Notes by Jeannie Barroga
April was a Time. It’s only three months under my belt of the new year and already 2013 is aging. I always quibble about what to actually write in these blogs. Do you go for stats, or deep reflections, or outright silliness, like that billionth YouTube woman. It helps that she’s pretty; I don’t know if people would tune in as much if she were Honey Boo-Boo – but maybe they still would. It helps that Ms. Billionth already refused media roles, labelling her own popularity “ridiculous”. All that helps my puzzled suspicion of her intentions, for now.
I say, puzzled because in fact, she’s obviously a nationwide distraction that doesn’t cost much. And we all need an inexpensive distraction -- yuh, I didn’t say “cheap” J.
My distractions: a kayak I‘ve yet to put in the water; a repetitive search for museum memberships with more bang to the buck; a recurring search for office space; a download of the same application to the same gym; a constantly revised schedule when to winnow out 24-some tote bins; a concession to hubby to re-arrange office slash TV room furniture (I actually accomplished that two days ago!); a short stint contemplating a major kidney donation thwarted by benign “calcification”; re-connections with friends, out-of-towners Karen, Carol, Nancy; discovery of ancestral heroes; watering plants, breathing on the orchids, petting the cats, you see the pattern here? And is it just me craving distractions, cheap or otherwise, just to “dis-absorb” the news media or due bills, or is it something personal?
I’m coining that word, dis-absorb, just made it up to suit me -- just like how the word “harass” morphed to emphasize the first syllable. God, that annoyed me.
And jotting down all of the above is the most obvious distraction from the reason why I scour for distraction in the first place: to not dwell on separation. Loss. Death.
Whoa, I will NEVER get a billion hits THAT way.
Fast catchup: two years ago in March 2011 my niece, Sarah, lost her life to a man she thought she knew, someone she moved away to be with -- 1,300 miles from Home. The accused pleaded temporary insanity which, duh, is a given; but such moments are negated seeing as he bought everything he needed to do the deed of premeditated murder. This tragedy has hatcheted the family dynamics, my sense of stalwart competence, at times, my marriage. My most successful “distraction” over the past couple of years has been: theater. Included are readings, workshops, rehearsals, productions here and the East Coast, three (really) new plays, teaching, writers’ groups, an acting gig, film shoot, nice plug by bittergertrude.com, travel to Hilo, Seattle, Juneau, Minneapolis, New York, and Kihei – days and months of up Up’s and downer Down’s. These activities all helped pass the time till D-Day in early April, the killer’s trial and sentencing. The “finality” after two years resulted in the verdict of guilty of second- degree murder on all nine counts, the sentence of life imprisonment with no possibility of parole.
That said, the question remains: What now?
Another “distraction” was to see national stats on, well, violence. In case you didn’t know, Wikipedia lists ALL the mass murders from all countries. It’s daunting. Then there’s all the intimate violence stats that can’t help but crossover into domestic violence. There’s list of violence in public, in workplaces, in schools. You can find them all, if you’re that devastated a soul to even WANT to know those figures just to abate your own grief. I reflected that these random acts can’t be THAT bad, that now it can’t help but affect someone so close. It’s as if the proximity of death is still too far and too intrusive to touch, well, me.
I could not make the trial nor the sentencing. I was sick with a sense of powerlessness: what can I do, besides distract myself? Then, an acquaintance, not even a close, lasting cohort, said I should do what I do best: write about it. Write all the ups and downs and eccentricities of dealing with a drawn-out process, and grief, and survival. And others agreed: write, they urged, speak from the heart what others probably can’t verbalize themselves. Numb as it seemed I was since summer 2012, those supporters’ words buoyed me up. Tony in L.A. nailed it; I felt I scooped out chunks of heartmeat clicking away on my laptop. But in less than four weeks, I managed to have two readings; a block was unplugged. Since Newtown with 27 dead, I came up with a number: 100 each. One hundred people affected, and living with their loss, for every one person taken that December 12 in 2012. And I am one from an earlier, separate incident; my family adds a dozen more, plus Sarah’s fiance’, friends, her school, her co-workers – it must be at least 100. By the way, the word “closure” is a misnomer, not to be dangled in the faces of mourners. It won’t compute.
Oddly, other local plays allude to their own kind of coping: Dead Girl, Boy Shoots Girl, and the rollicking Campo Santo production, The River. In Sarah’s hometown, a memorial production (I learned later that she excelled in high school theater) was held for her: THE LARAMIE PROJECT. Her teacher said it was a tribute to Sarah’s distinctive sense of fairness. I’m struck even by THAT irony, that her own young life was unfairly shortened. Still, even after death, the spectre of what Home really is looms from the pages written to assuage her absence.
So, yes, I wrote it, a play, to speak openly about Loss, Separation – maybe it even mentions Death. (There goes that billionth hit.) But what resonates most with people is what the play says about Life, its passing quicker than we know and dotted with memories, both humorous and ponderous, reflective and silly. It’s written – defying a certain criticism – from the stance of the somewhat bemused younger characters, who comment on what people hold onto, steadfast in their emotional possessions. And because of control or pride, some characters miss some key opportunities to connect, or actually did and didn’t know it.
That play has its first public reading on May 6 (okay, now the stats): the monthly Dramatists Guild reading date opened up, so I scrambled over the weekend to assemble a cast and revise the script. It’s a pretty good cast with Lily, Danielle, Norman, Melissa, Shana, Conrad, Mia, Brennan, and Tony. I became obsessed with Tenacious D and watched the vid multiple times, just really affected by the plaintive chorus:
Tenacious D lyrics: "Wonder boy what is the secret of your power
Wonder boy won’t you take me far away
From the mucky muck now. . ."
Doesn’t it sound like someone pleading for, well, distraction – at least a billion of us?
June - time and distance for perspective: comparing the sun to itty-bitty black dot at the 9 o'clock position called Venus, and then knowing Earth is nearly the same size, well, if that's not perspective. . .
The play rears its wooly buffalo head only when I'm reminded, like folks asking me about it, still recalling it themselves just seeing me -- or when I update my site. Like Venus, sometimes it's that far away.
It has to be be, if I'm to be a living human again, with eyes open to the interrupted home biz chaos that was left in the play's wake, like bills to pay, and a car to maintain, cats to re-acquaint with, hubby to snuggle. Life in the theater must factor in living one's non-theater life in between each production's tech weeks.
Of course, the next project looms. Dreams remind me: "take little steps to change your life gradually -- take one big step to change the world instantly."
I really don't know what the hell that means, nor did I when I dreamt it -- something about taking a shortcut north from the China Sea to Russia or sailing the Indian Ocean west to Madagascar. Could that BE any more convoluted??
I visited my sister when I was in MPLS for Tony's Conference and my synchronized business trip. I was surprised when she not only wanted to read my script but also had been actually following my career. AND with the TV buzz called "Smash" which her hubby and she watched religiously, somehow now my theater life had context: "so it really IS like that."
Perspective: hmm, when you're living it, you rarely have time to analyze how or why you've kept up that pace and for its varied returns. It is enlightening to recall that you can't have lived your life any other way.
I'm aware that non-theater friends think I'm addicted: I can't let too much time pass without checking my email or touching my laptop. I put finishing touches on the script while I was in the Midwest -- while feedback was fresh (of course). Who am I kidding? I needed to "download" after Closing. I needed to clear the plate before diving into the next project. Yay, next project.
In MPLS, there were no plans -- we told our hosts, let's just head out. We were drawn to the Guthrie - Tony was agog. We got lost; we found Art; we ate egg salad sandwiches under sumac and elm trees dripping with inch worms. We just missed the gangster cave tours (yup) but ended up trading movie trivia with the guide who then gave us $100 worth of tickets to his improv show that night. His cohort knew the theater folks I'd be seeing in 5 days. More Synchronicity?
