Friday, April 17, 2009
Struggle with a flare for the dramatic
Though it is well-known for it's drama school, not-Yale's undergraduate community also has a vibrant and thriving theater scene, which amuses outsiders and consumes insiders in it's inferno of productions and factions. As a freshman this world is intriguing and exciting, but by the time you have reached your senior year you might have, if you are like me and have decided sleeping is something other people do, participated in some 35 productions in some capacity or another. From director to props master, I've pretty much done almost every task that you could think of might be included in creating a show, and some that you wouldn't. My freshmen year I spent the better part of a week trying to create a believable looking but edible fake blood recipe in my dorm bathroom, and had to face some very suspicious looks from the janitorial staff. And of course it becomes a vicious cycle, you do a show, you meet some nice people, they ask you to do another show, you agree, you meet more nice people, you direct them in a show, they ask you to design lights, you meet more people, you do more shows, it goes on and on. However, far worse then the obligation to be involved in other people's productions is the obligation to SEE other people's productions. Should someone ask you to be a part of show you have no interest in you can politely, exclaiming that you couldn't POSSIBLY give the project the effort it deserves with your jam packed schedule, and that the task of costume designer/role of servant #4/set painter/coffee bitch is just WAY to important to be given to someone who can't fully commit to it. Fine, no harm no foul, everyone is still friends.
However, the demand that you ATTEND other people's outputs of creativity is no as easy to escape. On one level you feel the need to support that friend whose production you were unable to direct/light/choreograph, and hope that going to the show will make up for your lack of participation. On another level you have made all these friends along your adventures in theater at not-Yale, and you want them to feel that you are excited to see their efforts. However, when so many shows go up each weekend, each of which stars/features/exploits a good friend or mild but amusing acquaintance it often comes down to some difficult decisions. Do I see the futuristic production King Lear at 8pm, then the neo-colonialist performance of The Importance of Being Ernest at 11pm? Then I would have to see the matinee performance of the interpretive dance of the life of Abraham Lincoln tomorrow, so I can catch the performance of Glen Gary Glen Ross set in a clown college at 9. Choosing the weekends events becomes not about quality but about quantity, specifically, how many people do I know in the production, who will be the most angry if I don't show up, who couldn't care less, these are the calculations I have to perform before even leaving my room. I would say that I flatter myself in thinking anyone would notice my presence or absence in the audience, but I have been blessed (or cursed) with a highly distinctive laugh that only emerges when I watch a play. Halfway between a snort and a squawk, with a little bit of donkey thrown in, it erupts from my mouth almost against my volition, particularly when I think something is funny that other people find deeply sad or troubling. So while others may be able to come and go unnoticed and unsung, I am always a felt presence, which makes every weekend's struggle to decide what shows akin to tap dancing on a minefield.
However, as stressful as this weekly dilemma has been for me over the past four years, I have never even considered halting my compulsive attendance of as many shows in a weekend as possible. For one thing, theater here is for the most part totally free to attend. For another thing, nothing at not-Yale starts before 10pm, so you might as well spend two hours in a darkened room with a bunch of people pretending to be someone else, because it's better then spending that time alone in your own room pretending YOU are someone else. But I think the real reason that I go to shows regardless of their quality or, often, my interest in them, is that I know when the time comes and I'm involved in something really important some of those people will be right there, in the front row, possibly bored, possibly drunk, possibly imitating my own animal-like laugh, but present, watching me or my work instead of doing something else. It may be a huge struggle on a weekly basis, but it's one of the struggles I