A day in the life of the citizen actor: vol. whatever
6: 30 something a.m. Amazingly consistent body clock lifts me to consciousness before 7:00 a.m. alarm. Bathroom and iPhone activity but not at the same time. Bed, stretching and pretend snoozing. Really grateful for my awesome body clock which reliably gets me 6-7 hours of sleep each night.
7 – 8 A routine I could do with my eyes closed which involves making coffee and breakfast.
9:30 – 11:30 teach 2 classes in the ghetto of academic creative process, in which the experience of creativity as a dynamic educational experience is barely tolerated, since there is no effective outcome assessment for such experiences.. My acting students have begun their final projects, working on two plays dear to me: Necropolis by Don Nigro, and July 7th, 1994 by Donald Margulies.
I love teaching. Except when my students stare at me with the drool and I feel like I’m in that scene from the beginning of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: “The Declaration of . . . anyone? anyone? . .. Independence signed on . . . . anyone? anyone? July . . . anyone? 4th . . . ”
11:30 – 12:30 drive to Bristol eating lunch on the way. Eating and driving is one of the several ways I set a terrible example for my kids about driving.
12:30 – 2 pretend nap in the greenroom of Bristol Riverside Theater. By pretend I mean I enjoy – eyes closed, under a Walmart duvet and on a surprisingly comfortable chez lounge leftover from a long ago play – the sounds of stagehands hammering through the monitor, and the jolly banter of my cast mates. I realize I sound bitchy here, but I actually mean: I enjoy it. This is a delicious hour of pseudo-snoozing among my tribe.
2 – 4 I perform in a matinee of Neil Simon’s Laughter on the 23rd Floor, a play which memorializes – comically – Simon’s tenure as a writer for Sid Caesar and his Show Of Shows, live television in in the 50s in New York. I play Ira Stone, based on Mel Brooks, who was in this insane writers room with Simon, Carl Reiner and other comic geniuses. It’s great role, a kind of Tasmanian devil of comedy. He roars into act one 2/3 of the way through, steals the act and leaves. In act 2, he gets to instigate more anarchy, fight with the Sid Caesar role (Max Prince) and sing. Then he has a touching finale, in which his softness and heart is revealed. It’s exhausting.
In 1990-something I was bartending for the Shubert organization and one of the Broadway shows I worked for a week or so was this one, with Nathan Lane playing the lead. I remember stopping dead in my tracks while setting up one night, realizing I was hearing the same belly laughs in the same spots night after night. I second-acted the show from then on and have never talked shit about Neil Simon again.
4:30 7:30 I make a kind of nest on the chez lounge in the greenroom and surround myself with my laptop, duvet, dinner from home (PB&J) and drugs meant to combat the searing toothache I’ve been battling for a week. Also, I grade 20 reading tests I unleashed upon my academic class, after I lost my temper when I tried to have discussion with them about the reading that was due that day and discovered no one had done it. Fine, I said, reading test Monday, and I got up and left, thinking of the poem by Billy Collins.
I HATE teaching this way. And later, after giving them back their sorry-ass tests (which most of them did poorly on even after a weekend during which they might have considered my threat), we have a discussion about what an education is for. “How do we learn things?” I ask them. Not like this, they say, pointing to their sorry-ass tests. Then how? I continue. By connecting what we’re studying to experiences in our own lives, says Sherisa, an astonishing, smart and brave student who is clearly fighting her way through a challenging life, and yet speaks up in class more than anyone. And we have a good class after that.
I also grade 16 papers from my acting class, in which they dissect the characters they’re playing of their final scenes. These make me feel better, as I read paper after paper which are small, halting love letters to a fictional character they have just discovered to be a universe humanity. One of the primary virtues an actor engages is empathy, and these little 3 – 4 page expressions of empathy cheer me up.
Then there is an attempt to make a dent at some of the mountain of work I have at all times to do for White Pines. But by this time there is something funny happening in the greenroom and I give over to the tomfoolery, and some brainless web surfing.
There might be another pretend nap in there somewhere, not sure.
8 – 10 evening show of Laughter. As demanding as it is, it always feels like a gift I am being given, a vacation from the papers, the toothache, the depression and the anxiety about money. I am grateful for Ira and all his insanity, and the talented actors I am sharing the ride with. There is some bittersweet nostalgia in it too, as I feel myself inhabit a world and a fashion my parents will recognize, but to me seems like something out of Mad Men.
10:30 – 11:15 drive home through Northeast Philly. My Coltrane station from Pandora plays.
At home, maybe there is a snack. More often than not, there is simply the unwinding of me: bags down, clothes off, some simple cleaning and brushing, reclining and Facebooking. Reading. Lucy the cat having her way with me. Eyelids drooping. Falling asleep. Alone, with a cat.