I wrote, concentrated till Night 1's zoo tour, me secluded on the 12th floor of the Doubletree while Tony scuttled through the hotel at his first-ever Conference. They're brutal, festivals, conferences, symposia -- the pace is frenetic, panels or meetings dump tons of info in 40 minute segments; breaks mean talking shop; and first-timers want to do it All. So by Day 2 they're exhausted; Tony was cross-eyed, while I was visiting family after a two-hour drive back into my home state; I hadn't been back in ten years.
Day 3: my theater meeting, an hour of readied answers to anticipated questions. I felt I held my own -- and could finally "relax" - though Tony felt bummed; for him, it was like a Pop Trick Quiz, and an eye opener.
It was a somber Thursday, with Tony in the room while my friends and I packed a box to mail and munched and watched TV. Wow, I'm on vacation, I realized. So I quickly edited a 7-minute movie of the week so far. I finished the morning just before heading to the airport.
That was nearly 2 weeks ago, then a 4-day recovery, then catchup, a reading by a member playwright, a play by a theater professor, meeting setups, voting, oil change, eye exam, impromptu lunch with another theater professor, and the website update.
This is "The Life" of theater, not always onstage. It's the stuff fueling it.
On paper, BUFFALO'ED closes on Sunday. On my plate, the next phase begins: second (and future) productions. I just edited my site adding on the Home Page "Last Show April 29, 2012" and got this wave of nostalgia. Alleluia mentioned her blues on FB; Tony called re actors' "need" of him, which translates to NOT, anymore. All of this, of course, is NOT true. The brains, and heart, and soul of the production have to bond again with all this accrued knowledge if the play is to have continued life. I say it's in "grade school" and will be for quite awhile. Feeding and clothing, like for an adolescent, is still the role of doting parents.
I had a dream during the run, well, many. But this one was looking at the "baby" scooped in my arms on my lap swaddled in padded clothing like that poor kid in "Christmas Story" waddling on his way to school. I saw some crew nearby but moving farther looking at and obviously talking about us. I kept thinking how could I show off the baby when they're so far away? Then again, all they'd see is a bundle of clothes with appendages but no visible face. And it was quiet, waiting for me to do something.
Actually, it was rather surprising to feel the theater atmosphere change once we got into Tech. Duties heightened; my plate was emptying. I was like a ghost spiriting my way backstage, up in dressing rooms, in the lobby, court, and house while all around me swept by, intent on their jobs. Tony's line of sight was above my head, soaking in gobos, scrim, ambient sounds, space between and among actors. The few staff counted tickets, stuffed programs, readied concessions and restrooms, chatted with curious passersby. Alas, papers and 'social media' was minimal. Okay, I thought, this is a month-long elaborate workshop, and I'll keep monitoring the shows as if I were always a new audience member, looking for fave parts or other scenes that should make sense and didn't. Yeah, I'd do that for this run.
Norman's assistant director role increased, giving notes whenever he caught an actor not onstage, tips that Tony may have passed to him, so he, as director, could track where the cot was two hours from first preview performance, or a spoon, or shoes, market goods, etc. I could see that look in his eye, as if somehow out of thin air his request would appear so he could check it off his plate. I managed to solve one thing: the character Luisa's dress was sedate. It needed some pizzazz to finish it off. The costumer and I discussed it, and a tasseled shawl was wrapped around the actor's waist at an angle. It had the perfect sheen, not too showy, not drab. And the actor swirled and postured beautifully with it. But that was primarily it for me.
The stage manager's scowl showed pretty clearly that no line changes would be allowed. It's one thing to muff a line and quite another to add or revise another. Word was, the cast would string me up. I sent weekly notes anyway, to keep key team members abreast of the changes I had in mind--for the future.
