Here’s Shawn Paonessa. Co-author and lead player in The March of the Kitefliers. Shawn’s an all around groovy guy, and has effectively been Jobsite’s “old man” since he played Judge Felix Popper in Clive Barker’s The History of the Devil (even though he’s actually the median age of the average company member). He’s only ever given up his station to one man – Ron Sommer. If you’ve ever met Ron, you’d understand why Shawn never had a chance.
Shawn’s been with Jobsite since our second show, which was our first production at TBPAC – Roddy Doyle’s Brownbread. He’s now vice chair of the board as well as our illustrious webmaster and grammar/style nazi. Let’s take a look at this guy …
I see you titled this picture Sam and the Playwright (Age 6). So who is the dog?
That’s funny. You’re a funny guy. And by funny, I mean you amuse me. Like a clown.
Ok, ok … I bated you with the last question, I knew your dog’s name was Sam. That’s pretty clever, Mr. Clever Britches. However, it begs the question – with the playwright being Sam and Sam being the playwright – would you say this play is in any way autobiographical?
Not as much as people may think. Kitefliers was a collaborative process, so it’s not like I said, “Hey Neil, want to write a play about me?” I wouldn’t have wanted that anyway. The connections seem more obvious because the director got a crazy idea to cast me in the play, and that’s the part I got. There are some autobiographical elements, but they’re far subtler – things people wouldn’t think I experienced or saw. Besides, any piece by anyone has some degree of self in it, because the writer is always drawing on experience, be it overt or otherwise. But it’s funny, because a lot of people incorrectly assume the play’s about me, but a lot of our friends read/see the play and think we based characters off of them. A lot of people think the play’s about them.
What kind of dog was Sam? I can’t tell. Was he “your” dog, a parents dog or … ?
He was a Golden Retriever mixed with Super Genius. Really smart dog. Technically he was my grandparents’, but he was really my dog that happened to live there.
I just took a closer look at that picture. Are you drinking a Lite Beer and fishing??
Actually, I think Sam and I were watching the pole/beer for my Dad or Grandpa. I never liked fishing, though I was the only one who ever caught anything off that seawall.
Where was that picture taken?
In my grandparents’ back yard.
Age 6, so that was some time in 1981? Toss out a favorite TV show, movie and music group for me.
Just one of each?! Sheesh. Bosom Buddies. The Empire Strikes Back. Music wasn’t that that big for me yet. It was either Scott Joplin or the Beach Boys.
Did you have an idol on TV or in the movies?
Obviously, Luke Skywalker was the end all be all. But there was another side beyond that, it was somewhere between Robin Williams and Bugs Bunny.
Was there any part of your personality as a kid that maybe in hindsight should have been a sign you’d eventually grow up to write and act?
I had an insanely vivid imagination and a helluva memory. I played with kids, but I preferred playing alone. Then my playtime took on another form that evolved into epic magnitude. I mean elaborate with subplots and everything. I’d have days when I couldn’t wait to get home so I could pick up where I left off the day before. Every week was like the Wagnerian Ring Cycle of playtime.
Some might argue that we grew up in a golden age of toys. We had the first small G.I. Joes, the original Star Wars, He-Man and Transformers … what were your favorites? Were you an action figure or a vehicle guy, or both?
Action figures all the way. I had all of those – Star Wars, GI Joe, He-Man – they pretty much came out in waves and followed our ages as we got older. I never got the cars thing. Still don’t. The closest I ever came to cars were Transformers, and I didn’t have many of the automobile ones.
Now that I’m thinking about it – I believe there’s been water present in every picture I’ve seen of you as a kid. I think beer cans feature prominently in a few of them, too. What’s up with that?
I grew up in South Florida, dude. What else is there? Actually, if there was a body of water around, I was in it. I’m still kind of like that actually. As for the beer…. Yeah, that hasn’t changed much either, but the selection has vastly improved.
Can you remember your grand aspirations from back then? Fireman, astronaut, Miami Dolphin QB?
Back then it was scientist or veterinarian. Then anesthesiologist. As I got older, the aspirations slightly changed: astronaut, arsonist, saucier, cartoonist, and then by college I went from actor to political scientist to gonzo journalist and then back to actor. And yes, I really considered each of those.
How’d that end up working out for you?
To my wallet’s chagrin, I aspired backwards. However, I am acting and that is what I love. So, if you don’t count money, I do what I love for a living. To boot, for all the things I could have gone to school for, and all the schools I could’ve gone to, I still have no technical training or idea of what I’m doing. I can only assume I’m doing something right, because people keep wanting me to work.
What was your favorite activity while alone, or at least when you thought no one was looking?
