Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
I am spending World Theatre Day 2019 trying to bend my brain around dozens of lines of dialogue; my teeth and tongue around a dialect filled with magnificent little trills and cadences; my limbs around the points in space to which we have agreed I should travel when those lines are delivered in that dialect. I am quietly counting the clicks of the gears as they attempt to solve the problems with the new adaptation I’ve committed to writing for a world premiere one year away. I am applying the lessons I have learned about character, form, and specificity to the audio medium as I plan two more episodes of a show’s second season. I am remembering with gratitude the collaborators who have two more weekends of performing the play I had written and rewritten and lamented and loved, remembering the weeks and months before it opened in which I marveled that anybody else cared enough about that story to put so much of themselves into telling it.
I am a six year-old in a reading enrichment class, wearing a flat troll’s mask made out of cardboard, being defeated by another classmate pretending to be the largest of the Billy Goats Gruff. I am eight or nine, standing on the stage in the large gym in front of a crowd of patient parents in metal folding chairs, performing a sketch that attempts to describe an aspect of neuroscience using the mechanics of football. I am in an original musical for junior high choir students set in a newly opened video rental store, lip-syncing as gamely as I possibly can to a succession of four different voices behind me. I am in high school bouncing from stage crew to stage crew and cast to cast, playing doomed children and stuffy astronomers and malevolent judges and harried hospital administrators, being kicked in the head repeatedly by the martial arts instructor I have insulted. I am in college learning principles of theme and deconstruction from an acclaimed performance artist, auditioning to be part of thesis projects and raw expressions of self, tossing aside prose for the first time and writing three-dimensional stories about luckless midnight skydivers and mountain climbers encountering out-of-place literary devices and suicidal escape artists and inanimate objects compelled by unseen forces to murder one another.
I am in Chicago again, having convinced myself that the theater is behind me now, that my college-refined skills for language must instead be put to work for serious pursuits in serious industries. When the president of the publishing house I interview with expresses concern at my theater background drawing focus from my work I assure him that such interests are past, not present.
Within a year I am spending several evenings a week learning improv; within two years I am attending ad hoc meetings of playwrights’ groups and writing new one-acts about paranoid goldfish owners and arrogant film actors to be performed maybe once or twice in front of 25 people in the midst of a 72-hour marathon of hodgepodge theatrical entertainments and somehow this makes me unimaginably happy. I’m being invited to join the ensemble that will define my voice, temperament, and preoccupations for the next dozen years. I am creating weird and joyful work onstage with my soulmate consisting of fabric scraps and jazz music. I am stumbling accidentally into a show that was willing to make use of my odd party trick of a Scottish brogue and I am developing bonds with intensely talented artists who will become my most cherished, most instinctive interpreters and champions. I am providing what effort and insight I can towards writing a new code of conduct for the city’s storefront theaters in an attempt to shift the culture away from the abusive power dynamics I’d been taught were necessary and inextricable. I am finishing things that have sat in the back of my mind for years and I am setting myself impossible tasks that cause me weeks of paralysis and thoughts of faking my own death simply to escape the impending catastrophe; I am somehow managing to render these tasks not only possible but achievable.
I am leaving behind my first true artistic home and finding myself surprised when I’m invited to join another. I am telling myself that this is the year I should quit and somehow another year goes by without me quitting.
I am each of these things that I mention and I am a hundred other things I am neglecting to mention. It is World Theatre Day 2019 and I both know exactly how I got here and cannot quite believe that I’m still here at all.