Get to Know Max, Creator of BALL: A Musical Tribute to My Lost Testicle
Good Night is so excited to present our first full-length production on April 29th and 30th: in fact, tickets are available now! The show is entitled "Ball: A Musical Tribute to My Lost Testicle," and it is the hilarious and emotional story of one man's struggle with testicular cancer. Who is that man, you may ask? His name is Max Wojtanowicz, and he is the creator (and star) of this new show. A Minneapolis native, he is so excited to share this story with Sioux Falls at the end of April. But first, he wants to share his story with all of you here.
How did you find out that you had testicular cancer?
MAX: I found a lump, which ended up being a varicocele, which is like a varicose vein in the scrotum. The doctors said it was nothing to be too concerned about, but we did an ultrasound just to be safe. They sent me to a specialist the next morning and he broke the news.
How much did you know about testicular cancer before you were diagnosed?
M: Nothing! It's much more common than people think -- 1 in 263 men will get it in their lifetime -- but lots of folks don't like to talk about a) cancer and b) cancer in parts of their bodies they'd like to keep private. But many men I knew told me they had fought and beat it, so that certainly helped me face it.
What was the process of creating "BALL: A Musical Tribute to My Lost Testicle"?
When I was diagnosed, I met with my friend Nikki Swoboda, who ended up directing the show, and she encouraged me to think about telling my story onstage in the Minnesota Fringe Festival. I hadn't even begun treatments yet! I was hesitant at first -- the festival was only eight months away and I wasn't sure if I'd be completely well again by the summer -- but as I went through it, I slowly came around to the idea. I was keeping a private journal, as well as a CaringBridge where I'd update friends and family about how I was doing, and a lot of that writing made its way into the show. Nikki and I agreed that I would wait to start formulating the show until I was done with chemotherapy -- that was in April of 2016 -- and then we'd get to work. So I worked up a draft and collaborated with her to make sure it made sense, it flowed well, it was funny and it was satisfying.
What was the most important message you wanted to convey with this show?
If there's a takeaway from the show, it's that life is unpredictable and it will throw obstacles and challenges our way, but there is always a way through those challenges. Everyone has a different way of combating those obstacles -- mine was telling my story through this show. I think that's pretty clear once you see it!
Was there anything that happened to you that gave you extra strength during your struggle with cancer?
Well, my urologist -- the one who delivered the bad news -- turned out to be my second cousin! So that was a wild coincidence, which I chose to interpret as a good omen. My oncologist was Polish (same as me), so that was another. And my friends and family were unbelievably supportive. All the good people suddenly make themselves known in times of crisis, and I owe them a debt of gratitude for sure.
How does performing this show feel now as opposed to when you first created/debuted it?
I wasn't sure how it would age, but so far, so good! When I first performed it, I had been out of chemo for only four months, so my hair was just starting to grow back. A lot of the nerves of creating the show and performing it for the first time were on display, and I think now I've settled into being able to just tell the story without those jitters. I still get emotional throughout it, and I imagine I always will.
What is your favorite part of the show? What parts do the audience seem to respond to the most?
Picking my favorite part of the show is close to impossible. I do really like one bit, my monologue where I talk to the testicle that was taken from me, the cancerous one. People usually respond well to that. Every audience is totally different -- many parts of the show come as a surprise, so I don't want to spoil anything!
You often talk about how part of the inspiration for this musical was a friend who told you, during cancer treatments, to "conquer it and then sing about it." Tell us about that moment.
This came in a card from a friend of mine who I hadn't seen in a while, and she might not even remember that she said it, but I read it and started weeping. It was so simple.
Why should someone see BALL?
I think it's a show about affirming the power of the human spirit to conquer anything, to overcome the hardest things in our lives. No one wants to talk about cancer, so I wanted to make a way for people to laugh in its face and face the darkness in their own lives with humor and heart and passion. I promise, for a show about cancer, it's funny! I told myself when I started writing that I wanted to write a show where the audience laughed, cried, laughed again, and walked out singing. Most audiences have done that.
The show also functions as a love letter to those people who give their time and talents and energy to helping people like cancer patients who are at the lowest of low points. I was constantly in awe of my caregivers, and they never get enough credit. All my doctors and nurses came to see the show in Minneapolis, and I was so honored that they each saw themselves in my story. It was my tiny way of saying thank you to them, and I hope the medical community in Sioux Falls and the surrounding area will come and enjoy the show as well!