I Remain Refraining from Didacticism

Oct 17, 2009 by     No Comments    Posted under: Attitude, Thousands of Stories

Looking at the posts on Playbills vs. Paying Bills, I notice a couple of interesting trends: most give advice and all of them are not written by me. I have taken a leave of absence from my creative blogging as a result of many self-edits and self-consciousness. I have taken a leave of absence from my advice blogging as a result of feeling that I am the last person in the world who should give anyone advice. However, I have decided to stop judging myself for the moment and I will now blog for the first time in over two weeks. This is not advice. This is a story.

Hello, friends. The Free Night of Theater event, the central project for my internship with Theatre Communications Group, is now over. I have posted in the past about the specifics for this project and its intentions to expand audience membership for independent theatres around the country from simply that of the theatre community and tourists to the average member of society who, without the free tickets, would neither want to nor be able to afford to go to the theatre. October 15th was our celebration of this event to be held in Union Square park for 6 hours of ongoing performances, presentations, and information booths. Unfortunately, the weather did not agree with this plan. The rain would not have prevented us from going on but the cold and the wind was a bit of an unstoppable force.

At the last minute, 500 theatre artisans, producers, organizers, and philanthropists relocated to a nearby theatre on a nondescript side street. Those who chose to stay and continue their scheduled performances, did so on an empty stage with house lights and a dejected, bitter, and freezing audience of their peers. Passers-by had no idea what was going behind the faceless doors on 17th st and the public community was no longer involved in this event. The performers became the audience members and what resulted is nothing short of the typical ‘theatre miracle.’

Shows come together at the last minute. It’s a pretty safe bet that, no matter where you are in your planning and your tech process, the show will happen and, for some reason or another, it always all seems to work out. This is what I call the “theatre miracle.” Its based around the same theory that stage magic only occurs when one is fully vulnerable, present, and simply being honest in the moment. This is why, no matter how you prepare or what predetermined choices you have made, the show always seems to happen as it happens and, if you are good at what you do, always seems to work out.

I cannot put it any better than my supervisor, head of Special Projects at TCG, Ruth Eglsaer, put it in an email:

In his beautiful final speak Robert Zukerman urged us to be better to one another, more supportive, open and generous. Everyone I talk to today remarks on the wonderful sense of community that was created in that theatre yesterday; which may not have happened had the storm not forced us inside. Creating a move supportive, connected and thriving community is my favorite result of the Free Night program and one of the primary reasons I work for a service organization.

The intention of the event was not to create a strong theatre community – it was to invite the ‘normal’ community to become theatre audiences. But, if anyone can make lemonade out of a shit storm of lemons, its theatre people. We can make costumes, props, and a set out of said lemons too if we must. We’re pretty amazing people and I sometimes forget this when I am consumed by my own wallowing and self pity for my lack-of-career. Robert Zukerman did make a lovely speech, as did Oskar Eustis, the artistic director for The Public. His comments, in fact, touched me so deeply that I did in fact well up. Fortunately, my face was soaked with rain drops that tears remained indistinguishable. This is what Oskar, yes, I call him Oskar as if we are friends, had to say:

(Note: Each speaker was asked to prepare a few words about their favorite theatre moment. These are not Oskar’s words but my summary of his tale) During one summer performance of Mother Courage and Her Children on the Shakespeare in the Park stage, there was an incredible rain storm – much like the rain of today. After a 20 minute rain hold and a remaining, though steadfast, audience of 400, I was prepared to call the show for the safety of everyone involved. The cast, including Meryl Streep, refused to end the performance. They felt a duty to the audience that had paid for their seats with their most valuable possession: their time. They felt a responsibility to their roles and their ensemble. And, inspired by my passionate and conscientious cast, I allowed them to finish the performance. I have never heard such an uproarious applause as that when Meryl Streep went out and got on her knees to towel off the stage so that they could continue the show. At the end, applause was mutual: actors to audience and audience to actors. What they had just shared was an energy that you cannot find anywhere else. It’s cathartic. It’s a community. And it is unique to the theatre world. This is my favorite theatre memory and I think that it is all too appropriate to share with this community that has endured and remained steadfast through the challenges we have faced today.

He went on after that and I am sure that I missed key points but this was the gist of the speech. This past summer, I was fortunate enough to be cast in my second season with The Colorado Shakespeare Festival in two shows that also perform on an outdoor stage. When the weather is cooperating, the venue is nothing short of gorgeous. The sun sets behind the Flatirons as the stage lights rise in to replace the rays. However, during one specific performance of Much Ado About Nothing, a storm took hold, the temperature dropped to near freezing, and ponchos were quickly distributed. The show was held multiple times but certain tenacious audience members refused to leave. We could see our breath in the air with each line and we all were certain of the sicknesses we were certain to have the next day but, as a group, we decided that we owed it to those audience members and to each other to keep the show going. ‘The show must go on.’ After all, we are theatre artists, and we finish what we start.

By the end of the performance, there was this indescribable and overwhelming sense of accomplishment and community. It’s as if we had shared something more than ourselves with everyone in those seats who had, in return, shared themselves and their time with us. It wasnt about money, it wasnt about ticket sales or ego or impressing the critics. It was about giving an incredible gift and a thank you at the same time. Much like Oskar’s story and much like the story we were creating that very day at that small theatre on the Free Night day.

A community is rare, it is strong, and it something that should not be taken for granted. All of my life, I have taken it for granted until I moved to this city and realized that I didnt have that any more. This is, of course, why Oskar’s story hit me so hard. But at the same time, it was comforting because we learn, in times like these, that new communities can be built. That everyone has experienced this sensation and outpouring of generosity and, if it can happen once, it can happen again.

So, to avoid giving advice or attempting to sound wise … I will leave you with that story. Take from it what you may.

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Until another day –

e

And I almost forgot, its about that time. Time for SUMMARIES!!!

Time in Manhattan: 2 months
Day Jobs: 1 – though yet to begin and no money has been made (Unpaid Internship: 1)
Lovers: 1
Auditions: 2 for 10?
Friends: many more than initially expected, and one incredible best friend
Weight Gained/Lost: + 10
State of Mind: still truckin’ (and new decisions have been made)