Michael John Ciszewski, staff member for the Office of the Arts, is putting his relationship history on stage as the star of the solo show Lovefool that he co-created with his partner Brian Dudley ’10.
Ciszewski currently works as an administrative assistant for Emerson’s Office of the Arts, and Lovefool, his third solo production, has been touring around the northeast since June 2022 and has upcoming shows in Massachusetts and New York.
Ciszewski recently spoke to Emerson Today about the play, Emerson’s creative influence, and more.
Q: What is Lovefool about?
Ciszewski: Lovefool is a mix between standup comedy and confessional storytelling. It surveys a history of queer relationships I’ve been in, and reassembles the pieces of my broken heart for an argument about forever trying to fall in love.
Q: You and Brian Dudley ’10 co-created Lovefool. How do you work together on the show?
Ciszewski: The play has a heavy projection element, so we collaborated on writing and project design. He also runs the show from the booth. We’ve been performing the show since last June when it was a work in progress. This summer we’ve been touring the show at New York City venues. We’re hitting Rhode Island, Provincetown, and then finishing up in New Jersey and Brooklyn.
Q: Has Brian Dudley ’10, your partner of eight years, helped reassemble the pieces?
Ciszewski: Absolutely. Brian is the conclusion of the show in many ways. It’s the culmination of the argument. I’ve been very fortunate in our relationship to have a partner who has allowed me to explore various facets of my identity. That does include pieces of me with other people I’ve been with in my life. By deepening an exploration of what our queer identity means to us, we can deepen what our relationship could be. We’ve figured out our way of putting the pieces of our hearts into looking at the world in a more livable and romantic way than the world perhaps allows.
Q: How has your Emerson experience helped you in your career and creative works?
Ciszewski: There are a couple stories in the show that take place at Emerson. I don’t mention it by name. I take a little bit of a creative license. I mention my time working in the Office of Financial Affairs [at Emerson College]. That was my first and only experience working outside of the arts. I had to sort of find a way to romanticize that experience for myself. And so, my time there, certainly motivated me to return to the arts and look at my life through a romantic lens and that shaped Lovefool.
In a more brass tacks sense, my time at financial affairs, and my current time at the Office of the Arts, has helped me grow into the producer I am today [due to] my exposure to bringing in touring artists. It has broadened my understanding of which creative works are doable on stage.
I’ve also deepened my knowledge of how to interact with the audience to make it less transactional and more communal. That dialogue, specifically with the solo theater I prefer to do, provides an experience for everyone, not just for a single performer on stage telling stories and jokes.
Emerson is a really creative place and [attracts] such a wide set of people with different ideas about what’s possible when it comes to the arts. That has always given me a foundation and springboard to pursue making something that isn’t the most traditional show, but still really inclusive.
Q: Broadwayworld.com said the show has “dazzling and deliciously dumb multimedia outbursts” – what does that entail?
Ciszewski: As a queer man of a certain age (30) as a millennial borderline late, late Gen Zer, my vocab is mainly pop culture and pop music and memes and that’s the way I see the world and process the world and that’s the way I think. All my heartbreaks have had soundtracks of glorious pop songs. My darkest nights have had memes that have allowed me to make levity of them. We incorporate that way I see the world into the show itself, by inviting these moments instead of just talking to the audience and telling stories. There are moments of lip syncing, and moments of pre-filmed elements. The projections are sort of a second script to the show that weaves in all these different reference points that allows me to move through my life with heartbreaks and romance that language can’t quite capture. They’re theatrical, very sparkly and influenced by drag performances and cabaret that pushes the production into something much sillier and much more engaging, I hope.
Q: What would you like people to know about the show, yourself, your Emerson experience?
Ciszewski: I think that the primary motive for the show, and mission in making the thing on the side [during] the last three years of the pandemic, is the difficulty that creatives and theater makers have had in returning to shared spaces with audiences. I have been fortunate enough through my experiences, and experiences at Emerson, that I‘ve gotten to ground my work in a kind of joy that makes it all worth doing.
And Lovefool balances a romantic comedy escapism, with the most celebratory safe space I could dream up. Over the last year of playing the show to really inclusive houses across the northeast, we’ve managed to throw parties for people that feel grounded in that sense of joy.
Upcoming performances of Lovefool will be in Providence, Rhode Island on August 3; in Provincetown, Massachusetts on August 6 and August 8; in Jersey City on August 18; and Brooklyn, New York on August 31. For more info please visit xomichaeljohn.com.