Monday, May 23, 2016

The LURE of Independent Theatre (gratitude to Mr. Miller)

I am always amazed, inspired  and  rejuvenated  when  involved  in  producing a  play  with  artists who  are dedicated  to  the  theatre  for a  common  good. In the  theatre  this  good is  sometimes  stated   but  often only  understood  or  felt  on a lower  membrane  level. The  actors, designers  and  participants  might never  communicate  with  one  another  why they are  doing  this   thing  they  call a play.  It  will  probably  never  be  said,  but  it is  the energy  that moves them  forward,  creates  innumerable  experiences and, I  would  argue, gives  many  of  us  some  sense  of hope in a challenge  of  living  that  can often  be  filled with  messages  to  the contrary. The  walls are closing  in  but  somehow when  we  reach  opening  night  there  is a glimmer  of imperfect light  at  the  end  of  the  tunnel.

These  actors  and  designers - the  cast  and  crew -  gather  to  make  uncounted  collective  sacrifice  that  is  rarely  seen or  discussed  during  the  process  or   after. They  sacrifice   opportunities  for  income  that  will  keep  them  alive and a roof over  their  heads. They  sacrifice opportunities  to  gather  with  family and  friends at  weddings, funerals,  and birthdays. They  sacrifice  untold  hours of preparation  outside of  rehearsal to  learn  lines,  research  roles  and  share the activity  with others in  the  community.

A more  crass observer  might  say  these  were  only self-interested individuals promoting  their  professional  activity  so they might advance  in  their  profession.  While the understandable  human  desire  to advance  professionally  is present as a pre-text, the unliklihood  of such progress  would  discourage  even a  snail  from it's  shell. The professional  entertainment  industry grazes infrequently in our  fields. Another  unspoken  collective  truth that  furthers my admiration  of  the  warriors  who gather.  We  are  bound  together  by  not  only  the  hope that  we  will succeed  by  also the  collective  recognition  that  it  will not reward  us  greater  than the experience  itself. It  is an inevitable  disappointment.  I know  of no  other professional activity  that  asks of  all it's  members such a prelude.

When I  hear  actors  scoff  at  doing "free  theatre"  as if  they  had risen  to a level above and  beyond it's  boundaries, I am  reminded of  the moments in  such  adventures  when  true  art   happens  in the  midst  of this  collective gift  to  our communities and  then I  know that  we  are  engaged in a  much  greater , primitive joining of souls  that  has the power  to renew individuals  and  restore their  vision  for  the  following  day's challenges.  

I am  reminded  of  Rebecca  Darke, who  was  first  introduced  to  our company in  her  early 70's, having lived a life of  sorrows and  joys - a lifetime  member of  the  Actors' Studio.  I think of  her   magnificent   grace  in  small  roles in some short  plays we  produced.  I  think  of  the stunning  disappointment  when, at  80, she  failed to recall her  lines  on  evening  when  the  NY  Times  was  present  for a  two  hander she  had  led. The  crushing  defeat  she  felt  in  her  eyes  of  having   disappointed a  fellow  actor. And I hear  her   mentioning  to me,  some 2 years  later  , that  after  a performance as  the  grandmother in  Horton Foote's, The  Trip  to Bountiful, she  mentioned to me, "I'm  finally an  actress."   I am reminded  of the gentlemen who left a letter  in  our  hat   after  show, saying  because of  hard  times  the  letter  was  all he could  offer  but  our  performance  was  what  he  looked  forward   to  every   day. I am reminded of the  gentleman - missing  teeth - who  wait after  each  performance he  sees   of  ours , records our  autograph in  his  program,  delivers  copies  of free newspapers  with our  listings in  them and  tells  us we  are  the next  Public theatre.

There is a kind  of  eternal frustration and  disappointment   that  binds  us  in  the  theatre as we  search  for  that  light. But  there is  an  experience  of  true  collective  joy  when it's  seen,  the  requisite   envy  at  the  seer,  but  nonetheless  joy at  its  sight, that can remind us  all that  the  predicament  of the life is a  shared one. We  are still looking for the answers and  only  discoveries  made   with  the  depth  of  our  joined  hearts   can  show  us  the  way.