Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Monday morning I woke up feeling out of sorts. It's the same feeling I have always experienced when a show ends, a really fantastic ensemble piece, and we strike the stage. The set is dismantled, the costumes returned to the rack outside the wardrobe room to be cleaned and rehung for another show. The dressing rooms are wiped clean. All that remains as evidence of the production are the memories of those who performed, worked, or saw the show. Everyone takes part in strike, with few exceptions for age and frailty, before anyone can enjoy the cast party (otherwise everyone is enjoying the food, and two people are tearing down the set.)
Then comes the party. A celebration of a job well done, either at the theatre or when we were really lucky, at the fantastic estate of Kathleen and Bill (Doc) Howland, complete with swimming pool and trampoline for summer shows, and a basement with a pinball machine for winter ones. Oh- yeah and peacocks and ostriches running around the compound.
My good friend Patric, the one in the middle with the glasses, used to cry at the cast party.
Heather Howland (on the right of this photo rehearsing Pied Piper with Lisa Kurtz), who was Kathleen's daughter and occupant of the aforementioned residence, reminded me so in an email the other day. I used to feel so bad for Patric. I had been doing shows since the age of 5, so I didn't quite get why he was so sad. Maybe it was just his first show, I reasoned, and he'll realize that you just immediately audition for the next one, and within a week of rehearsals it will be just as fun, with new friends and some old, as the last play. But I recall Patric crying at the end of most of the shows we did together those first few seasons, and I felt helpless to console him because I really didn't understand it.
However, as I grew older, and had a few magical moments with cast, crew, director myself, I began to grasp why Patric mourned the end of the show.
Fry's Memorial was Sunday night. Waves of nostalgia came to me the weeks before scanning all those pictures. In a way, I felt I was living through all those rehearsals, classes, performances, strikes, and cast parties once more. Then the Memorial came, the show if you will, with an audience filled up with many of those same characters, now all grown up, grown older, than they were the last time we shared the stage.
And of course I cried off and on throughout the evening, like Patric at a cast party.
I haven't done so myself for every show I've ever worked on. But as Patric grew out of it, I seem to have grown into it. As I get older, my teachers, parents of my friends, and some friends of my own have left me. Now each season, whether they be of the theatrical or literal kind, feels like a gift to drink in, savor, fully soak up, and then tuck away for reminiscing and waxing poetic later.
In Fry's Arena, an actor, director, or stage manager, were fully involved throughout the production. The crew, who often came from the acting class groups, ventured in during tech week and were instantly equally vested. When the stage was struck, everyone who had occupied your every spare moment for days, weeks, or months slipped silently (or not) out of the stage door one last time. You knew you would never again be in the same room together as an ensemble, and were left feeling a mixture of relief and mourning, the degrees of which depended on just how wonderful or horrible the experience was.
When it was the right combination of cast, crew, direction, and character, the loss can put you in an incredible funk the first few days you resume your "day job" life.
There were a few standouts in my Junior/Youth theatre days-
A Christmas Carol
I Never Saw Another Butterfly
and The Butterfingers Angel, etc.
But I usually applied that "just throw yourself into the next show" theory to chase the post show blues away.
In adulthood, there have only been a few such times -Anne of Green Gables,
Jesus Christ Superstar (at the Guild),
The Glass Menagerie (with Kathleen directing, my mom as my Mother, and Keith and Tom from Fry's class with me) and
The Miracle Worker (at Kent Stark), after which I got into my car to leave the theatre the last night, and cried the whole way home.
I wasn't ready to let the show, the people, my character, or the moment go. I knew walking to my car, before even pulling out of the parking lot, that the show, the cast, the experience was a rare, fantastic, magical moment in my life, and had already become a memory that will fill me with longing for years to come. You never know if it was the last time that will happen. And after going back to college for my BA, and burning myself out working or acting in nearly every production at Stark for a few seasons, combined with working full time, single motherhood, the play ending usually fell into the relief category. I have not done a show in over five years. That's never happened to me before. And sometimes I fear my curtain has done called.
That same feeling of strike, has haunted me the past few weeks, whenever I connect with a Junior/Youth Theatre alum, and start talking shop. By last week, as I sat in Fry's office sorting through and scanning pictures, the waves caught up with me in a flood of nostalgic loss. Not just for Fry.
