WHY I’M WRITING A BROADWAY MUSICAL ABOUT MALE BREAST CANCER
Dreams come in all shapes and sizes. Cancer helped me to find one that fits.
By Khevin Barnes
We’re taught from an early age that we can “achieve anything we wish for” with hard work, perseverance and a belief in ourselves. I always wanted to live with that conviction, but life is riddled with disappointments large and small, and we sometimes lose faith in the “perseverance” part of that formula for success.
It took breast cancer to reconnect me with that belief.
I can clearly remember the day in 1956 as I sat on the auditorium floor at Walt Disney Elementary School in Anaheim California, waiting for Walt to arrive to take our entire school over to see his new project; a little place called “Disneyland”. While all of the busses were being brought in to caravan the students and teachers across the city, a puppet show had been hired to entertain us. At the end of the show I asked if I could visit the backstage area to see how it was all done.
My teacher escorted me around the curtain, and it was there that my world and my life changed forever. I was shown how the puppets had been manipulated with strings, how the music was played on a big tape recorder, how the clouds in the puppet show sky were made to move by painting them on a big belt that turned behind the tiny castle window, and how it was all put together by people hidden behind the curtains.
The “production” methods, the secrets that turned everyday objects into magical beings that sang and danced, showed me that little bursts of fantasy can be created and brought to life through art and creativity and clever special effects. I didn’t know it then, but that puppet show was a tiny Broadway Musical that captured my full attention and has lingered and colored my world ever since.
I got to ride over to Disneyland in the first bus of the caravan, and Walt jumped on the bus and slid into the seat beside me. I don’t remember a word of our conversation. But visiting Disneyland that day, and the clear link between the design of that tiny puppet show and the ability to create life-sized magic at Walt’s theme park dazzled my imagination beyond words. Being 6 years old I had no clue how my life would unfold, but by the time that day was over, there was no question in my mind about the direction it would take.
But that of course, was a very long time ago. And now I’m an old man with breast cancer.
Being diagnosed with male breast cancer in 2014 took my very breath away. That’s how unexpected and incessant it was, ripping my datebook for life into shreds, and hijacking the moments I had reserved for the projects l loved. Cancer existed in stark contrast with the world I had been living in as a stage magician, writer and musician.
But having cancer also gave me a new sense of purpose. Along with the obvious goal of saving my own life, there was something even bigger that appeared in my future, at first just an impulsive thought, until it infused itself into my ambitions and became the driving force that now gets me hopping out of bed each day.
After cancer I realized very quickly that my life was suddenly presented with the opportunity to “be of service” while I continued doing all of the things I was inspired to do. Cancer didn’t mean I had to give up any of those imaginative avenues I loved. It just meant re-directing the creative traffic toward another destination.
And so my mission to write and produce a Broadway Musical about Male Breast Cancer is a perfectly logical choice for me, though for an unknown writer (outside of a television show that garnered a couple of Emmy Awards almost 25 years ago), it’s a stretch. It’s a very big dream that not surprisingly has a lot of unknowns attached to it, and a limited amount of time to grow.
But cancer has a way of fast-forwarding our future, and to make changes to everything we have planned. And so here I am, a 67 year old unknown playwright with male breast cancer writing a full-length musical play.
And the truth is, I can’t think of a better cover letter.
Most exciting of all is the fact that I’ve published an open invitation for men to submit their personal stories, anecdotes and conversations about their own cancer, some of which will be used as script in the show. The response so far has been extraordinary.
When you think of it Male Breast Cancer is just quirky enough to make it a captivating subject for musical theater. Great plays have been written about Phantoms, Cats, Hunchbacks, Fairy Tales, Mermaids, The book of Mormon, Kinky Boots……. The list goes on. I believe that Male Breast Cancer awareness will benefit greatly through an imaginative, unusual, reverent, humorous and authentic evening of musical comedy.
I’ve begun the long funding process — raising dollars for singers and studio time to bring all 12 show tunes to life. Once done, I’m confident that the show and script will find a cancer organization or philanthropic supporter to bring the production to the stage. In fact, I’m betting my life — or at least what I have left — on it.
The show is called “SONS OF SAINT AGATHA” after the patron Saint of Breast Cancer who lived and died in the late 1500’s. You can read about her, the show, the music and our fund raising efforts (and listen to the opening song for the show) at:
If you’d like to help with our fundraising efforts to create the show and promote Male Breast Cancer Awareness, please visit: