A day in the life of the citizen actor: 10-8-10
36 hours in the Citizen Actor’s Life: the 10 – 8 – 10 sequence.
8:00 – 8:30 am. We have a fight with Ella about what music to listen to as we take the kids to school and day care. She wants to hear the same disk over and over and Sooz and I about to lose it. We settle on WXPN – AOR and Ella mopes. Griff is dropped off at school with a permission slip to go see the International Children’s Theatre Festival with his class in May. Running late, Sooz calls our chiropractor and cancels an appointment for that morning. I call our home message service twice with reminders to myself to call people and do things – like tape Lost tonight. I spot a brand new Honda Odyssey as we drive to Ella’s day care. I feel the little envious rodent begin to gnaw away at me. As we drop Ella off I see it again. It belongs to someone who sends their kid to the same day care center we use. Odyssey, I think, what an apropos word for us right now.
8:50 am. Starbucks, and I control myself. I order a single shot, then on the way to get gas for the car, I erupt in an outburst of hurt and indignation at Guilford College for not even responding to my email asking whether or not they were considering me anymore. It’s a Quaker college, I rant, you’d think they’d have the humanity to call people they interviewed on the phone and at least say thanks for your time. It confirms all my horrid suspicions about academic culture. As Alice says in Actors Way: universities are conflict averse places populated with intellectually snobbish cowards. The espresso kicking in, I gather steam and move on to the Inquirer review. Sooz joins in and we sing a vengeful duet together, excoriating Zinman and the Inky and bemoaning the sad state of criticism in America.
9:15 am. Warm up on stage with a handful of the cast. We are each in our quiet routines. For me, simple stretches, breathing and light vocalizing. This show is giving my larynx a run for its money.
9:55 am. I rock out to the Headbanger playlist, listening to it through earphones connected to my laptop. At the places call, I consider giving a small speech to the cast, to counteract the review. But the moment comes and I am not called to speak. We welcome Frank, our A.S.M. who is going on as Willard’s understudy, Jeb being in New York performing with my favorite Philly dance group, Headlong Dance Theatre. I give Julianna I hug and say, “That’s just because you’re so great.” She smiles knowingly at me and says thanks. She had been singled out for some negativity in the review.
10:00 am. Lights up to a full house of 400 or so high school students bussed in to our production. The show is tight, focused. The kids are still and attentive. At intermission, Julianna and I have a talk about Quakerism.
12:15 pm. After a truncated curtain call, we remain onstage in costume to have a talk back with the kids. The kids always ask about the wigs, and the three balding guys in the show (yes, I am one) crack them up by coming downstage and removing our flowing locks simultaneously. Then I am stunned when this question comes from the back of the house: “Ben, I know you are very religious man. How is it playing a minister in this play?” After unfreezing my face, I realize the question has come from a young member off my Quaker meeting, there with her Friends School. I reply that it’s an amazing journey, and that Hale moves from his head to heart during the play, but too late. Very religious man, I think later, is that how I come across? Do people think I’m a zealot?
1:15 pm. Sooz and I treat ourselves to lunch out at a Vietnamese restaurant. We have realized that it is very unlikely that I will get a job that will replace the Villanova income. We have acknowledged that we can’t afford our mortgage without some unexpected windfall, and asking my siblings for more money is out of the question. I look at her over a hot bowl of noodle soup and ask, how serious are we about selling our house and moving into something more affordable?
“I think we’re serious, “ she replies. We begin to plot out a scenario in which we sell our house for about hundred thousand dollars more than what we pay for a new home, something smaller and closer to People’s Light. I feel so sad about this, we love our home so much. And yet, I also feel the rightness of naming the truth of our situation. There is something freeing in it. I text-message a confirmation to the babysitter coming to watch the kids tonight while Sooz and I do the evening show. It will be Jenny of the ice—blue eyes.
2:00 – 2:30 pm. Sooz and I shop for food for the coming week at a supermarket in the same mall as the restaurant. Total for the week: $135.
2:30 – 3:15 pm. Groceries in the back, we pick up Ella first, then Griff. Jenny texts me that she’s on for tonight.
3:30 pm. After unloading kids and putting away groceries, Sooz and I tag-team naps. I go first and rest for and hour, after setting up the VCR to tape Lost. Maybe I go under for ten minutes. Mostly I lie in bed and try to stave off anxiety about moving, jobs, Actors Way and my own sense of failure at having been unable to create a way for us to hold un to this house. I feel battered.
4:45 pm. Sooz gets me out of bed. She had been playing outside with the kids, so I plop them in front of . . . PBS kids! I begin to write a reply to the review on the laptop as I sit next to Griff and Ella on the couch. I’m trying to write something the Inky might print. This proves very hard, as all I want to do is call Zinman names in print.
5:30 pm. I make a double espresso for myself and begin dinner. It’s hot dogs, pickles and sweet peppers tonight. At 5:45 I send the kids up to wake up Sooz. Unlike me, she usually passes out during naps. During dinner, Ella has one of her monster poops. We are toilet training her, and she has acquired the habit of holding it inside until there is no choice. She won’t poop on the potty yet, so when we see it coming, we slap a diaper on her, which she hates. She then screams and cries while Sooz and I act like mid-wives, telling her to relax and breathe as he passes the evening’s offering. This almost always happens during dinner. Griff ignores us and eats his hotdog.
6:30 pm. Jenny arrives, to the delight of Griff and Ella. We are blessed to have wonderful young babysitters whom our kids adore. Sooz and I drive back to the theatre, and we discuss the letter I am writing. We agree that the best way to go about is to try to broaden the discussion into one that examines the role of criticism today, and how review like Zinman’s make criticism irrelevant.
7:15 pm. Light warm up, and I try go through the moments in the play in which I will be adding back text cut for the high-school shows. The morning shows are about 20 minutes shorter, so we are doing two version of the script in rep.
7:30 pm. I get side-tracked by an article on Scientology in Rolling Stone. At first I am struck by how bizarre the organization seems. Then I wonder, aren’t all religions strange to each other? Wouldn’t my Quaker belief system strike a Scientologist or a Hindu as weird? Aren’t we all looking for the path that suits us best? But there is a money-making thing in Scientology which I find deplorable.
8:05 pm. Lights up for our second show of the day, though for me it feels like an entire day/night cycle has passed since I awoke 14 hours ago. We play for an almost full house. Again, the show feels tight. It crackles.
9:30 pm. Julianna and I pick up our on-going theological discussion during intermission.
10:20 pm. I set up for my entrance into the final scene. I am utterly exhausted, but the scene soars. Graham later comments that he felt it was the best it had been so far. I am in tears at the end.
10:45 pm. I drive while Sooz drinks her after-show beer. We talk about the show and our lives together. “Did you ever think that this would be your life?” she asks. I don’t know how to answer. I squeeze her hand.
11:30 pm. We arrive home. We watch some Letterman as we unwind. I used to watch him almost every night, sometimes before I went out. Now it feels like a window into a life someone else lived, 20 years ago.
12:30 am. I am asleep.
5:50 am. Ella awakes. I stumble downstairs to settle her and pray for an extra half hour of sleep.
5:55 am. Griff uses the bathroom next our bedroom, the one downstairs is being repaired. That’s it. It’s over. I’m awake. We have show to do at 10 am, but mercifully not one tonight. Maybe I’ll watch Lost this afternoon. Yeah, right.