Overcoming cancer in ‘Stages’: New playwright Bidasha sets Sequim play for January 2020

Going through cancer can be a frightening time for many. For Max Bidasha, dealing with his epithelioid sarcoma meant writing a play about it.

Long a fan of theatre and the stage, Bidasha was inspired to write after seeing “Network” on Broadway in May. He’d gotten on the plane the morning after several days’ worth of cancer treatment in Poulsbo, and with a front row ticket in hand he got to see a play he’d long been anticipating. After the show, he actually got to meet two of the show’s stars, Bryan Cranston and Tony Goldwyn, which was a huge deal to Bidasha, a long-time fan of Goldwyn’s.

The experience of both seeing a play as intense as “Network” and talking with Goldwyn about the show and his cancer experience left Bidasha with a burning need to tell his story on stage.

So began the process of writing “Stages.”

“I just knew that this was what I needed to do,” Bidasha said. “You just don’t see plays about cancer like this. I felt like I had to do this.”

“Stages” will be on stage at Olympic Theatre Arts Jan. 9-12, though it’s not going to be a part of the theater’s regular performance season.

“I’m renting out the theater to put on the show,” Bidasha said. “They’re handling the technical side of things, while I’m in charge of what’s on stage.”

Bidasha not only wrote his first play in just two months, he’s going to be directing and acting in it for the first time as well.

“It’s a challenge, but one I’m willing to take on to make sure this is done right,” he said.

The challenge is a financial one as well — Bidasha raised about $3,000 to cover the theater rental through sponsorships from Hurricane Coffee and Olympic Stained Glass, plus a few private donations.

He’s still looking for more funding to improve some aspects of the show, as well as to rent additional time for rehearsing on stage.

“The response from the community has been fantastic,” Bidasha said. “I really appreciate all the support and love I’ve already gotten.”

Two male parts are still being cast, and Bidasha encourages people of color or various disabilities to try for the roles. To ask about casting or to offer sponsorship, contact Bidasha at stagestheplay@gmail.com.

“Stages” is about Bidasha’s journey as a cancer patient and survivor. Bidasha wound up working with several different doctors before he felt like he was getting real, quality treatment, and that’s something reflected in the play.

In the end, Bidasha’s unusual form of an already-rare cancer in epithelioid sarcoma — the primary tumor was in his hand, when it’s typically a cancer that forms in soft tissue — meant that he had to have his left arm amputated several inches below his elbow in December 2018, just three months after his initial diagnosis in September.

The cancer has spread to Bidasha’s lungs, but he says his prognosis is currently good and he’s not concerned about it impacting his ability to produce the play.

While he has family in Sequim — his father, stepmother, and two half-sisters have lived here for five years — Bidasha himself has lived in Sequim for less than a year. He was living in California’s Bay Area when he was diagnosed with stage four epithelioid sarcoma in his left hand, and after several conversations with his father, a member of the local Black Diamond Junction band, he decided to join his family in November.

“I wasn’t scared of dying,” Bidasha said, “but if I was going to I didn’t want to do it having wasted time I could have spent with my family. That’s what I was scared of.”

At a table at Hurricane Coffee Company, Max Bidasha works on “Stages” — a play he’s bringing to the Olympic Theatre Arts stage in January. Photo courtesy of Max Bidasha

At a table at Hurricane Coffee Company, Max Bidasha works on “Stages” — a play he’s bringing to the Olympic Theatre Arts stage in January. Photo courtesy of Max Bidasha