John Sinner: Avant-Garde and Apres-Depression
Yes, John Sinner is John Sinner’s real name.
“It’s one of those things people don’t believe in theater, but it is,” said the L.A.-based writer, director, producer and occasional actor. “I like to say it’s a great name to live up to. Or live down.”
Sinner’s grandmother thinks the family name comes from an immigration officer with poor handwriting. Whatever its origin, it’s a great handle for an avant-garde artist who sees no contradiction between entertaining people and shocking them.
“In my last play a baby got eaten by a pack of men in diapers,” he said.
Is there anger in this man? Sure, but the important thing is that Sinner is happy with his anger. Diagnosed with MS in 1995, seven years later he became one of the first people ever to participate in Living Well with MS, a wellness program at the Marilyn Hilton MS Achievement Center at UCLA that helped him rid himself of depression and lethargy.
The center, which is run jointly by the Southern California Chapter and the UCLA neurology department, is indirectly responsible for a huge moment in Sinner’s career: presenting two one-act plays at the New York International Fringe Festival in August 2008.
“Obviously, August in New York City is going to be miserable,” Sinner said, referring to the heat and humidity, before leaving for New York. “Several years ago, I’d have thought, ‘I can’t do that, that’s going to short-circuit me.’ But now I think, ‘My God, I’m going to be showing my work to an international stage!’ The good things overshadow the negatives. Maybe I’ll invest in cool packs. I’m adaptable now in a way that I wasn’t.”
The one-acts are modern retellings of the Adam and Eve story called Unburthen (To My Soul’s Delight) and If Water Were Present, It Would Be Called Drowning. (Because that’s a mouthful, he’s packaging them as 2 by Sinner.) The “It” in the second title refers to anything in anybody’s life that could become overwhelming if not held back — MS, for instance.
Sinner founded Theatre Revelation and incorporated it as a nonprofit so he could receive philanthropic support rather than rely on dwindling government grants. He also gets support at home from his partner of 16 years, James.
“He didn’t go running out the door,” Sinner said — not even during those first few years after diagnosis, when Sinner was depressed. “I’ve heard from other people’s stories that often it puts their relationships in trouble. Like any relationship, it’s not always perfect, but it’s strong and it’s loving and it’s communicative.”
Sinner said he has grown tired of acquaintances telling him about someone they know who has MS and whose life stinks, in a well-meaning but misguided attempt at sympathy. He figures the best way to change perceptions is to tell as many people as he can about his disease — and his success.
“I hope the next time they meet someone with MS, they’re going to tell my story. They’re going to say, ‘I know this artist named John Sinner, and he’s doing great.’”
Editor's note: A reviewer from nytheatre.com caught 2 by Sinner at the Fringe Festival and called it "polished and well-crafted" with "near perfect balance." Congratulations from the entire MS community, John!