It never really occurred to Seanie Sugrue to write things down.
For many years, he was content to let word after word take up residence in his head, where they started stringing themselves into sentences that begat a series of siblings that swirled into stories striving to be released.
“I always had a very active imagination, but I didn’t know what to do with it,” he says.
This was not much of a difficulty for him when he was a working-class lad growing up in Tralee, the rural town in County Kerry, Ireland whose claim to fame is hosting the annual Rose of Tralee International Festival.
“There were no artists around to inspire me,” he says. “I spent a lot of time in the fields surrounding my home by myself.”
So it was that he passed his time until it was time for college. He signed up to study, of all things, civil engineering, a subject he had less than zero interest in.
“Everyone I knew was doing that, but it wasn’t for me,” he says. “I hated being in the classroom. I stayed briefly, and by that I mean two weeks.”
His biggest dream, which of course he never put on paper, was to come to America.
“I always planned this,” he says, adding that an aunt of his lives in the Bronx. “I had been a bartender since I was 14, and I wanted to do that in America, but you can’t drink – or tend bar – until you’re 21, so I had to wait.”
Seanie, a tall man with an alliterative appellation, subtle blue eyes and raven black hair, did some waiting in Edinburgh, where he had friends, while working in construction and in bars. He also lived in London and the Spanish island of Gran Canaria.
Once he hit the magic legal age of 21, he made his way to New York, where he took jobs in a trio of Irish bars in the East Village that all had the same owner.
“I had no plan,” he says. “I was going to bartend until I figured it out.”
As it happened, writers like to drink, so Seanie ran into a lot of them.
Precisely when and where did he write his first words?
Seanie skillfully skips around the question again and again.
“I’m a writer, after all,” he says. “We do procrastinate.”
Finally, he gets back on track.
“At 23, I went to a screenwriting course,” he says. “But I only lasted one week.”
It took six more years for Seanie to start writing, and even then, he says, he really didn’t do it.
“I ran into a guy and pitched an idea I had in my head,” he says. “I watched him write it on his laptop.”
The work, Catch 22: Based on the Unwritten Story by Seanie Sugrue, became his first film.
That writing/non-writing experience made Seanie realize that he wanted to pen plays.
“I went to the Strand Book Store a lot and just stood there and read,” he says, adding that Neil LaBute’s In a Dark, Dark House is what started him on his stage-writing career. “Sometimes I stayed there and read five to six hours a day; sometimes, if I liked the play, I bought it. I was there so much that I bought a jumper with the Strand name on it because it’s the ‘college’ I went to.”
He finished his first play, Black Me Out!, while producing his Catch 22. By 2015, he had co-founded the Astoria-based production company Locked in the Attic.
These days, the words rush out of Seanie’s brain; thus far, he’s written and directed five additional plays, most of which have played at The Secret Theatre, an Off-Off Broadway venue in Long Island City.
His latest, The 8th, revolves around two siblings who return home to mark the first anniversary of their father’s death and are drawn into a spirited political debate about the country’s recent legalization of abortion. The work was named best production at the 2020 Origin 1st Irish Theatre Festival Awards.
“One of the actors is good friends with Neil LaBute,” Seanie says. “He came to see the play and told me he liked it.”
During that time, Seanie finally finished his debut novel, Cardboard Coffins.
His newest film, Misty Button, which is about two Irish guys in the Bronx who place a proxy bet on a racehorse of that name and pocket the money, has won numerous awards; it’s opening next month.
What with his series of successes, Seanie has all but given up bartending. Now, he concentrates on his writing.
Every weekday, he puts on his headphones, tunes in his custom playlist and taps out his ideas from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Each evening, he spends at least an hour editing.
“I enjoy writing,” he says, adding that he also produces and directs. “It doesn’t feel like work.”
He also works on projects for others, through Locked in the Attic Productions.
“I haven’t had much free time,” he says, adding that up until recently he had been working 12-hour days then topping them off with bartending gigs. “I read a lot – it’s like taking my brain to the gym. And I go to the movies, which I justify as research.”
This year, Seanie will be going back home to Ireland to shoot a feature film. He’s also polishing two scripts – one set in Los Angeles and one that takes place in Ireland.
“I’ll keep on writing,” he says. “I want to take things a step up and do everything on a bigger level.”
Copyright 2020 by Nancy A. Ruhling