Max Wojtanowicz was diagnosed with stage 3 testicular cancer in January 2016. A friend told him to “conquer it, and then sing about.” A one-man comedy about the moment when life throws you a curve… ball. Presented by The Catalysts.
Q. Tell us about the process of how this musical came together. Did you write it as you were going through the treatment process, or did you wait until after?
A. Well, a little while after my diagnosis I was getting coffee with Nikki Swoboda, my director and co-founder of The Catalysts. The idea to write the show came out of a conversation we had about how to process what was happening. I don’t think the story is any more elaborate than that! I was not convinced that it was a good idea at first; at the time I wasn’t sure if I would be out of the woods by this summer, and I didn’t know if I’d have any hindsight about any of it. But I had already planned a solo cabaret at a wine bar in Uptown for the end of February, also with Andrew Cooke, and once I put that together, it felt like a more reachable goal to add storytelling to that cabaret setup. We applied for the Fringe, thinking if we got chosen in the lottery that was our sign. We got chosen the night of that cabaret, so that was that. I was mostly just free-writing during treatment, and updating my Caring Bridge journal, so I had that to draw from once I really started writing in earnest after treatments were over. That’s late – every other year we’ve started writing our shows in the fall, but obviously this year I couldn’t have done that!
Q. Were there moments in particular that ended up feeling surprisingly therapeutic?
A. Oh yes! The thing as a whole is therapeutic. That’s actually a part of the takeaway of the show, I hope: we are confronted with huge, scary challenges in our lives, and there is a medium through which to process them. That medium for every person is different; mine is this show. This is not to say that the whole show is one big therapy session… but it kind of is. But a funny therapy session! Like the kind on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt season 2, but less blackout drinking and more chemo.
Q. This is your first solo performance. What decisions went into your decision to make it a one-person show?
A. For a few years, Nikki had encouraged me to think about developing a solo piece. When this all came up, it seemed like a fit. But there’s a tricky line to walk in solo performance so that it doesn’t tip over into narcissism and showboating. That is the very last thing I want to do, not only for me as a performer, but also because I feel like it would be hugely disrespectful to anyone seeing the show who has been through something like what I’ve been through. I want the show to act as a gift, a show of generosity, a safe space where it’s okay to laugh at the frightening things that happen to us.
Q. Why did you want to perform this piece in Fringe as opposed to a more full-scale production?
A. Well, the Fringe makes it so easy to produce and promote! It’s really an incredible organization, and we’ve had so much fun the last four years. The main reason is really because it’s a work in progress, and we wanted a deadline. I’m still having checkups with the oncologist so the story is still very fresh. We’ve thought about developing it further and getting the story to more audiences, but we really have to make it through the festival before we really decide about that.
Q. The Catalysts focus on social justice and human potential. How do you go about selecting/creating shows that fit within this focus?
A. The seed of the idea comes first, and then we’ll discuss and explore and unpack that idea to find out if what relevance it has to our mission. With Fruit Fly, we were really hoping to bridge the perceived gap between straight and gay people and illuminate how few differences there are at the end of the day. With the Shelly Bachberg series, we wanted to poke holes in the ideologies of fringe political candidates and show how easily we are won over by hollow rhetoric. (That sounds so simple, but look what’s happened in our political conversation since the festival last year!) And with Ball… I mean, yes, I wanted to tell my story. But we’re hoping that there’s a broader message about what we are capable as humans of handling in our lives if we can just identify a way through pain and hardship. It’s a show about hope and seeing the light in the darkness, and I think that’s something we all need to hear right now.
I honestly don’t even know where to begin. This show has everything: from words that rhyme with orchiectomy to an ode to Max’s right ball to a music compilation by his left ball (yes, “by” is what I meant) to a PSA about fondling your balls.
Yes, that’s a lot of ball talk, but seriously, from the second Max opens his mouth, you feel like you’re hanging out with a good friend whom you’ve known for ages. He makes you laugh, he teaches you a few things, maybe you cry a little… Either way, you go away feeling like you’re better off than you were when the conversation started.
My friend Rachel and I walked away commenting that if this was the only Fringe show we got around to seeing, we would have zero complaints. Don’t miss this one, friends.
The Minnesota Fringe Festival runs August 4-14, 2016 in Minneapolis. See Ball: A Musical Tribute To My Lost Testicle August 4, 8, 10, 11 and 13 at Southern Theater. Click here to purchase tickets.
Purchases through Local Deals help support One Girl, Two Cities.