Valentine’s Day for those of us who work in the theatre, is just another day, like birthdays, Easter, etc. We are used to the harsh mistress that is the theatrical tech schedule; she who shows no leniency for affairs of the heart.
Some of my happiest birthdays have happened in the theatre, where once, following a dress rehearsal of the S.T.A.G.E. benefit, in the notes session, my friend David Galligan told the cast that it was my birthday, and I was suddenly being serenaded by Broadway performers like Kay Cole, Penny Fuller, and a full orchestra led by Ron Abel. It was magical, and I felt like the luckiest person in the world to be doing the thing I love the most on my birthday. I still feel that way.
Academic theatre is similarly dispassionate about the pillage of its practitioners’ time.
My birthday coincides with Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday holiday, providing me with a three day weekend every year after the first week of the spring semester. And I need it by then, having survived the gauntlet that is the audition bender week where 10 shows audition and get cast in the span of four days.
We “Theatre People” learn to bend the calendar to fit our social lives in somewhere. For years, as a stage manager, I had Mondays off, and so it was on Mondays that I entertained, or went to the movies, or did the laundry, or did the grocery shopping, or cooked. Actually, substitute “and” for every one of those “or”s above and it will be closer to the reality of how theatre artists manage their limited time off.
This year, I had the privilege of meeting prospective students on Valentine’s Day. And like the old hoofers we are, my husband and I exchanged Valentine’s Day cards and an obscene amount of chocolate over the breakfast table, then separated for the next 12 hours, coming together again after the auditions were done. It isn’t ideal, but we both understand that our work precedes the social.
And here’s my advice to you – if you want a life in the theatre, prepare to explain, apologize, defend, and explain again to those people who say, “Why can’t you go with me to the ___________?” (Insert: baseball game, baby shower, fashion show, funeral, wedding, prom, gallery, picnic, slam dance event, marathon finish line, you name it – you will miss it at some point). “I have rehearsal.”
That’s why it is a good policy to mate with someone who is from the same tribe – I have never had to explain to my actor husband why I needed to stay at the theatre for 10 out of 12s for 7 consecutive days. He gets it because he understands the business. Does it make it easier to bear? No, not really. He gets lonely and wants me to come home. I think about him at home waiting for me and get impatient to return. But I don’t have to deal with someone who doesn’t understand why I’m not home.
And when I am home, I am home. And he is there. And we are happy to be there, grateful for our healthy relationship of understanding and mutual respect. Of the work, and of the life we have crafted together.
For years, when Chris was growing up, we had a finely tuned balance of parental duties. I remember once when I was stage managing “On Borrowed Time” at the Pasadena Playhouse, and Chris was about 3, they were in rehearsals for “Lend Me A Tenor” and the actor Paul Dooley, who was playing the Maestro, had a motorcycle accident and broke his shoulder. The artistic director, Paul Lazarus, asked me if Jimmie would be able to come in and do a few performances on book, and for the next two weeks or so, I spent the day with Chris at home, while Jimmie rehearsed at the Playhouse, and then I’d bring Chris and our dog, Molly, who was in “On Borrowed Time” to the theatre and pass Chris off to Jimmie, who took him home and fed him dinner and put him to bed.
And we did it all in stride, because we are “Theatre People” and it didn’t feel the least bit foreign to us to completely integrate our lives with our work. Chris had a blast, running all over the green room – he loved being backstage – poor kid grew up in theatres all over Los Angeles. I remember a Halloween when he bobbed for apples in a big tub down in the basement of the Doolittle theatre right outside the green room during “Jake’s Women.”
And so, missing one Valentine’s Dinner isn’t so hard. We will celebrate it tomorrow night, and so it goes. This magical life in the theatre with my true love.