Make believe. Hands down. I’d do it anywhere, but it helped that I had a huge backyard with lots of trees. God I miss that. Action figures fall into make believe to an extent. I also loved drawing and reading. I miss all of those. I still read occassionally, though. The backs of milk cartons, the instructions to food I just cooked, those hand lettered signs you see at churches and adult stores – light reading mostly.
You asked me about being an only child, and I have a question for you: do you think being an only child impacted the development of your imagination in a different way than kids who grew up with larger families?
Oh my Gawd, yes. I wouldn’t wish a brother or sister on anyone. My parents both worked, and most of my school friends lived too far away to bike to, so I was constantly creating and inventing and making up worlds on my own. I learned self-reliance very early, not just for my own entertainment, but for a multitude of other applications. Where ever creativity applies – which is to most things actually.
Did you have a favorite “pretend” or “make believe” activity?
It really depended on the entertainment du jour. If my Dad took me to see Flash Gordon, I came home and was Flash Gordon. Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Dungeons & Dragons – you name it. I just waited and absorbed until it hit me, and then I was out the door, making up my own versions and stories.
As you got older and started dating – were you ever accused of being immature, too childish etc by girls you dated?
Surprisingly, no. Now that you mention it, for all my goofing around, I don’t know why I never got the immature thing. You’d have to ask the girls about that one.
As a writer, you’re part of a collaborative team. Writing seems, at least on the surface, such an independent art form. How exactly do you write collaboratively with someone like Neil?
Yeah, we still haven’t figured that out. We still consider writing independent and personal. We stumbled into collaboration rather accidentally. And our process is always changing, too, so it’s hard to say. It’s an anomaly really. I’m a bit afraid that if I analyze it too much, then it’ll somehow demystify and unravel the system. Though I will say, Neil does stay sober most of the time. And by the way – he’s the one that comes up with the really disturbing stuff. You can thank him for “Brown Bag.” I had to cut out some of the parts that were just wrong.
In the play, there are concepts that hearken to principles of Zen Buddhism, Taoism and even to a degree Ramtha (featured in the film What the Bleep Do We Know) – creating the realities we inhabit, the importance of moment-to-moment awareness, the struggles we endure to follow a path. Was that ever intentional? Not in relation to those spiritualities directly, but as an overall thematic element?
Yes and no. The kite theory was something I had on a shelf a few years prior, and I optioned it about midway through the story development. Neil liked the idea too, so we started playing with it and discovered that it all fit together in a really cool, seemingly intentional way. Things just manifested from there. All of that theory kind of does that – just manifests itself and shows up when you’re least expecting it. That’s just the inherent nature of it. And the play’s done that since we finished it too. It’s hard to explain, but every time I think, “nah, that was a coincidence,” something else really cool just falls into place, and I’m proven wrong. Good things just serendipitously unfold and happen, both to the play, to those involved in it and to those who experience it. Which isn’t to say there isn’t an immense amount of work going into it. There is, but there’s undeniably something uniquely special about this show besides the blood, sweat and tears. It’s hard to just say that and expect it to be taken at face value, but it’s true.
When did you start flying kites, and why do you think you’ve held onto it as a hobby this long?
I started flying stunt kites around college. I’ve held on to it because it’s such a simple unique experience. There’s something dually meditative and innocent about it. When it’s me and the kite, it’s just me and the kite. All the problems, errands, obligations – whatever – it all stays back at the car. It’s cleansing. And fun.
What do you think that little kid in that picture would make of all of this thing you call Kitefliers?
On one hand, the kid would think, “This is so cool!” On the other hand, I don’t know if he’d appreciate it. Kids don’t really see how great it is to be a kid until they’re not kids any more. No, I take that back. He’d know how cool it was.
If Shawn had his way, what would you see as the real legacy of The March of the Kitefliers. Gimme the whole enchilada.
Movie. No doubt. A proper release, with the right budget and effects to support it. I doubt the Coen bros would do it, since they didn’t write it, but they’d be my first pick anyway. It’s got their humor and style in it. If the studios would let Kevin Smith work, he’d do it very well. Actually, Jean-Pierre Jeunet would do a brilliant job as well. But definitely a full motion picture release. Since it’s my whole enchilada, Neil and I maintain creative control, and the studio executives thank us for it. Then the rest would take care of itself: action figures, shaving ads, hordes of women running after my car where ever I go – very Hard Days Night. Seriously though, if done right, the movie would win awards. I’d bet vital parts of my anatomy on it. I’m not talking smack either. The film, The March of the Kitefliers, would win major awards. Quote that. It’d make Garden State look like the Police Academy sequel that couldn’t even make it to video. And those hotsnot punks from that other movie, what was it? Good Will Hunting? Yeah, Kitefliers would stick their weenies in the dirt too. That’s what I think of them apples. Awards. Major ones. Bet on it.