This is the sixth installment in a what we expect will be a neverending behind-the-scenes look at the future hit musical Sweatpants Wedding. No need to read any previous installments. We haven’t made it past the very very beginning yet.
There are, however, three things you ought to know before reading the conversation below:
1. Tom Dibblee is worried about Sweatpants Wedding. He thinks Stephan McCormick, its author, is neglecting it.
2. Stephan does not always return Sweatpants Wedding-related calls, texts, or emails.
3. Stephan, though once the recipient of an award for Most Haggard Bastard Alive, is cheery and relaxed when I arrive at his eighth-floor apartment, immediately offering me beer brewed by monks and as much time as I need.
JAKE DE GRAZIA: Tom thinks Sweatpants Wedding is the reason you’re in LA right now.
STEPHAN MCCORMICK: It’s not the reason I’m in LA. It just so happened that I had it in my pocket when I came to LA, and I’m glad I did. You know how everyone out here’s always like oh I’m working on this and that and this and that? When they do that, I’m like well I wrote a musical, and it’s called Sweatpants Wedding.
JDG: You wrote a musical, or you are writing a musical?
(Stephan smiles, stands, and walks over to an open window. It’s tall and screenless. Stephan runs a finger along the frame.)
SM: You know, to be honest, I didn’t have like a major reason for coming to LA. The weather’s nice. It isn’t Milledgeville. That’s about it. I felt I had as much chance here as anywhere else. (He turns back towards Jake.) It just so happened that I brought Sweatpants with me. And it just so happens that I’m a producer now. Though I don’t do stage productions.
SM: Right. I haven’t done a stage production yet. But I’m learning things, things I’m sure I could parlay into at least knowing what a successful production is like.
(Jake waits, hoping for elaboration. Stephan turns back to the window.)
JDG: So you’re a producer now. Tom says you’re a Hollywood man. And he finds it hard to believe that you came to Los Angeles with no intention of becoming a Hollywood man.
SM: I really didn’t. I came here to write poetry. Whenever people would bring the movie business up, I’d tell them I’m not gonna do that. I’m gonna get a job in nonprofit work. (The breeze off the Hollywood Hills ruffles Stephan’s hair.) I meet people in nonprofits, you know, people who actually do nonprofit stuff now. And, like, I can’t imagine doing that. It’s just a different world. Everything’s so different now.
JDG: Hollywood has changed you?
(Stephan whirls away from the window, eyes gleaming.)
SM: But I’m still so green! I’m nobody still! And it’s been mind-blowing how fast my career has moved in the last year. Really in the last nine months. And, if we’re being honest, it’s the last five months.
JDG: Right. And Tom says now that you’ve made the jump to Hollywood man, what you do is go to Oahu and yell at production assistants. Is that an accurate description of your job?
SM: Well, that’s what it would look like, yeah. Absolutely. Oahu, Portland, Seattle, Detroit, here in LA. And, yeah, there is some yelling at production assistants. But you know I never thought of myself as an extroverted person. Being social can be exhausting. And producing can feel like twenty-four hours a day of concentrated stress. There are a million things that could go wrong at any second. You’re constantly talking to people who need things from you right then. You can’t always give it to them. It can wear you down. And hence the yelling. But, you know, I enjoy it, and I want to keep doing it. I told myself I’d do it until I was thirty-four and then reevaluate. I turned twenty-nine on Saturday.
JDG: Happy birthday.
(Stephan raises his glass. Jake raises his. They nod, and Stephan drinks.)
JDG: So, back to Sweatpants Wedding. You guys are closer to producing it now than you were in Milledgeville. And, as you noted earlier, Hollywood has something to do with that. What’s going on out here that creates Hollywood men like yourself, people who feel comfortable taking on incredibly ambitious projects like Sweatpants Wedding? I mean, according to Tom, Sweatpants is too big for the entire American Southeast.
SM: I think there’s something to be said for the connection in this town between desperation and ambition, and I am where I am now because, for a long time, I was desperate, and I gobbled up every loose thread of opportunity that I was offered. There’s no money in poetry or nonprofit work. I got to a point where I had literally a hundred dollars left in my bank account. My student loans were deferred. And I was like I can’t keep doing this. Something’s gotta break. (Stephan turns to the window again.) And, eventually, it broke for the better. (He leans on the frame, closes his eyes, and inhales.) You know, I think Milledgeville was an I-can’t-keep-doing-this kind of town for me too. You can’t be twenty-six in rural Georgia forever. And maybe that desperation fed into me drafting those songs initially, and that’s how they grew so much larger than Milledgeville. And maybe now living in Hollywood has given me—no, given us—a chance to reflect on, a chance to see what Sweatpants Wedding was growing into. I wonder. I wonder if, deep down, unadmitted, the joy I felt while writing Sweatpants Wedding influenced my decision to follow Tom to LA.
JDG: If Sweatpants Wedding had anything to do with your decision making, the only logical destination would have been LA.
SM: I don’t know. New York has a pretty strong musical theater scene. Stronger than here even, I’d say.
JDG: Sweatpants Wedding doesn’t feel like New York musical theater to me.
SM: Yeah, I guess that’s true. “But even if we get knocked up, we’ll pull our pants up over the bump.” Yeah. That seems a very California thing to say.
Has this answered your questions about how Sweatpants Wedding came to the improbable juncture where it resides now? Probably not. And that, to us, is a good thing—Sweatpants Wedding’s march into eternity continues next week with either more wise words from Stephan McCormick or, maybe, if you’re lucky, something even better.
Jake de Grazia is Trop's Musical Theater Correspondent.
Stephan McCormick lives in Los Angeles.