In front would be a bookstore, but not an ordinary bookstore. Instead of shelves upon shelves, the bookcases would be pushed to the periphery, and in the middle of the floor would be heavy wooden tables like the ones in that secret library in which I studied and wrote during college. Scripts, theater scholarship, and manuscripts from local playwrights would line the walls. Every retailer would be a dramaturg, an agent, and an advocate of the local theater scene. Every customer, a lover of theater.
In the evening, glass doors to the bookshelves shut and lock. They become wallpaper as the store closes and the tavern opens. In the dimmed light the study tables look much more like those tables found in a medieval basement pub. The checkout area becomes a bar. Every bartender is a playwright, a director, an actor. Every customer a lover of theater.
In the back would be cozy conference rooms where nomadic theater companies could meet, where playwrights could organize readings or feedback sessions, where directors could tablework. Here will be the center of the Bay Area performance renaissance. Every month, a consortium of artistic directors will come together like the heads of the nation’s cartels to create a united front that will muscle theater back into the public’s attention. It will be as effective as the UN: nothing much will get done because the bigger theaters will look out for theirs, but a few changes will manifest, and at least they will all be talking. Most visibly will be the universally beneficial area-wide playwright tribute festivals—like Chicago’s O’Neill Festival, spearheaded by the Goodman—likely starting with Tom Stoppard, or maybe Sheperd. Other more subtle changes will occur in programming as theaters start to plan seasons that converse with one another.
Behind these rooms, or maybe on a different floor, would be the blackbox. Public readings, modest performances. Tryouts. Practice. A good first step. Semi-inebriated writers in the front room will stand atop tables and slur, “I have a play. It isn’t very good. But it will do.” He will burp with proper enthusiasm, people will cheer, and he will continue, “I need someone to read it.” Hands will shoot up, knocking tankards of ale onto the floor, and there is a swarm to the backroom.
Someone flips a switch and the lights come on. The audience pushes chairs into place, creating a stage in the center of the room. Some, who had left in haste, run back for their beer. The playwright is giving quick instructions to his improvised cast, “do not saw the air too much with your hand, thus, by use all gently, for in the very torrent, tempest, and (as I may say) whirlwind of your passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness.” The actors nod as they read over their lines, listening not at all.
And then a hush. And then introductions. And then a play. It is a bad play. Maybe one of the worst ever written. But it is a good audience (maybe the best ever assembled). And everyone in the room knows that what is being read is shit. The playwright shakes his head as he sobers up enough to realize that he has become the punch-line of someone’s tomorrow-day-joke. But he doesn’t care, just as the actors do not care that they are putting on flimsy roles, and the audience doesn’t care that they have gotten dumber by witnessing this debacle. The playwright will go home and try again. The actors will remember always the value of a well-constructed character. And the audience will remember that even in the ugliest of performances, there can be found joy in the camaraderie of witnesses.
Last call was long ago, and the last of these merry artists disperse. They flood to the BART—which in this idyllic future does not shut down at 12:30am—and to their cars and cabs. Someone hands someone else their card as they promise to meet up in a couple days to begin a collaboration that will combine Marlow and the economic implications of a dominant China. Another group is going to meet tomorrow to put on an improvised clown show in the middle of Market Street. Already across a few blocks away, two young directors are sharing advice on how to deal with certain actors.
Just as the street clears, the lights of the bookstore bar flicker off. It will sleep until 11am, when it will open again to serve coffee and tea to the curious and the studious.