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Former UA professor brings his life to the stage

An+autobiographical+play+by+UA+Professor+Emeritus+returns+to+Tucson+following+Off-Broadway+season
Tim Fuller
An autobiographical play by UA Professor Emeritus returns to Tucson following Off-Broadway season”

Some people write books or make movies about their lives — Bill Epstein takes his life story to the stage. 

After spending time in New York City, UA Professor Emeritus of English Bill Epstein brings his one-man play, “My Life in Sports,” to Tucson at the Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

Written and performed by Epstein, “My Life in Sports,” is a dramatic memoir that covers everything from the romance between men and sports to death and desire. 

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“My wife died, and she and I had been working together on novels, and after she was gone, I didn’t want to write fiction anymore,” Epstein said. “I began writing creative non-fiction, and this is the project that I kind of happened on.”

Epstein credits his inspiration for writing this play to his different life experiences. His wife and his time spent as a professor helped him create the vision behind “My Life in Sports.”

“It comes from a variety of places,” Epstein said. “It comes from my relationship with her, it comes from my whole life, and it also comes from something resembling an academic interest.”

After writing, workshopping and performing in Tucson, Epstein had the opportunity to perform his play in New York City as a part of the United Solo Theatre Festival in 2016. 

“In certain ways it was quite thrilling,” Epstein said. “Everything is handled very professionally, but it’s New York. They are kind of coldly professional, but they are the best at what they do, and you appreciate that. You know there won’t be any screw ups.”

Even though New York has the “glitz and the glamor,” Epstein said he felt more comfortable performing his play in the place it all began: Tucson.

“It’s friendlier, more comfortable, and we can do more,” Epstein said. “In New York we were limited. You could only bring a certain amount of technology with you, and you essentially had a stage manager who is handling that stuff for you, so it couldn’t be very elaborate.”

Now that Epstein doesn’t have a limit on what technology he can use, his vision of performing the play as a memoryscape can be fulfilled. Bryan Falcón, the director of “My Life in Sports,” said with the help of projections and soundscapes, the show becomes dynamic.

“What was originally a one-man show because of the way that we staged it really becomes this dynamic show where Bill is interacting with his scene partners, which are the projections, the soundscapes and the audience,” Falcón said.

When it came to creating the visual content for the show, UA alumnus Josh Hemmo was on the job. Hemmo, the lighting designer for the show, was in charge of making all projections needed for “My Life in Sports.”

“It’s creating the visual content that’s either projected on a cyclorama or through video walls,” Hemmo said. “This includes going through Photoshop or different kinds of effect programs to create that content.”

According to Hemmo, creating the projections was no easy task, and designing visuals for the show was a challenge.

“For me as a designer, how do I represent their life and show these different time periods of their life as they are telling the story on stage?” Hemmo said. “It was kind of a challenge sometimes, because there would be things that they would talk about that I had no idea what these things were, because it went back to the 1950s, so there was a lot of research on my part.”

Prior to “My Life in Sports,” Epstein acted in other plays, but said that what makes this performance stand out from the rest is he knows he’s right for the part.

“I could not have done this if I hadn’t done all that acting over the course of my life, especially in the last 20 years,” Epstein said. “I was also influenced by the plays I had read.”

Similar to Epstein, Falcón had experience directing other plays around Tucson, but what makes “My Life in Sports” different is its many layers of performance and the fact that it’s a true story.

“It’s an intriguing experience to work with a performer who is performing not only a show that he wrote, but a story about his own life,” Falcón said. “The openness that Bill has in presenting himself as a vulnerable, flawed human being asking hard questions like ‘what is life all about?’ and ‘what is the meaning of love?’ is a really powerful thing.”

Despite the name of the play, “My Life in Sports” appeals to everyone, regardless of age or gender, Epstein emphasized. 

“Even though it’s a show written by a man and acted by a man, the show has tremendous appeal to women,” Epstein said. “The show might look like it’s about sports, but it really isn’t. It uses sports to get at other stuff, essentially to get at growing up male in America. It really is a romance.”


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