I have a secret to share with you. Lean in and learn of one’s unleashed desires after so long and barren a stretch. In the past week, I have surpassed all acceptable limits of decency. Each night I’ve been with a different intellectual and spiritual partner. I’ve brought along my friends and even my sibling and his wife for my indecency. I’ve driven to large houses, small houses, each night straddling my way across a stranger’s or many strangers’ knees with nervous anticipation as I make my way to my destination. As my host dims the lights, I’ve felt the familiar frisson of expectation, of hunger, a quickening of breath as I was plunged into the darkness with complete strangers on a journey of re-discovery, new ideas, shocking language, visual, aural and intellectual titillation.
“Surprise me,” I mutter under my breath. My eyes widen, and with a sharp intake of breath, head leaning forward, heart pounding, I watch as figures scurry in the dark, underscored blackness of the theatre until the lights come up and I am transported to a new world.
I make theatre for a living. I have all my life, or since my life began at about 20, when I discovered that theatre was what I wanted to do. Now I teach students how to make theatre. I don’t even know if they would say I teach them how to make theatre; maybe they would classify what I do as interference in their desire to make theatre. I’ve spent the last seventeen years interfering with their theatre in as productive and compassionate way possible. Since just January 2022, I’ve spent 92 hours sitting in the dark in either tech or dress rehearsals for four plays.
I know that 92 hours of sitting watching “the sausage get made” in our four theaters on campus has surprisingly reawakened my appreciation of the collaborative potential of theatre artists. I feel a swell of optimism, gratitude that we are all sharing a physical space again after eighteen months of doing what we do separately, virtually, via zoom. Perhaps the mere physical presence of artists together even wearing masks is enough of an aphrodisiac to set me off at a trot to see others’ processes where I don’t know the ingredients.
Is it the unimagined potential of new creative ideas that makes me salivate? Am I the only theatre appreciator who is so wanton and insatiable?
As though 92 hours in the dark theatre laboratory wasn’t enough, I’ve filled my calendars with additional theatrical trysts:
- Teenage Dick, Pasadena Playhouse On Demand – Feb. 3, 2022
- Everybody’s Talking About Jamie – Ahmanson Theatre – Feb. 11, 2022
- Blade to the Heat – SDA – Scene Dock Theatre – Feb. 19, 2022
- Seize the King – SDA – Scene Dock Theatre – Feb. 23, 2022
- Slave Play – Mark Taper Forum – March 1, 2022
- Scenes from The Odyssey – SDA – McClintock Theatre – March 3, 2022
- Next to Normal – Massman Theatre – March 5, 2022
- Trayf – Geffen Playhouse – March 12, 2022
- Apartment Living – Skylight Theatre – March 13, 2022
- Hooded or Being Black for Dummies – Echo Theatre – March 14, 2022
- Hamilton – Pantages Theatre- March 16, 2022
- The Power of Sail – Geffen Playhouse – March 18, 2022
What is it that makes me weak with desire for more theatre? Is it the physical response I have when shocked by what I see or hear? Cattle prodded to the very center of my sternum as I was by Jeremy O. Harris’s Slave Play: powerful, funny, profoundly unsettling and maybe more riveting and vulnerable than any human discourse I’ve ever witnessed on stage before? As each act unfolded, I witnessed my physical reaction as if suspended from above, my head jutting turtle-like forward, eyes wide, blushed by designer Juyoun Chang’s red LED strips overhead, our rougie, bougie images bouncing back in designer Clint Ramos’ scenic mirrored panels. Or straining to acclimate to the cheeky teenage Brits on stage in Everybody’s Talking about Jamie before loosening to enjoy a young person’s discovery of their potential. Or watching the multi-faceted triangle of Orthodox Jewish teens wrestle with faith and friendship around the tape console in their Mitzvah Van. It’s a little like being in a foreign country every time I go into a new theatrical space. I’ve bought my ticket, I’ve boarded the plane and tingling with the anticipation, I look at my map/program, imagining how the faces will be utilized. So many familiar faces in the plays I saw this month. So many former students making their way as actors, producers, stage managers out in the professional world. It’s exciting as hell.
