Feature Interview with Playwright Scott C. Sickles
by Christine Nessler
March 22, 2023
Scott Sickles has been writing plays since the late 1980s. Like so many artists and other writers, he draws on his personal experiences as inspiration. He writes about what angers him, disturbs him, or makes him fearful. He can use his art as a weapon against or a magnifying glass up to the struggles he’s overcome in his life. But he also appreciates the value of humor in dealing with hard times.
“I’ve gone as dark as I know that I can in a lot of places and by contrast I’ve been just abjectly silly, just ridiculous,” Sickles said.
But that’s life. Sometimes it’s dark and ominous and sometimes there is joy rather than evil lurking around the corner. Through his career as a playwright, Sickles has written dozens of plays ranging from dark to silly, one-minute to a trilogy of full-lengths. They might leave an ache in your heart or a buzz of fear in the back of your mind, or they may make you chuckle. As a scriptwriter for the daytime serial General Hospital, he has spent over a decade capturing the hearts of audiences by telling the stories – tragic, comic, and melodramatic – of beloved television characters.
Sickles’ submission to The Good Life Review, “Guten Tag, Baby!”, covers the serious subject of sexual violence, but in an unexpectedly heartwarming way. His play about three generations of women beginning to understand each other in a new and meaningful way leaves the reader or audience moved by the curveballs life can throw at us.
He wrote “Guten Tag, Baby!” as a response to a submission opportunity through a theater that offers three images or pieces of art to inspire writers each year. Sickles chose to write a play based on a painting of an art deco building in Texas that is located en route to the Grand Canyon via Route 66.
Sickles began imagining tourists going back and forth from the Grand Canyon. He discovered the Grand Canyon is a very popular destination for German tourists, so much so that restaurants around the Grand Canyon have menus in both English and German to accommodate the steady stream of German tourists.
“The phrase, ‘Guten Tag, Baby!’ popped into my head and I thought, what kind of a pickup line is that?” Sickles said.
As a sexual assault survivor, Sickles also had visions of Thelma and Louise as he imagined this place in Texas. “I wanted to write a story that was predominantly about women and different generations of women.”
The story is about Eleanor, a seventy-five-year-old woman in the early stages of dementia. She has traveled to The U Drop Inn in Shamrock, Texas with her daughter, Vivienne and her fifteen-year-old, gender-neutral grandchild, Des. The Inn is triggering memories of when Eleanor met her husband, Armand, a man who left the family when Vivienne was a child, causing much hurt and confusion for Eleanor’s daughter.
In this play and many others he has written, Sickles explores how people deal with trauma over time. Eleanor begins to retell the familiar story of meeting Armand but this time, she is revealing secrets never told. She’s sharing details previously left out because they would have been hurtful to her daughter, who was a child of a rape. Vivienne hears this detail for the first time at the diner along Route 66.
“The thing that we suffer is very acute while we’re suffering it,” Sickles said explaining the effects of trauma, “and then a year later it’s a harsh memory. Three decades later it’s simultaneously lives in your body as something that is happening and it’s also a distant memory, but it’s never not present.”
Vivienne, who never felt a connection with Armand and resented him for leaving the family, now is presented with the information that he took care of her mother after she was assaulted and raised the resulting child as his own. Eleanor encouraged Armand to leave and find his own happiness when Vivienne was old enough that Eleanor thought she could care for her on her own. Eleanor and Armand’s was an unexpected story of love and respect between an asexual woman and a homosexual man.
“There is a lot of misplaced love and misplaced anger and the questions of ‘who the hell am I now?’” Sickles said.
As a storyteller, Sickles says he doesn’t usually write with an agenda or theme in mind, but in this case, he hopes the reader gleans the message that we don’t really know what another person has been through.
“When your identity and relationship is based on a rock-solid belief that you later discover is not the case, then that is a trauma in itself and there is an adjustment that has to happen. I hope that is what people get from “Guten Tag, Baby!”” Sickles said. “A lot of life is not what we think it is and when we learn the truth about our lives, we still only know so much, and we still just have to roll with it.”
Life hasn’t always been easy for Sickles, but he has learned to roll with it himself. As a son of a Korean woman and a German American man he endured a lot of prejudice for being an Asian kid. He also was bullied for being gay.
“I heard chink and faggot constantly because I was not a masculine child and I did not play sports,” Sickles said. “There was a lot of bullying from the outside and a lot of pressure from my parents.”
When he started writing, he wrote a lot from the gay perspective.
“If I was going to go forth and be happy and live my life, that was an identity I had to dive into,” Sickles said. It wasn’t until a few years ago, he began writing plays and characters through other aspects of his identity.
Through his career, Sickles has been proud of much of his work, but a few projects stood out to him, including a trilogy of plays called The Second World Trilogy, written in response to the 2016 presidential campaign.
“The 2016 presidential campaign was so filled with hatred for anyone who was not white, male, cis, hetero, pseudo-Christian-Evangelical that I had to get over my own issues and embrace my identity and heritage,” Sickles said. “Everyone’s heritage is a significant part of who they are and it is something they have to do something about.”
In The Second World Trilogy, the protagonist is a half-Asian, gay boy growing up in Pittsburgh.
“Teddy does not represent me,” Sickles said. “He is not the nerd I was; he is the nerd I wish I had been.”
Over the course of the three plays, eleven-year-old pen pals Teddy Passanante and Anzor Khasanov begin a love story that lasts until the end of the world, nearly 50 years later. The United States is divided into the liberal U.S. or Blue States, and a militant right-wing Christian theocracy that has overtaken what was once the Red States. Twenty-six years later the two men find each other and are forced to confront a collapsing nation while the climate reaches a catastrophic tipping point. Fifty years from the time they became pen pals, the couple and their family are forced into the long goodbye of the earth’s second ice age.
His play Composure was the winner of the 2016 New York Innovative Theatre Award for Outstanding Original Full-Length Script. The play is about a man who returns to his alma mater to produce the play Romeo and Juliet to commemorate a school shooting. Producing the play and beginning a new relationship aren’t enough to distract him from the memories resurfacing of an emotionally and physically abusive relationship he endured as a young man while living in the town he returned to.
“Gay men specifically came up to me after that play and thanked me for writing it,” Sickles said. According to Sickles there is a lot of advantage taken with gay teenagers by their friends and older men.
Sickles also referenced being proud of Playing on the Periphery: Monologues and Scenes For and About Queer Kids. Each of the seven stand-alone pieces tell the collective story of four gay third graders as they navigate their feelings and the social and family pressures that threaten to keep the friends apart.
“Your affections are drawn to the people who understand and appreciate you,” Sickles said. “It’s about like-minded souls seeking friendship and comfort from each other and the shit that they put up with while doing that from all areas.”
Through it all, Sickles stays grounded with what he calls his “fortune cookie credo.”
“My personal philosophy is ‘All of the moments of your life have led to this one.’” Sickles said.
His credo ties in perfectly to The Good Life.
“The Good Life is when all the moments that have led you to this one, lead you to a good place,” Sickles said. “Where you can look back on all those moments and say whatever they were, they were worth it.”
You can read “Guten Tag, Baby!” in the Issue #10 of The Good Life Review. Check out more about Scott Sickles at scottsickles.com.