/offline worlds of the play became a way for me to discuss the experience of venturing outside of a world-view you’ve grown comfortable with, and the rewards and consequences that come with such a step. A technological setting seemed a perfect way to examine it, too, because the internet has given us open access to all sorts of new conversations while also giving us the tools to be more closed off from other voices than ever before. Social media algorithms learn how to give us the news sources we like; the confines of post, comment, and tweet lengths make our arguments more brittle and two dimensional; and we can barricade ourselves away from views we don’t like with a simple click of the “unfriend” button. So you can imagine my relief when each of the plays before mine this season turned out to be about people reaching across cultural and ideological divides in order to connect with another human being. At its core, that’s what An Invitation Out is about too. And just like that, I didn’t feel like such a stranger after all. There were four of us, all from very different places, asking the same question. Although I’m pretty sure my version of the question still has the most jokes about blogging, greased ferrets, and sentient computer programs named Astrid. Which is probably for the best.


by Shualee Cook

One of the secret pleasures of writing your own plays is that you get to use them as a way to try and fix the things that annoy you in other people’s plays. Case in point: As I’ve often mentioned, I’m a huge fan of Oscar Wilde, and his works were a major influence on my play, “An Invitation Out,” but something he did in one of his early comedies has always bugged me.

At the end of Act One of “A Woman of No Importance,” witty Mrs. Allonby challenges the dandyish Lord Illingworth to kiss a visiting American puritan named Hester Worsley, and Illingworth gladly accepts. But once the challenge is made, Illingworth and Hester are never actually onstage at the same time, no tension is built, and their tete-a-tete happens entirely offstage. Hester just runs on yelling about how she’s been terribly insulted, other plot mechanics kick in, and that’s pretty much the end of it. Which has always struck me as a huge missed opportunity. There was an interesting scene that happened out of our view, I was sure of it, and the fact that I would never get to see it continued to irk me every time I picked up the play. But as I worked on “Invitation,” I noticed that a few of my characters had some surface resemblance to Wilde’s trio – there was the witty young lady, the dandyish gentleman, the awkward outsider in their midst – and I suddenly realized I had a once-in-a-lifetime chance to write my own version of the scene I’d been dying to read for years.

I started with the same basic situation – the lady bets the dandy he can’t get a kiss out of the outsider – but since the similarities between our characters were superficial at best, my dandy’s attempt to get that kiss became a much different scene than the one between Hester and Lord Illingworth that I’d been imagining for so long. As I went through various drafts of the play, that scene always stayed in, but in each draft the answer of who exactly “won” the bet became murkier and more complex, and I began to think that maybe Mr. Wilde was on to something when he decided not to open that can of worms. Even so, it’s still one of my favorite scenes I’ve written. So if you happen to come see my play next month, you’ll have to let me know if you think it was, in fact, a good bet, or if Oscar was right all along and I should have left well enough alone.



by Shualee Cook

As the first production of An Invitation Out creeps closer and

closer, one question has been making frequent appearances in the

many conversations where I can’t shut up about my play - “So how’d

you come up with the idea for this?” And I usually answer with

something short and tag line-ish to avoid going into the longwinded,

embarrassing truth that the origins of this show extend

all the way back my gawky teenage years in the quiet mountain town

of Paradise, California (yes, the name is mostly ironic). One of

the first leading roles I ever got in my high school drama

department was in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.

And yes, it’s one of those plays that gets performed so often (and

usually rather badly) that many theatre folk roll their eyes at

the very mention of it. But coming to it fresh was electrifying. I

was immediately intoxicated by the language, the wit, the plot’s

effortless combination of intelligence and utter silliness. The

style of it very quickly clamped onto my fancy, and never let go.

My high school drama program was pretty amazing, looking back, and

in my freshman and sophomore years, I’d already been exposed to

Shakespeare, Tom Stoppard, and Jean Giraudoux. Wilde was the

fourth and final nail in the “maybe I want to be a playwright”

coffin, and I was done. The year that I performed in Earnest was

also the year that I wrote my first play.


Flash forward more years than I’m comfortable admitting to, and we

arrive at the heyday of Facebook and Twitter. As countless posts

skittered across my computer screen, I started to notice a trend -

a sizable number of the things getting “liked” or shared around

were quick, two or three sentence attempts at humor or cleverness,

a form that Oscar Wilde made his public reputation from. “Always

forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much” “Fashion is a

form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six

months.” “The world was my oyster, but I used the wrong fork.”

Seriously, Oscar Wilde would have OWNED Twitter. 21st century

social media had found a new stage for the witty epigram, had in

fact turned the internet into one gigantic Victorian dinner party

with everyone rushing to come up with the best zinger of the

night. All of the sudden, the archaic 19th century drawing room

comedies I’d been obsessed with since high school felt more

immediate than ever, and seemed a natural form to use to explore

an online world of clever dandyism gone mad. The idea was a simple

one: I would write a Wildean drawing room comedy, but in a chat

room instead. From there, the story gushed out very quickly, a

look at the future inspired by the past that would hopefully shed

some light on the present. So there you have it, how I came up

with this. And now, if we happen to bump into each other, you’ll

already know the answer to your question, and won’t be subjected

to me rambling on about high school theatre productions and longdead

playwrights, and we can share a perfectly lovely sigh of



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