Draw this picture in your mind: I was at a Valentine’s Party (okay, right there I’m suspect. Who has a party for Valentine’s Day?) crowded with too many people in too small a space that either arrived drunk, were actively getting drunk or were in the process of leaving drunk. It was, in a phrase, a party of . . . well, sloppy, gross drunks. That’s never, ever my idea of fun.
I’m standing in my kitchen, reeling from a long, tedious day of too many people asking too many things in too short a time from this one mortal person. My head’s pounding, my stomach’s growling and there’s so much tension in my back, I’m practically wearing my shoulders as a helmet. All I seem to be able to focus on is whether I should include one, two or three slices of individually wrapped, unnaturally yellow, processed cheese slices in what I’m sure will be the definitive grilled cheese sandwich.
I know I’m going to bleed – that’s a foregone conclusion. But I’m beginning to think I show up at my own staged readings just to figure out if I am going to bleed a little or bleed a lot. My first real thought when I sit down to witness a reading of a new play of mine is, “is this going to be a Band-Aid kind of evening for me, or should I call in the paramedics and a triage team, and for good measure, book an emergency suite at St. Vincent’s Hospital?” Because the really dramatic action isn’t happening on stage, baby. You want dramatic action?
I’ve been around the theatre a long, long time – well, almost forty years to be exact. Like so many of you, over those forty years I’ve seen a lot of theatre: high school and college theatre, community theatre, hole-in- the-wall theatre, struggling-to- stay-alive theatre, regional theatre, off-off Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Broadway theatre. And during those same years, I immersed myself in the making of theatre as an actor, dancer, director, choreographer and finally, as a writer.
While I was in Houston this past weekend meeting local DG playwrights and attending a fascinating festival of short plays by the really talented members of Houston/Scriptwriters, something smacked me in the face – hard – and it wasn’t the legendary humidity (though I have to say, that knocked the wind out of me more than once). I’ll play the scenario for you. It’s 5:00 a.m and I’m checking out of the hotel I’ve stayed in. A sleepy desk manager presents a bill to me. I scan it, look closer, review it one more time to make sure I’m reading it right, then look up to the hapless, sleepless desk manager and bark – and I do mean, bark – “This has got to be a joke, right?”
I know, I know. Not too often you can say that. But within an issue that celebrates the gorgeous tapestry of theatres throughout the country – large and small – that produce new, original work, size doesn’t matter. What matters is that they have produced dramatists in the past and they continue to produce dramatists well into the future. I’m sure you realize that in an unsteady economic climate, that’s a tall order for anybody.
It took me until the tenth grade in high school to find the one class that I could excel in, a class that I actually proudly sat in the front row for, did all the homework assigned, asked for extra-credit work outside of class (unheard of!) and sat with rapt attention from the moment the bell rang signaling its beginning through to its end.
Because of a long list of childhood “dents” in the psyche (being the runt of the litter, not being remotely attached to anything that resembled an organized sport, being “creative” in a way that made people whisper and point and suffering through checker-board acne, poorly formed teeth and equally malformed hair), I spent the better part of my early adult life trying to putty over those dents by being a people pleaser. I learned early on that by salving other people’s injuries, I somehow dulled the ache in me. That’s a really dangerous lesson to learn early on.
Recently, I was in the middle of nowhere (well, somewhere deep in the woods of New Hampshire) at a theatre conference, sitting at a faux-wood table clustered together with three other faux-wood tables that made one of five pods of tables in a room designed to resemble an old, weathered ski lodge (or, faux-lodge).
I know it took a lot of courage to look me in the eye this morning and smile. I’ve been on your side, hiding behind a microbiology text book, hoping no will notice the acne on my face, my crooked, chipped teeth, my hair that looks like a mistake of nature, my legs that are too thin for some and too big for others.
Over the last few days, I've sadly, maddeningly watched the reports of innocent lives shattered by violence in Louisiana, Minnesota and last night in Dallas. This morning a reporter on CNN said somberly, "Five of Dallas' finest lost their lives...."; I've heard the same thing in the reportage of Alton Sterling's and Philando Castile's murders and the slaughter in Orlando; these people "lost their lives."
I want to offer an observation and then an apology. I was sitting on the subway this morning and overheard this conversation from one young woman to another: Friend A: Want a piece of this apple? Friend B: No, thanks. Friend A: You really should eat it. You look thin to me. Friend B: Same weight as always. Friend A: Yeah… which is too skinny.
I was looking for a rubber band this morning and in the back of a desk drawer I found a mini-cassette tape. The first “title” of it had been scratched through and scrawled on top of it was “9-11.” It then occurred to me that this is one of those tapes that used to pop into an answering machine.
I’m fascinated by a woman who works in the lobby of my office building. The color of her hair is not in nature, but if an eggplant was on a collision course with a burnt, red tomato, you’d get the idea. For the eight years I’ve worked here she’s always had grey/white roots that cap a third of her head.
We were traveling on the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut. I was in my Jeep, going about 65 miles an hour in the right lane and you were in the left lane in your…well, I don’t what you were in because I never saw you. I did FEEL you, though, as you side-swiped my Jeep, forcing me to jerk right and collide into a guardrail, blowing out a tire, and ripping off a good portion of the side of my Jeep. And then you kept driving.
Over the last couple of months, I’ve been drawn to the word “demagoguery” for some reason. It’s one of those words I’ve read in the newspaper, heard repeatedly on Anderson 360, heard blasted from Bill Maher’s mouth, Rachel Maddow’s mouth and even Bill O’Reilly’s mouth (when I accidentally lingered on his image on television).
So I’m in a doctor’s office, doing maintenance on a body that’s been thrown around the world for a good long while, and the technician that’s checking out the vitals – Theresa -- is chatty. It’s early in the morning, so I’m not so chatty; I’m in a not-had-enough-coffee- coma. But Theresa is chatty, and I’m a southern boy, so I know I have to volley the conversation so I don’t look like a New Yorker who can’t be bothered with the simplest shades of humanity.
So what do you do when you’re two hours early for your flight? Read, think, sleep, watch people, eat bad food, look for drama, make to-do lists (which I’ll lose somewhere), write an email, cruise on-line, create a new workout for the gym (which I’ll forget about by the time I get home), outline a play in my head, think about the next class I’m teaching – in short, I take a mini-vacation on a large linoleum floor.