Closing weekend

Y’all I am sad. Super-sad. We’re going into our final weekend of shows tonight and I’m closing a chapter of my acting career that has spanned over a year. I’ve been challenged and encouraged and praised and pushed; I’ve made new friendships and deepened others; I’ve been afraid and done it anyway. On Sunday, I enter a new phase, one with no projects on the immediate horizon (there is one project out there I am committed to, but it’s not real enough to discuss yet — when it is, however, whoa boy. Pull up a chair and get comfortable because it’s a doozy of a dream come true).

I was supposed to direct a show last summer that ended up being taken off the schedule about six months before we would have started rehearsal. That whole experience was trying, but also enlightening and while it came at a time of a lot of other turmoil (including my beloved dog finally succumbing to cancer and my best friends moving to New Zealand, literally half a world away), it was what I needed to start asking myself what was important to me as far as my theatre career was concerned. While I don’t enjoy anything more than collaborating with writers and actors from the director’s chair, the administrative side of directing, combined with my obsessive nature (working on it!) tends to make me miserable. Wrangling designers to schedule production meetings is the worst – in order to support themselves, the great designers work on multiple shows at a time. Even if you get them in the room for two hours you can’t guarantee their head is in your particular game just then. It’s a lonely job and when it’s done you rarely get credit for works, and always take the blame for what doesn’t. So losing a directing job wasn’t as devastating to me as it might be to someone else who loves the whole package and can even get a full night’s sleep while doing it, but I had lined up an amazing cast and crew that I was looking forward to working with, including my DH as my primary partner (the writer). And the reason we cancelled the show included a lot of tough lessons for myself personally and my understanding of my own cultural bias (this post isn’t about that but let’s just say I had a lot to freaking learn).

Shortly after we cancelled, I was asked if I wanted to play to major role in the replacement production – that of one of the more well-known (and frankly, fairly one-dimensional) villains of literary fame. Now, I’m way more character-actress than leading-lady, and this kind of offer doesn’t get laid on my doorstep every day. Or, like, ever. It was a chance to play a mature, intelligent, sexual woman who uses every tool at her disposal to protect herself, and of course there was no way I was refusing. The cast of that play also utilized most of the actors I had originally cast in the cancelled show, plus DH, a couple of close friends, and a slew of folks I didn’t know at all. I accepted the role with a healthy amount of fear about whether I could pull it off.

A few months later I found myself in rehearsal with one of the best groups of folks I’ve ever known. Playful, whip-smart, energetic and up for anything. It was the best possible playground for taking on a role without a lot of depth in its source material. I felt completely safe in building a background that I could believe in without challenging the rules of the world or the adaptation. I wouldn’t claim complete success in the end result, but the journey was fascinating and fulfilling, and the dressing room was a place of vibrant and sometimes challenging conversation, lots of dirty jokes, and tremendous warmth.

By the time that show closed last July I was already cast in two of the following season’s shows. One was a stellar adaptation of one of the most beloved books of all time, with an A-list cast and a director whose work and style I have admired since I first worked with her in 2009. My supporting role was one filled with humor and compassion and fit right in my wheelhouse — a comforting thought after such a challenge the previous summer. The other show, to follow hot on the heels of the first one, was a complete one-eighty in every way. I hadn’t worked with the director since 1999 (!), the source material was well-loved but in a niche genre not guaranteed to connect with all audiences, and frankly, if people didn’t like me in my role, I wouldn’t be surprised if no one ever cast me again. It was comedy on the level of Monty Python or Black Adder — sharp, fast-paced, and so close to over the top as to risk constant demise. It was in the most capable hands our city (and any other, I think) has to offer, but it was another risk. Our runs are long, and they are even longer when you’re doing raucous comedy for less than half a full house.

I’m getting a little ahead of myself. While looking forward to getting into the Big Summer Comedy, the Beloved Winter Epic felt a bit like the Thing We Had to Do First (my DH was in that show as well). However, that quickly dissipated once rehearsals began, with our focused and thoughtful director leading one of the best casts I’ve ever worked with through a powerful rehearsal process that challenged me more than I expected. We had a successful run with a one week extension and I made some friendships that will last long beyond the few months it took to rehearse and run that show.

That extension made it so there was a one-week overlap between the run of the winter show and the rehearsals for the big raucous spring comedy. That was one of my toughest weeks, but I was buoyed by just how freaking SPECIAL everything was! I was performing in a brilliant show with brilliant people half the week, and playing and discovering another sure-to-be-brilliant show with another group of brilliant people the rest of the week. However the overlap didn’t really give me to time to mourn the closing of the first show — we literally left the dressing room after closing the one to go upstairs to the rehearsal room for the first read-through of the other. So now that the second show is headed into its final days, I feel doubly hit by loss. And I look all the way back to last summer and feel the pain of that show being over again as well.

The show we’re running now is one of the most successful in my company’s history. It garnered rave reviews and sold-out audiences and we got an extra two weeks to play with this thing because we are such a huge hit. We’re all in denial that it’s ending, that on Thursday the 7th we won’t all be gathering in the dressing room at 6:30, asking how many in the house, anyone we know coming tonight, what are they giving us for dinner on Saturday. I’m just gushing now, but seriously, I’ve never been so disappointed with the expiration dates inherent in the type of art I choose to engage in. Thank goodness we have a vacation coming up; I’m going to need it to grieve.

These shows have changed me. Supported me, taught me who and what I want to be, made me willing and anxious to give up every Saturday afternoon of this beautiful summer to performing two physically exhausting shows in a row. I’ve met generous and talented people who inspire and they have let me into their lives, their hearts, and their minds and helped open me to new possibilities not just for my theatre career but for my life. I haven’t met or grown closer to anyone who isn’t tremendously special, who I don’t want to be, in some way, a little bit. I have made people think and laugh and cry, all guided by writers and directors whose passion and patience fueled me to places I did not know I could still go. I don’t have anything lined up next, like I said, but I feel like a better person because of my experiences and that is why I do this. I feel because I did all this, anything is possible, and I’m richer for it. I hope that’s enough to sustain me through the grief. And I hope I can get through the show on Sunday without copious and inappropriate tears for all three shows I was fortunate enough to be part of this year.

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