Already plans were hatched to see how documentation of this production could help fund others, like the composer, collaborator, etc. The play would be a nice feather in the caps of anyone wanting to show their contribution to it. Even for me, just submitting a script is not enough for funders nowadays; a two-minute clip or some media just helps sweeten the pot.
So the play opened and following; 3 Power Point presentations around the Bay with actors in scenes filled the next 3 weeks; 2 visits from my brother and brother-in-law; 7 shows to take notes from; 3 Talk-backs; and a storm of reviews pouring in. Just since Monday, a very complimentary blog on the Chronicle, an astute Yelp review, and 4 stars garnering Goldstar's Roar of the Crowd. It's been a journey on which I've yet to see the End.
I've written these blogs to show how it's not just writing it that makes a play. In summing up only parts of that process, I recall now why I was so tired. Five days after Opening, I slept...for 22 hours. Yesterday I stored up on groceries and popsicles to treat my steady hubby throughout this process. Since February 27, today is my fourth day in a row at Home.
Thank the Universe. Thank the elements. Thank friends, supporters, and hubby Tony.
It's SOLD OUT.
Cool vids - poster - buzz.
Weds. Preview: faces there Eric, Ron, Bill, Darold, Luisa, Belle: Thurs. (I heard) Pearl, Ann.
Both Alleluia and Tony call me: it's hard to let go, to realize their presence is limited, and time with cast and crew is ending.
We head down to check in, hang out, wait till IT ALL STARTS another venture, one with audiences. Did I mention it's sold out?
The Baby (kid) is heading to day care, at night. By next week, it's grade school, then high school, graduating from SEVENTH (*) at the end of the month.
For all the times I've been through the production process, it still amazes me about the key factor that affects all areas: ownership. From its scant beginnings, my discussing BUFFALO'ED with Norman on a sunny hike in the Headlands, to the Sunday Tech with folks backstage, onstage, and tech seats -- somehow each of them have taken ownership of their roles. And passion flares. And questions arise. And on-the-fly decisions posed, agreed on, or challenged, and it's all to make this creation combining their talents into ART. I once had someone dismiss and wave off that description of theater. Art?? That was just too 'high-falutin'" a term for him.
What is also fascinating is who will back their vision tooth and nail, and who would rather "let that one go". Going way back, I see now there's a kind of unaddressed step in boxing artists together in a collaboration setting: guys, the buck stop here; you are your own referees. The Art can only happen with leeway, air, freedom and without restrictive monitoring (now THAT's high falutin'). So the circling of the wagons must be agreed on by the wagoneers. One by one, though, I see them edging into unity, spaces between and among them equallizing, and becoming clearer is the center, the focus, the Vision.
I see "lightbulbs" flashing, both off- and onstage.
Continuing with the westward Ho - There are those who are galloping: the ones a bit ahead are cantering; the ones still catching up are, well, getting winded. There are times the atmosphere is almost giddy, with an impromptu jig onstage when an impromptu sound cue enlivens folks. And then there are somber, intense moments when within the whole house everyone knows to abide that silence. At one point, the ASM squats to have a quiet talk with an actor lying onstage. At another, someone snaps, and the moment dissipates. And the cues speed up and then slow down. And folks hang in the lobby watching the sun set, or hang out with the costumer to change a vest or a veil, or hide, watchful, in the dim blue light backstage, or sit, heads bent, some with earphones, over scripts, working buttons, and switches, and iPods, and "cooking Art" by ear, or dashing between designers, actors, and occasionally the playwright to discuss a moment. Mostly, for us now: we watch. We visually dissect every moment onstage for rhythm, timing, delivery, visibility, audibility. We're like parents, and foster parents, and step-parents, all searching for Perfection. Instinctively, we all KNOW what it should be.
At one point, with only Clinton onstage, all the actors filed into the theater from their benches or floors usually listening for their cues before returning. But this time they all came in simultaneously, uncalled, to watch the monolog onstage, to cheer the lone actor carrying it, and to give their Amen's to his and their journey. The moment was lovely.