Cinderpost 4: farewell
I dried up early in the run – went blank on stage. It had been a while since I had so totally forgotten the next line, and the head-spinning anxiety and disorientation was bracing. It was in my first scene, right after the Prince leaves. Mozart says “Ah, kids . . . ” I reply, “Shut up. (pause) They say you are a genius, and you are my son’s best friend.” On this particular day I said “Shut up”, got a laugh, enjoyed it, stared at Matteo across the stage and flat-lined. Knew it was my line, had nothing. Matteo began making absurd little gestures no doubt meant to help me, but instead leading me further afield as I began playing a desperate silent game of charades with him, my eyes as big as saucers, my stupid King teeth jutting out a bit too far. After what seemed to be 10 minutes of this agony, but was probably about 5 seconds, Matteo sauntered towards me across the stage. “You know,” he said,”they say I am a genius, and I am your son’s best friend . . . ” With the sound of freight train catastrophes echoing in my head, he and somehow managed to get the thing back on the tracks.
Such is the bond of love and fear between actors. Thank God, that was the only time it happened, a brain fart born of exhaustion and over multi-tasking.
My encounters with the children in the lobby have been so sweet and meaningful. Some see me and back away, overwhelmed by the sudden proximity to what had been a loud figment of their imaginations only minutes before. Some strode right up to me, giant smiles on their faces. All of them wanted to be touched, and to touch me, as if the tactile connection was both proof of my reality and an extension of the magic they were experiencing. I spoke to them about the King in the third person, and this could lead to some amusing exchanges (“No, I’m asking about you – The King!”)
Some of the (mostly African American) kids from the schools who came in the mornings would just walk up to me and slide between my arm and my body, wanting to be held. This broke my heart, since I knew this was less about being close to The King, but rather wanting, needing to be held by a father figure. I felt myself become a champion for those kids, and more convinced than ever that artistic creativity is a way out for them, out of whatever challenging circumstance they have been born in into.
How do we make El Sistema happen here?
When you perform a show 86 times, it gets interesting again around show 60 or so. It’s interesting all the time, but around show 60, we all being to search for something new to keep us engaged, because by that time all of us can act effectively in a scene in front of a full house and be thinking about lunch. Which can lead to drying up (see memory #1 above). An actor can discover the infinity that exists in the tiniest moment between people, if one is attentive and relaxed. And we give ourselves permission to extend and explore lines and moments in a way that brings something new forward, and captures the attention of our stage partners. This is where the stage manager will sometimes preserve the integrity of the show, step in between shows and say, “So, maybe that line you delivered in Spanish today? Maybe next time you could do it in English again?”
No one began speaking Spanish in our show, but the endless exploration continued.
I went through some personal blue periods durning this show, and experienced – again – how I am psychologically healed by acting. Don’t tell me it’s not therapy. I am given the chance to go somewhere else, to escape into a world of collective imagination peopled with heroes and heroines I know and love, and create something brand new and never to be seen again, giving it away to a room full of people I have never met, who love me back into balance. No wonder we grieve when we have to walk away from it after the last show. No wonder it feels like an addiction.
In a run as long as this one, the family/community/village dynamic backstage is intense. The rituals we partake in with each other without acknowledgment become as important as the show itself. Indeed, they make the show possible. The gathering around the greenroom table before half hour, the chatter of the dressing rooms, the on-going bawdiness and story-telling, Alec Farrell’s ingenious sign-in questions. And the village was bigger than our cast: it included our ASMs, board op, and occasional offspring who, because of child care issues, would join us backstage.
I had a solitary ritual which was my anchor – a fairly elaborate stretching warm-up routine I did onstage with headphones on. On bad days, that routine was the beginning of my salvation. On other days, it was a celebration of my life, affirmation that my body is healthy and strong, something I gave myself like a gift. I am convinced that part of the reason I avoided some of the disease that went around the dressing rooms over the course of this run was this routine. I will be back at the gym this week, now that the show is closing, to try and adapt my routine to the YMCA.
What do we grieve when a show closes? The applause? The bright lights? I think not. I think we grieve the demise of our little temporary family which, for some us, fed us in a way our families of origin never did. What we must guard against is denigrating our other lives because they can’t match the greenroom magic. That’s not fair. The greenroom is magical in part because it is temporary – it shimmers they way something shiny does in the sun, but then the sun sets, and the world is just as beautiful as it always was. In fact, it’s our job to remind everyone of that.
I think we’ve done very nicely with our Cinderella.