It was seeing all the kids I was "raised" with, in the photos, trapped in time, in black and white, mid sentence in improv or rehearsal, building a "machine" in class, constructing a set, learning to apply their makeup. It was Pat Hemphill adjusting a costume, Fry and Kathleen, in their late 30's I imagine, on stage together in The Gingerbread Lady. I sent that picture to Heather, who responded that it was her mom's first play at the Guild, and her first time working with Fry. It was a meeting of minds that would grow to a best friendship for the rest of their lives.
There was a picture of my brother, pre-accident, the only clear figure in a "whirling" exercise or dance of some sort, while everyone else was a blur around him.
And there was another of him and his best friend Geoff Mize doing a scene for rehearsal or class.
Frozen in time.
I could just sit there all day frozen along with them- an awkward 12 year old, wishing to be grown up and join in with her older brothers and their fabulous peers- to me the "Greatest Generation" of kids to grace Fry's stage. At least to the watchful eyes of a 12 year old on the brink of adolescence, a year before tragedy would likely freeze so much of that time for me, as the time "before"-
Before the accident took my older brother from us
Before my mother had to quit her dreams to care for him
Before all those kids grew up, left town, moved on.
I remember a sadness in that theatre, as the news of the accident spread throughout the day during classes, me sharing it with those who hadn't heard yet. I recall it was the annual costume sale, and I was sad my mom wasn't there so I could buy some of my old costumes like we always did. Classes and plays continued, "the show must go on,"but the first of many ghosts, a classmate dead the other disabled for life, had already befallen our small family like company of players.
That sadness followed us, followed me the next few years of shows. It wasn't truly healed until I came back in my 20's, rejoined Fry's class and made a new generation of friendships.
I have been pining for the Players Guild since I left the second time, to pursue other theatre experiences and gain my BA in the subject at the Kent Stark Theatre. And I made many lifelong friends there as well. But with Fry's death I feel a need to return "home" as I said in the other blogs.
How when there are so many ghosts in those halls for me...
some literal- Kathleen, Pat Hemphill, now Fry...
Others figurative- my brother, our cast/classmates, tech directors, artistic directors, fellow actors and crew members...all moved on.
Damn Fry and that all that sensory memory stuff he taught us. All I have to do is ring the buzzer and have someone buzz me in- it starts right there. Then if someone's pounding together a set, if lines are being read, if there's a sewing machine stitching, if I smell sawdust- Ha! Dust in general- make-up, hairspray, feel the velvet of a curtain...
I am instantly transported to another time, another place.
And up until last month someone would be there who knew, who remembered it all with me.
How to put that all behind me? Audition? Do another show, meet new people
make new memories?
It came to me this week, when responding to an email from Fry's niece, Barb, to whom I had given my blog and email address at the Memorial Sunday night. I had wanted to talk to her at his graveside service last month, but never having met them I didn't feel it was the right time. We are the same age, and both writers! Heather has said she can just see Fry in Heaven, sitting around smoking cigarettes catching up with Kathleen, Pat, and Maggy, while Gretchen reminds him to hit the ashtray with his ashes (for God's sake!) And from that table, it would seem that Fry is still directing me, arranging yet another new friendship somehow.
"VERY Good!!!! There! there! there!"
Barb wrote to tell me that she read and enjoyed my blogs about her uncle, very gracious if you ask me, since I'm so long winded. ;) She also asked if and what I was teaching at the Guild. I replied I hadn't even approached anyone in a position to make it happen about that possibility yet. In all honesty, the prospect of teaching one class to honor a man I took thousands of classes from seems daunting. Where the heck to start?
Later in the day I started mulling it over again. Was there anything we didn't cover? Was there something I wished we had at the time?
I thought of all the amazing classes, and eclectic instructors he snagged for us-
Lare Sattler for Juggling
My mom and Anne Meiser for puppeteering
Kathleen for classic theatre
Lauren Landis for mime
Jim Brothers for Tae Kwon Do
Duane Brubaugh for make up
Karen Ziemba (tony winner!) for dance (Will never forget that Tapico song!)
Then it came to me. As a young writer, the one thing in all those years we never did and I always wanted to-
Playwriting- monologues, scenes, one acts...
And of course instantly the lesson plans fell into place.
I am typing up my resume now!
Barb wrote to me about her writing. She's been published in Renaissance magazine, something I'm sure made her uncle, a closet poet and playwright, very proud. She said after the family's had a chance to read through the poems, she would be happy to get together with me to read them.
What an honor that would be.
Maybe we can use them in the class somehow.
I think Fry would really like that.
Zen was not meditating at 3:19 PM