On the importance of being in the room.

Shirley Kaplan yelled at me and I felt like an ass. We were talking about my play, Subways, that had just premiered at the downstairs space at Sarah Lawrence, where I spent my undergraduate years. She was disappointed in me, and even now, with decades between me and that moment, I still feel the, well, the embarrassment of her accusation. I hadn’t held up my end, she said, I hadn’t put in the work that needed to be done, and because of that, the play wasn’t all that it could be.

I’d been happy with the direction, and the performances, but the words… had I been happy with the words? Had I been happy with the story? Had it been all that it could be? Had it truly plumbed the depths? Shirley thought no. And she was right. I’d had this idea that my job was done once the play was written, that I ought step away from the words, into the shadows, and let it all take shape without me. But there was more to it than that, what I realize now that I didn’t know then was that I was struggling to manage a work life balance.

I told her the truth, that I’d lost my housing at the beginning of the semester, that I hadn’t been able to afford anything else, and that I’d moved back home. I only had three credits left to finish that semester, and I did a combination of telecommuting and coming up from Philly once per week to meet with my playwrighting prof. I was writing a screenplay—a shitty screenplay, in point of fact. I wasn’t putting in the work on the script for class, and I wasn’t putting in the work in the rehearsal room.

I remember feeling hurried, like I wanted it all to be finished. I was sort of ashamed of having taken longer to finish school than my peers—some of whom, as it turns out, took way longer than me. I felt like I wasn’t doing a good job, and I think I also felt that there was a real risk to putting in hard work. What if I worked as hard as I could and I still came up short? What if I did everything I could think of, pushed as hard as I could with the fullness of my will and effort, and still sucked? It’s like I had that weird middle school crush feeling about my own work: the words, the stories, the people I made, it all left me breathless. It was like: I liked it liked it, but I didn’t want it to know how much I liked it, because what if it didn’t like me like that?

That was my fear. That is my fear. I decided earlier this week that I would make a vow, to myself, to stop hedging my bets against disappointment. If you don’t know what that is, here’s the definition: convincing yourself that you don’t want what you really, really want, so that when you inevitably don’t get it you don’t feel sad about it. That’s some serious bullshit, no? In guarding your heart against disappointment, you basically guarantee disappointment.

I really don’t want to do that anymore. And I’m going to do my best to not do it. Which brings me to yesterday.

Yesterday we had a pre-production meeting at Horse Trade to talk about my play I Am Not an Allegory (these are people i know), going up at Under Saint Marks in March. We talked about rehearsal space and rehearsal scheduling. The plan was to rehearse in the evenings, after regular work hours. I didn’t think anything of it at first, that’s when tiny budget shows rehearse, because all the artists involved have other jobs.

Which brings me to last night. I went to see Julianna Francis Kelley’s play The Reenactors at Abrons Art Center (I recommend it). I went to the play straight after work, walking up from the Financial District to the Lower East Side, where we used to live. It had been touch and go throughout the day as to whether or not I’d make the show. Dave wasn’t sure if he’d be able to do after school pick up due to sheer logistics, and if I left work early to do pick up that would put me back in south Brooklyn, which via transit, is an hour’s travel from the show. If I did pick up, would I make it back in time for the show? This was the question.

As it turned out, Dave was able to make pick up, but he cut it rather close, driving in a blinding rain storm. After a brutal day at work, he went into full on dad mode, and got C fed, washed up, and off to bed. As soon as I realized I wasn’t on deck for pick up, I wished I was. I really missed my evening with C. What we do is we chat, make dinner, do homework, play games (I taught him backgammon the other night because I’m tired of him beating me in Uno every single time).

I got home late. Dave and C were asleep in our bed. C had missed me so Dave let him sleep in ours. The kitchen showed the strain of several meals’ preparation (the rushed breakfast, the lunches made and packed, the dinners). I was tired, and wanted to sit and do some writing. By the time I’d tidied the kitchen, written up my notes from the day, had a tea, read a few pages from this odd memoir of Senator Clay’s wife, and gone to bed, it was past 2 am.

As I got out of bed this morning, tired, alarm on triple snooze, I projected myself to February and March, when we’ll be rehearsing and running Allegory, then into April and May, when Sticky will be in full swing. I envisioned two, three, four or more nights per week on this schedule. What effect would that have on Dave? On C? On me? It’s just not possible.

I remembered Shirley Kaplan, and thought about what she would say. She would say be in the room, show up to rehearsal, own your play and your art work. She’s right. I have to be there. But I can’t work with the existing schedule. Do I ask my whole family to adjust? Do I tell my son that we’re going to forego our evening routine so I can stay out all night? No, I can’t, He needs that. I need that. This time it’s the schedule that will have to change. I’m gonna hold firm to that, so I can be there and sculpt this play with my own two hands. At least, that’s the goal.

December 3.

Subways SLC

Gabriel Vaughan, Kamala Sankaram, and Kristen Kahle, in the original production of Subways, directed by T. Tara Turk.

death-and-the-maiden

Subways was based on this painting, Death and the Maiden by Egon Schiele, which I saw at the Belvedere Museum in Vienna in 1993, which is an entirely different story.

subways 3

Zoe Metcalfe-Klaw, Jessica Howard, and Christopher McGovern in the Philadelphia production of Subways in 2000, or 2001, I can’t remember.

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2 thoughts on “On the importance of being in the room.

  1. Rebecca Gray (los angeles)

    I want to assure you that some of this is about how young your child is, and as he gets older, it will get easier! Integrating my children into my theater life has been equal parts joy and relief–and of course a whole new thing to coordinate and consider. Sculpt on!

    Reply

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