I’m old enough now to have been several things. Over the last six decades, I’ve been a library clerk, a husband, a retail store manager, a stepfather, a student, an advertising manager, a wine consultant, a friend, a singer in musical theatre, a husband again, a Frisbee artiste, a party planner, a government relations director, a voracious reader, the president of a chain of liquor stores, a book collector, a singer in a rock-n-roll band (the whitest soul-singer you’ve ever seen), and……an actor/storyteller.
I’ve been pretty good at some of these things. Others? Well…I still throw a decent Frisbee.
During the “ugly hour” (thank you, David Bromberg for that troubling concept) of looking in the morning mirror, the person I most often see is that last listed; actor/storyteller. It feels like I have consumed a huge chunk of my life by instantly pondering in every situation; “How am I gonna tell other people about this?”
Storytelling and acting…it’s my comfortable place.
I’m remembering a time when I was rehearsing a play.
It was Athens West Theatre’s production of The Christians by Lucas Hnath and I was spending my evenings rehearsing a gripping and relevant script with a literate and incisive director and a cast whose passion humbled me.
It was a real good time.
What enhanced the rehearsal process were the spaces in which we rehearsed.
We rehearsed in various rooms at a private school in Lexington. One night we would be in the school’s cafeteria, the next in the school’s music room, the next in the school’s theatre office. The spaces were warm and clean and neat. Everything worked. Everything pointed to civility and creativity. Their hygienic competency inspired us to leave the spaces as pristine as we found them. That was their message to us; “Work. Create. Dream. Respect those that follow.”
I have worked in rehearsal spaces (and theatres themselves) that were far from pristine. In one space we tried to create an Antarctic setting in the basement of a downtown building that was thermostat-challenged in January (I assure you imagining the cold was no problem at all). In another, we rehearsed Sam Shepard and Sherlock Holmes in a building that shook with every passing car and the dust hovered in the air looking for a parking spot in our lungs. Another space nourished our creative efforts with water fountains that spewed burnt-siena-tinged fluids. Other spaces saluted our presence with deliberate car horns. Shakespeare was challenged by rain and heat and barking dogs (sometimes simultaneously).
Our storytelling efforts were not improved in these broken environments.
Striving to create, surrounded by broken things.
It reminds me of a Christmas I witnessed where a six-year-old boy received a bonanza of presents. Every complicated gizmo advertised on TV that holiday season was unwrapped Christmas morning. He was delighted and overwhelmed…for a day. By the next day, the charms of every toy and gizmo had faded. The six-year-old with six-year-old motor skills had compromised every item in some way. He sat in his play space pitifully surrounded by things that did not work as they should. They were all broken…in some way.
Surrounded by broken things.
What good can possibly come from that?
I was envious of the bubble created by the private school. I wanted to play with all the guitars and drums. I wanted to share their meals and thrill to their daily discoveries. The message to the students was clear; “We don’t expect you to merely survive. We expect you to thrive. We expect you to make things better.”
But outside the bubble…?
What about the broken things elsewhere?
Bridges, water slides, county water systems, sinking cities, neighbors sinking into substance abuse, and teenagers carrying weapons of mass destruction and brains that will not be fully developed for another five to ten years…
We are surrounded by broken things.
We are not improved by the messages those broken things impart.
We must fix the broken things for everyone.
It’s not dramatic…or sexy…or rapid. I’m old and may not see the harvest of such a mending, but I know it’s the better path and I’ll sleep better and tell a better story if we’re heading in a better direction.
Respect those that follow.
This is not hard.