Returning the Favor and other Slices of Life

Returning the Favor
Returning the Favor
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Friday, June 27, 2008

Thought from an empty theatre

I wrote this last night as I was waiting for the cast to arrive for the show -

For nearly 20 years this has been my refuge. Theatre, I mean. I walked into my first audition at 16 years of age because I thought the teacher was hot (she was). I got the lead in that production of Up the Down Staircase and the path of my life was irrevocably changed.

I’m sitting in an empty theatre, and there’s an anticipatory, but tentative feeling in the building. You see, it’s not just that every theatre is haunted, and most of them are, but the building itself has a soul. This place has been around for 80 years, and after eight decades of hopes and dreams and make believe, a building grows a soul of its own.

I feel some of the ghosts of this theatre every time I work here, because there are friends of mine from this place who are gone, but not gone. You see, even if you’re alive, at the end of a show you leave a piece of yourself behind. If you’ve done it right, you leave a big piece behind. There have been shows that I knew I did a good job that night if I wanted to puke when I got off stage. There have been other shows that I directed and felt like there was a gaping hole in my soul when it was open, because so much of myself had been poured out to create the work that was going onto the stage.

And now I’m here again, in the same place that I’ve been over a hundred times before. I don’t know exactly how many shows I’ve done in the past 19 years, and a lot of it depends on how you count them. There are shows that I’ve been paid to do that I spent just a few hours running a spotlight for, and shows that I’ve been given design credit for that I only gave an afternoon of my life to. But the ones I count are the ones that I’ve either designed, directed, or performed in, and that number floats somewhere around 100.

So I’ve averaged five shows a year for 19 years. And there have been breaks in between. There were years that I only did one show, and some years where I did more than one show each month. It’s easy for a designer to produce a huge volume of work, because I come in for a few meetings, a few rehearsals, hang the lights for a day or two, focus and program the cues for a day or two, go through a few tech rehearsals and move on to the next show. It actually takes far less time to design the lighting for most shows (especially in a small market like Charlotte) than to perform any other aspect of the production.

And some of the gild is definitely off the lily for me. I think it’s time for another little break. It’s tough doing theatre in a town that doesn’t care. And this is definitely a town that doesn’t care. The type of theatre I do best requires an engaged community, and I don’t live there.

I could be very successful here doing Godspell and Lil’ Abner, but that’s not what I’m about. I’m about Bent, Corpus Christi, Boy Gets Girl and God’s Country. I’m about shows that mean something, and have something to say. And that kind of theatre is difficult to do consistently in Charlotte. So right now, I think this will signal a break for me. I’ll obviously perform in Richard III, since we open in two weeks, and I’ll design Godspell, since I’m committed to it (and it’s paying for me to go to Vegas in October). But I don’t think I’m signing on to any more projects in the near future.
This place isn’t where I go to hide from the rest of the world, like it used to be. Now a theatre is more a place I go to work. I feel about going to the theatre like Otis and Pauly feel about going to Vegas, and it doesn’t take me nearly as long to get my thousand-yard stare.

Of course, being the mercurial sort, I reserve the option to throw all that in the shitter if someone offers me a flaming boatload of money to do a show, or offers me a flaming boatload of money to do the kind of theatre I want to do. The problem is one of priorities. Theatre has at times been one of the top two or three priorities in my life, frequently surpassing work and family. I’ve had some huge fights with Suzy in the past when she wanted me to cut down on the amount of theatre I was doing and spend more time with her.

I always got very defensive, frequently yelling at her “this is who I am! This is who I’ve been since before I knew you!” And it was. And it’s not anymore. I no longer identify myself as a lighting designer. Or a theatre producer. Or a director. And I’ve never identified myself as an actor, not to anyone who really was an actor and could possibly recognize that for the lie it was.

Nowadays my family is more important. My work is more important. My friends are more important. The friendships you have in theatre are odd ones, not just because the people are strange (and they are). But the relationships are intense, and short-lived. The people that you spend hours on end with for the months leading up to and during a run are the same people that you won’t see again for months or years after that.
Not all of them. I’ve developed some true friendships from my work in theatre, and you know who you are. But those friendships have grown outside of the theatre, and some of those friends I’ve barely ever worked with in the theatre. We know each other through theatre, but have become friends outside of it. My last hiatus from theatre taught me something – that it is possible to have friends that are just your friends, and not the people you’re working on a show with.

You guys helped teach me that, too. Thanks. So, barring the perfect project coming along, this will be my last opening night as a director for a long while to come. And one more as an actor in Richard III, then one more as a lighting designer for Godspell. Then I’ll have in the course of three months reprised all my major roles in theatre – actor, producer, director and designer.

Then I’m gonna hang out for a while. I’m writing a bunch for PokerStars and PokerNews, and hopefully that will continue through the fall. And who knows, maybe somebody else will come out of the woodwork and need my lowly scribblings.

But for tonight, and for the rest of the summer, I’m still a theatre goof on top of everything else. And while the ghosts of the theatre watch, my merry band of retards will take the stage in a couple of hours and bring to life (hopefully) the words of the greatest writer in the history of the language. And if we’re lucky, they won’t butcher the dick jokes too badly.

3 comments:

DrChako said...

Break a leg.

-DrC

Instant Tragedy said...

It seems that we are all considering new ventures and new challenges. As the doc said, Break a Leg and have a great show.

May you find what you need and what you want. We'll be here to support it.

Sean

yestbay said...

All the best in the productions coming up. Enjoy the break. You'll be back in the theater, when you are ready. It needs people like you, just as you need it.