In the waning moments before we hear that theater’s pre-show announcement cajoling us into compliance with our mask behavior and reminding us to cut the tether to the outside world by extinguishing our devices, my mind spins into ever faster cycles of anticipation as I ready myself to experience empathy with the other.
Will I know how to speak the language here? Will I be able to understand? What part of this conversation will I carry home with me? What will remain with me in the coming days? What images? What words? What human characteristics will affect the way I move in the world? Is this just escapism? A place where I can be transported out of worry and stress and daily strife? Or is it something that can change the world we all live in by our having experienced this moment in time together?
Even though I am usually exhausted from tech and dress rehearsals, I always attend a performance of each of the plays that we produce. An audience is the last character that makes what we’ve been working so hard on actually theatre. It’s you and me in the seats: whether plushy velour, or hard wooden folding chairs, we are the last ingredient. Programs on our laps, chatting amiably before the show, or just sitting reading the program, listening to others chatting amiably, I love being the final ingredient in making theatre. It isn’t until I feel those 60-1000 people breathing and laughing and gasping together that I feel satisfied in a way that no other space or experience can engender. It is an unexpected pleasure after a life of calling shows from a booth or physically removed from that cushioned seat.
You may be preparing to stage an intervention. Surely, you’re thinking, she has surpassed the boundaries of mere subscriber to hopeless addict to the sweet elixir of theatre. I’ll give you that. Yes, addictive behavior isn’t new to me, thirty-eight years sober. But perhaps this current crush on theatre, this I-have-to-see-everything-mentality is residual longing from our pandemic isolation. Maybe the passion will cool and I’ll return to a more blasé dozing off in my seat post prandial nap state. But for now, I am enjoying the frequent trysts with multiple literary dramatic partners. Wanton is working for me.
LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE. Sharing an addiction to theatre/live performance. Longing for someone to share discussing these shows. I miss – and long for – that hushed darkness of in-person community taking a shared journey.
Thanks, Pat! So another wanton!
Els, I have been reading your blog religiously. I’ve said before I admire your writing. You have the gift for sure. The reason I am writing you now is we have also been busy attending shows. My wife Kiki and I are now both retired and lucky for me she loves theatre as much as I do. I noticed in all of your attendance you didn’t mention the show “ Undocumented “ now playing at the Fountain. While it’s not “Great” it’s a show worth seeing. We both loved “ Lehman Trilogy “ and “ Slave Play “ ( I laughed my ass off much to Keeks annoyance) and we do intend to see the shows at the Geffen. Els , I realize we haven’t spoken for years. I think the last time I saw you was Susie’s funeral. Before that we watched the Rose Bowl Game at Susie’s house. Anyway , I just wanted to touch base with you and let you know that I love your posts and to say I really admire your ability to stay engaged with your students and also to encourage your writing. I definitely think you have a book in you. That being said I will close with you , Els , are a GREAT manager, so if you ever tire of teaching you have a profession that I’m sure would welcome back. Also if you ever want or need a partner to attend a show keep me in mind. I’m flexible and available…much love, Stan
On Tue, Mar 15, 2022 at 10:12 PM lifeinthethe8tre wrote:
> lifeinthethe8tre posted: ” I have a secret to share with you. Lean in and > learn of one’s unleashed desires after so long and barren a stretch. In the > past week, I have surpassed all acceptable limits of decency. Each night > I’ve been with a different intellectual and spiritual part” >
Oh, Stan! So great to hear from you. I’m so glad you and Kiki are seeing shows. Thanks for the tip on undocumented. I’ll check it out. I am so excited to see Hamilton finally – I’m probably the last theatre person to see it. You are always so encouraging, Stan. That means a lot to me. I miss Susie a lot and remember that game day fondly. She went too fast. ❤️🩹 okay, don’t be surprised if I hit you up sometime to go to the theatre with me! Love to Kiki and thanks for always lifting my spirits! 😘 xoxo