On Writing The Lady With Bruce Willis Eyes: Behind-The-Scenes, Weird Titles, and Storytelling

I wrote the first draft of this play backstage during Belhaven University’s production of “White Christmas.” I had about five lines and was only in a few scenes, so I had some time on my hands to write. And as I was writing, I was in the costume of the character I played, complete with overalls, a scratchy flannel, wild hair and mountain-man beard sprayed white: the somewhat loveable, dotty old man who lived in the barn, and certainly this is a strange beginning for this particular play, but even more strangely, an appropriate one. This is not a script I ever thought to write. Because, it’s about a dancer, a successful and acclaimed ballerina, a person from a world I know little about.

Also, this play is bizarrely the most honest one I’ve written. 

First, I guess I should explain the title. Some people probably think it’s silly, that’s okay; because it is a little. Some people, God forbid, may not even know who Bruce Willis is, that is not okay.

The story behind it, I saw Bruce Willis in his movie, “The Kid” and thought the dude had some groovy eyes, there was also something wounded about them.
Around that time, I met a girl and fell a little in love with her, because when she looked at you, you felt as if she truly saw you and acknowledged that you were valuable. I was a Freshman Writing major at Belhaven at the time and, in my Intro to Creative Writing class, wrote a poem about her. Years later, there I was writing this play and unable to decide on a title I was happy about. But, I still had that poem. And the character in that poem I wrote so long ago is a ballet dancer as well. And during rehearsals, Lydia and Michaela said what if you just called it “The Lady With Bruce Willis Eyes?”

So I did.

It’s certainly specific. It’s different, yes. It’s a bit silly, I’ll admit that. But, I hope you come see it, anyway. Because, I’m hoping that silliness is still allowed, that it’s still human, that we can laugh at ourselves and the weird things we say and think and all the weird ways in which we describe and remember each other, as time moves us apart.

I still hate talking about what my plays are about. The words never come like I want. I never make the plays sound as compelling as I’d like them to sound. I will say this. This one came from who I was at the time, during a time of great change, during a time of great personal failures, during a time when I was searching for what door of opportunity to bang my head against next. And this story, incomplete, sat in the corner of my heart for a long while before I came back to finish it. Like Hollie, I had to come out on the other side of something before I could tell it. 

I like to think this play is for you, for any human wrestling to make sense of all the love and loss and suffering we go through, for the collective “us” as we try and claw past one another’s walls of insecurity and anxieties and, somehow, miraculously, connect with each other. This story is for that friend we lost we never expected to lose and that glowing light in their eyes we haven’t seen in so long.

I think more and more about this line from one of my favorite musicians, Matthew Ryan (at times he says in three minutes what I try and get at in ninety pages). 

“I love that memory has more grace than me
The things I recall are lit with a blinding beauty
I love a song that doesn't care what you want.”

This noisy world does its best to convert us into ruthless machines, and I love it when something moves us out of the clamor, I love it when a story breaks us apart and lifts us up, when good Art forces us to go way, way back inside our memory, inside our hearts, to that bruised, quiet place deep inside; that’s where I truly believe compassion and grace still breathe, binding us together (and sometimes we don’t like that).
I love it when things don’t work out, because it gives us the responsibility of having a story to tell once we reach the other side of despair. If anyone is interested in themes, these may be mine.

As always, I’d like to thank Hearth and Mantel Theatre for producing my work and this show in particular, and for their continued commitment to telling smaller, intimate stories like this one.

I am grateful to Noelle Robinson for her outstanding support as a friend and fellow artist, and for her invaluable suggestions and work shopping of this story in its earliest drafts, up to a year ago now. Without her, I would’ve given up, and this play would not exist.

I am also grateful to Tori Turnbow and Rachel Bitgood for their generous and enlightening responses to my questions about Dance as an art-form and as a community.

The director, Michaela Lin, and the leading lady herself, Lydia Lippincott, have been particularly brilliant to work with these last few weeks. I am overwhelmed by their hard work and the lightning they bring to this project. I am convinced they are preparing a production of the highest quality.

We hope you come join us for this story on December 4th-5th and December 11th-13th at the Arts Center of Mississippi in downtown Jackson, 201 E. Pascagoula Street.

Blog post written by Mac Mitchell
Resident Playwright

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