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How do you start a story when you might not be around to finish it?

That was the question facing award-winning playwright Christopher Shinn after he was diagnosed with a cancer called Ewing sarcoma in late 2012.The prognosis, as he told his friends, was "very poor."

Chris was 37 at the time. He may not have been a household name, but his gripping work had been performed on stages from London to Broadway. He was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a Lortel and Olivier award winner, and a faculty member at the New School for Drama. And now he was grappling with the end of his life.


What else was he going to do but write a play?

Christopher Shinn in 2012. I met Chris in the fall of 2012 when his play "Now or Later" had its American premiere at the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston, where I was working at the time. I can still remember the day he posted the news of his illness to Facebook — accompanied by a photo of his partially amputated leg. It was just six months since I'd last seen him in person.

"I'd always imagined I'd live to ninety and write twenty or thirty plays — it had never occurred to me that my career might be shorter than that," he told me.

First drafts are always rough — especially when they could be the last.

"Writing this play was a particularly intense experience," he explained via email.

"I really had to balance two things: faith that I'd be well enough to write and complete the play, and acceptance of the possibility that at any time I could be interrupted. I had to convince myself that the work would not be for nothing if I didn't get to finish it or it was delayed. That was hard since pretty much the only payoff of writing is in the finishing!"

Chris' goal was to do what he always did: tell the truth.

As he started the first of what would ultimately become 19 cycles of chemotherapy, Chris found himself reflecting on his childhood in Wethersfield, Connecticut, and the isolation he felt growing up as a gay teenager. He thought about his own struggles with love and intimacy — and the fact that his fiancé would be left behind to live without him. “I told [my fiancé], 'You have to love again' — it was my deepest wish that he love again," Chris said in an interview with The New York Times.

Deborah Hedwall in the world premiere of "An Opening in Time." Photo by T. Charles Erickson/Hartford Stage.

And then, an ending came that he wasn't expecting.

Chris's long-term relationship with his fiancé came to a tumultuous end in the winter of 2014.

Between the emotional devastation of the breakup and the ongoing cancer treatments, Chris worried that he'd never finish the play. As he told the Times, “There were so many fears. This play made me look deeper. Why have I had difficulty loving? Why haven't I been able to make successful intimacy last?"

But soon one ending led to another, more uplifting one.

The breakup was hard, but reckoning with those questions helped Chris to write a pivotal confrontation scene — and ultimately finish the play. "I remember finishing it just in advance of scans I was having at my hospital, and being terrified that finishing the play meant, in some bizarre logic ... that my life was now about to end," he said.

Adam Poss and Liam Benzvi in the world premiere of "Teddy Ferrara." Photo by Liz Lauren/Goodman Theatre. "Teddy Ferrara" is having its London premiere in October 2015, and Chris made several changes to the script to make it more trans-inclusive.

Though his life was still full of questions, Chris had a finished script — and soon, he had a production.

"An Opening in Time" began its world premiere run on Sept. 17, 2015, at Hartford Stage — mere miles from Chris' childhood home in Wethersfield, which is also the setting of the play.

And all those endings that he'd battled with since late 2012? They gave way to new beginnings.

Not only did Chris live to see his play on stage, but he recently learned that his cancer is in remission.

After six months in clinical trials, Chris is currently NED, which means "no evidence of disease."

"You never want to get ahead of yourself too much," he told me. "So I often remind myself that I could get hit by a bus tomorrow and ... haha. But it's true."

Chris Shinn answers questions about "An Opening in Time" for a crowd at the Noah Webster Library in West Hartford, Connecticut. Photo by Charles MacNaughton, website and new media manager for Hartford Stage.

As he puts it, "You never know when your time is up — so every play may be the last play."

But Chris is discovering more hope and optimism. As he told the Times, he's found himself thinking: "Wait a minute, I might live. I want more in my life. What's going to happen to me? When will I fall in love again? I feel like part of my soul is coming back to life."

And of course, this new outlook on life brought a new play with it."The new play is about God. ... It feels like the kind of play you'd read in the middle of a writer's career, not at the end," he told me. "I'm envisioning a future of many more plays now."

Health

A child’s mental health concerns shouldn’t be publicized no matter who their parents are

Even politicians' children deserve privacy during a mental health crisis.

A child's mental health concerns shouldn't be publicized.

Editor's Note: If you are having thoughts about taking your own life, or know of anyone who is in need of help, the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is a United States-based suicide prevention network of over 200+ crisis centers that provides 24/7 service via a toll-free hotline with the number 9-8-8. It is available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.


It's an unspoken rule that children of politicians should be off limits when it comes to public figure status. Kids deserve the ability to simply be kids without the media picking them apart. We saw this during Obama's presidency when people from both ends of the political spectrum come out to defend Malia and Sasha Obama's privacy and again when a reporter made a remark about Barron Trump.

This is even more important when we are talking about a child's mental health, so seeing detailed reports about Ted Cruz's 14-year-old child's private mental health crisis was offputting, to say it kindly. It feels icky for me to even put the senator's name in this article because it feels like adding to this child's exposure.

When a child is struggling with mental health concerns, the instinct should be to cocoon them in safety, not to highlight the details or speculate on the cause. Ever since the news broke about this child's mental health, social media has been abuzz, mostly attacking the parents and speculating if the child is a member of the LGBTQ community.

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