About the author:
Austin Winsberg has been on quite a few bad dates, and he wants to share them with you! The playwright is bringing his own experience to the table as he makes his Broadway debut with the hysterical book for the brand new musical comedy First Date, which arrives at the Longacre Theatre after an acclaimed run at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre last year. On TV, Winsberg has written for Gossip Girl and Still Standing, and he created the John Stamos-starrer Jake in Progress, but Broadway is a whole new ball park for the Los Angeles native. In an essay written especially for Broadway.com, Winsberg talks about the inspiration for First Date and why just about everyone can relate to this musical love letter to dating.
There I was. In the passenger seat of my own car. Hyperventilating. Being rushed to my parents’ house where an ambulance was waiting. I looked over at the beautiful red-headed stranger next to me. Who was this mercurial beauty driving ninety miles an hour down the freeway, hoping that the random guy next to her didn’t die before they made it to his folks’ place? And what exactly was going through her head at this very minute?
As I continued rapidly inhaling and exhaling (rather loudly… I might add), I started to see any romantic future between me and this stunner quickly evaporating. I know it’s hard to believe, but apparently when a guy has a full-blown panic attack on a first date, it doesn’t exactly make the girl want to rush out on date number two.
I have been asked several times, “Where did the idea for First Date come from?” I believe there is a quote that goes something like “tragedy plus time equals comedy.” So, I’d like to think that the kernel of First Date started that night. Somewhere in the recesses of my brain, as I was checking my heart rate and praying that this wasn’t the end for me…maybe that writer instinct was thinking, “I could use this somewhere…”
Which brings me to four years ago. I was having lunch with two of my closest friends, Michael Weiner and Alan Zachary, and we all decided it would be fun to write something together. We started brainstorming about different ideas that could be theatrical and current and could justify being musicalized on stage. We wanted to write something that we could relate to, that could tap into our hopes, our fears and our dreams. And wouldn’t you know it? There was one notion that kept coming up over and over again: We had all been on nightmare first dates. Like, lots of them.
At first we thought, "Well, maybe it’s just us. Maybe we’re just those guys. The guys with bad luck. The guys who pick the wrong girls. Or act idiotically around the right girls. Or worst of all—the guys who, no matter what we do, the right girls just want to be friends with. That’s the real killer.” And yet, the more we started polling anyone who would listen (family, therapists, random Starbucks customers), the more we discovered that EVERYONE has had bad first date stories. That the experience of looking for love and failing miserably in our search, is actually…entirely universal.
So, okay, we’ve all gone out with some…questionable types. We’ve all sat across the table from somebody and thought, “How the hell am I possibly going to get through this entire meal?” But why does that make for compelling drama? Well, I think the primary answer is this: There are very few moments in life where the stakes are as high as on a first date. For most people, you basically have one chance to make a good impression. Every moment is loaded. Every word spoken is analyzed by the other. One false move could be the difference between going home alone or possibly connecting with your soul mate.
And yet, no matter how bad one date goes, the majority of us get right back on that horse. No matter how much we’ve been kicked and beaten and humiliated in our quest to find “the one,” we keep setting ourselves up for rejection. What’s wrong with us? Are we all some sort of sick masochists? Or is there maybe a little piece in all of us that believes the next date will be the right date? The one where it all just…fits.
I might be wrong, but I do believe that no matter how cynical we get in the dating world, all of us still cling to one fundamental notion—hope. We all hope that the love of our life, the person who makes us whole, is right around the next corner. Or next to us in the produce aisle. Or one little online profile click away. Once Michael, Alan and I realized that a show about first dates could be both comedic and hopeful, it started to feel like a musical.
Our other big “a-ha” moment came when we figured out the biggest theatrical conceit in the show. Namely, that we all bring all of our own baggage, and voices in our heads, and “inner critics” onto first dates with us. See, the truth is, there are two dialogues going on in any first date. The one with the person sitting across the table from us, and the one we have with ourselves at the same time. (“Is he really ordering that?” “Did she just say what I think she said?” “Wow—my father/mother/priest is so not going to be okay with that statement…”)
Somewhere in the process of writing, one of us suggested, “What if we actually see all that baggage? What if all our inner critics were popping up around the restaurant, whether we wanted to hear from them or not?” Suddenly, our two-person first date was now filled with crazy exes, angry family members, helpful friends and other assorted people in our two main characters’ lives who were either trying to help or derail the entire evening.
As I write this, we are beginning previews on Broadway. I don’t think Michael, Alan or I ever thought that our dating disasters would lead us to the Longacre Theatre. And yet here we are. Still filled with hope. Still believing in love. And still cringing about some of the false steps we made on the path to finding our life partners. Sadly, I never did go out with that auburn knockout again. But I’m thrilled to report that I am now happily married and have a beautiful two-year-old son. And yes, my wife and I did meet on a blind date.
First Date opens August 8 at Broadway's Longacre Theatre.