The Play’s the Thing…


That’s the view I’ve had for the last few weeks. I’ve been the eye in the sky, turning on lights and making noise for a play I joined up for a couple months ago.

A couple months ago…? Did we really start this thing in May? It is the end of June and we just had our last performance today. And odd for me, I’m writing about it now instead of when I first poked my toe in the entry way and said, “hey, need a volunteer?”

Let’s set the record straight: I don’t know why I signed up to help on a play. I don’t know what I expected to get out of it. I had no vision of where this was going. I had no thought about what I would bring to it. I was asked these questions when I signed up, and I do recall saying something, and I also recall that what I said was mostly crap. Curiously I mentioned nothing about having made a film. It just didn’t seem relevant. And perhaps that is true, because I wasn’t looking to be in charge of this production, but also because I didn’t know what I was looking for.

In short, I did another classic bumbling act. I suppose bumbling is apropos to theater, so it’s about time I paired these things together. Since moving here, I have found myself floundering about like a fish in the desert. How the theater became my saving puddle I have no idea, but something inside me said, “yes, try that, do that thing you know so little about because that will some how make the rest of this mess you’re in all better.”

These are the crazy things we say to ourselves. But as with most rambling madness, there is some wisdom in there if you just manage to listen closely enough.

I told myself I wanted to learn theater to help with my work, to understand a production, to learn more about directing, to meet people, to try something new. I suppose there were some truths in there. When I showed up the first day I had no idea what to do and felt amazingly idiotic. After a few more days I felt idiotic and doubtful. Then a few days after that I felt idiotic, doubtful, and feared I was wasting everyone’s time, including mine.

Then I said, “what the fuck is wrong with you, just shut up and enjoy it.”

And I did. I abandoned any sense of needing an answer and just went with it. I found myself back in those highly awkward spaces of meeting people and having to insert myself into a completely unfamiliar environment. I had no credibility whatsoever and no one had any history of me. I had become, simply, anonymous. I had stepped off the stage of my own regular life and into this nebulous zone where I had no answers, no presence, and no certainty.

Bizarrely, I had created the opposite experience of my professional life, the one composed of scenes where I am accomplished, I have a reputation, and I frequently have to provide answers. It has been strange to realize these last few years that my name meant something to other people, that it is associated with various characteristics and capabilities. I don’t know when that happened, and I didn’t set out to do it, but I suppose that is the effect of doing a particular thing over a long period of time. People start to know who you are (or at least, who they think you are) through what you’ve done.

Work is also the setting where I have smashed my head into walls for far too long, and in most recent history smashing like a bull smashes against, well, other bulls. My head hurts. Literally. I get migraines. I am very tired of smashing.

So this step into the unknown where I also became the person who said, “tell me what to do,” was something of a relief. I embraced the idea that I could know nothing and just be completely open to discovery. It didn’t matter if anything was done my way because I wasn’t there to do it my way; in fact there was a curious joy in figuring out someone else’s way. I liked becoming the person who did things – you need to move something? Okay. You need a book? Got it. You need a lightbulb changed? Done. I read lines (badly). I moved furniture. I gave line cues (being “on book,” which basically means I read the play about 400 times so the actors could learn their lines). I learned how to work the machines. I found all the light switches.

I remember one moment in particular, when I had been sent to find a thing in the basement prop dungeon. Digging amongst all this old, dusty crap, eyes watering from the allergens seeping into my brain, I was tasked with finding the bright but not too colorful, short but tall, round with a hint of square, classy but not posh, smooth yet jagged THING, the almighty mystery object to hold the other unnamed thing that would also sit on the desk but couldn’t get in the way of the sight line and can’t upset the color scheme (yes, this is theater). The thing to be held by the thing, both of which I believe ended up not being used in the end. Yes that moment, my hand covered in crud from unburying some tatty roundish piece of shit that had fallen next to a stuffed rabbit staring at me with its dead freaky zombie eyes, when I thought to myself, “this is what you do when you have a doctorate.”

And I laughed, because I realized that is exactly what you do when you have a doctorate. You step into the unknown, you make yourself uncomfortable, you give up any sense of competence because that is how you make discoveries. That is how you remind yourself that at the end of the day, most of the bullshit we cover ourselves in during our “professional” life is exactly that, crap that no one really needs to care about.

I had stepped into theater because the reality of my life just stopped being interesting.

I still don’t know where this will take me. I have had the thought that if I could make a living at this, I may go all out and switch careers entirely. But I caught a glimpse of that when I made the film; I am also aware that part of the appeal of theater and film is that it is not my regular life. But for now, I like knowing that the people I worked with on this production seemed truly appreciative of what I did for them and that some of them would like me to come back. I made some friends. I hope I get to see them again. Maybe at some point I’ll try an audition (which truly is my final frontier…). Maybe I’ll keep learning more of these skills. Maybe I will use this to further some of my work in mental health. Maybe I’ll do none of that and just keep digging in the prop room.

Maybe all I really wanted to do was create a new home.

Or maybe I just wanted to hang out with theater people again since, after all, they really do throw the best parties…

…and it all comes down in the end