The five scrapes on my right calve look like the markings of a cougar. But they’re not from a cougar. They’re from my bike pedal, my industial strength, Doc Martins of bike pedals. If I ever got into a fight in which I got my weapon of choice, I would choose my bike pedal. Up to now, however, the only damage it has done is the occasional knick to my heel when I’ve misjudged some tight doorway; and then today’s little bang up when, for the second time in as many workdays, a careless pedestrian has stepped perilously off the sidewalk directly in front of my bike! Unfortunately for them, I learned from my battle with the car door last year on that Saturday Chicago Morning last March: swerving into the street into traffic is more dangerous than plowing right on in.
No, I didn’t just plow right into these silly saps. I swerved, slightly. Enough so that they were checked by my shoulder and not by my wheels or my dangerous pedal. Friday, it was a middle-aged guy, probably 200 pounds. Middle of a road. Jaywalking to a trolly stop on Market. I hissed “shit” and he gave a little jump. Arm on arm. Muscle on muscle. Solid and soft. Collision done. Balance maintained. I kept going without looking back, sure that he was fine if a little shaken. Today it was a twenty-something year old woman. The circumstances less blatantly idiotic: I turning onto Market as my green light faded; she starting into the crosswalk a half beat before the walking man replaced orange hand. Arm on arm, though a little more torso. Muscle on muscle, though I had a bit more mass. A little more solid and a little less soft. A little more shaken. Collision done. Balance maintained. I checked to see how bad the scrapes were on my leg, and asked if she was alright. She did some weird arm movement that suggested she had had a bad day. Enough for me. I start away. Some guys shouts something after me, “Stay on the sidewalk!” which doesn’t make any sense. Maybe he was yelling at her.
Otherwise, it was a fine day! Yesterday’s blog begins a mental pilgrimage for me to figure out what the hell I am doing in theater. I know there must be a reason that goes beyond accidentally auditioning for Oklahoma in the seventh grade, but I have yet to make an honest investigation. Today, the universe seemed to say, “Well that seems like as good a pursuit as any. Let me give you a few guides.” Those guides were John Guare, though really John Rando (who is directing John Guare’s Rich and Famous), Lorraine Hansberry, and Mrinalini Kamath.
I began my day at the first rehearsal for Rich and Famous, an event we record and then transcribe for our study guide. First rehearsals are very warm, very communal occasions. The entire staff gathers to introduce ourselves to the visiting artists and, really, offer ourselves to them as hosts. We come together as a secular congregation of believers in the energy that is in the center of the room. Very Unitarian. John Rando turns out to be a comical genius and my new platonic crush, and he peppered his discussion about his vision for the play with jokes. And then, of course, the cast–Brooks Ashmanskas, Stephen DeRosa, and Mary Birdsong–helped him along because they are all clowns (they have to be to pull of Rich and Famous!). Ah, jokes. But like any good comedian, Rando juxtaposed goofing around with poignant seriousness. He is in theater because when he was a teenager he saw William Ball’s production of Taming of the Shrew on PBS and said, “I want to be a part of that.” He spoke of the dream of theater–to practice our craft and be acknowledged and appreciated for it–and how Rich and Famous asks us what we do when that dream is crushed time adn time again.
Four hours later–four hours filled with transcribing because I am a very slow transcriber and it blows–I settled down for a M.F.A. reading of Lorraine Hansberry’s The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, which ran for 99 performances on Broadway in ’64 & ’65 until two days before Hansberry’s early death at the age of 34 from cancer. Apparently it is unfinished, but it is absolutely stunning, especially the painful disintegration of a sexy but combative couple as their teasing escalates into something more hurtful. Our students continue to amaze me.
Three hours later, safely home, I reread Kamath’s ten-minute play A Rush of Wings, which my mentee (yes they trust me with a mentee, you jerk), a second year named Jon, is directing for a festival his class got together. Thinking it was a festival of new work, I offered to dramaturg; it is not a new work festival, but it is still a fun little play. Last week was crazy, and it promises to be another crazy week upcoming. So, even though I made a quick trip to the library last Friday for it (drive-by dramaturgy at its most efficient), I was a little reluctant to put a lot of time into this project, especially since the showing is next week! Not a lot of time to find Jon much; even less time for Jon to get any use out of what I find. But then I started. and it was like getting back on a bike…and not crashing into a pedestrian.
I think you know you’re a dramaturg when you read a play and you immediately want to start breaking it down and lay its pieces out in a row to analyze. You want to reverse-engineer it. You want to assemble your thoughts, run out into the street, and talk about it with the first person who will acknowledge you. Your first impulses aren’t towards the stage, but deeper into the text. The stage is for decisions. The script is for possibilities. And you are all about the possibilities.