A couple of weeks ago, around the Tony awards broadcast, lots of people started changing their Facebook profiles to have a frame around them that said, “Theatre inspires.” I did not change my profile. I don’t watch the Tony’s, and I don’t follow the world of Broadway all that closely – I’ve never actually seen a play on Broadway in my life, though I have seen some touring productions of select shows.
I got my degree in theater. All I could think that I wanted to be when it was demanded that I choose a profession in high school, when I didn’t even know who I was, was an actor. I never wanted a career in live theater. I’d been reading about the stage and screen since I was a little girl, and my mom was a frustrated chorus girl who never got beyond high school musicals because she never had any money or any opportunity to pursue her dreams, so she gave me the education she had to pass on, showing me all the great black and white movies. Cagney. Brando. Bogart. Boyer. I’m quite certain I saw Manchurian Candidate and A Face in the Crowd, both newly popular again due to their relevance in our time, before pretty much all of my friends. But theater was the path to a film acting career so I knew I had to start down the road that way.
There were no acting opportunities in my small town. There was a tiny community theater, but my experiences with it were not good. There was one play a year in high school, but you had to be a senior to be in it. And so I was, when I was a senior, and in the female lead role.
After I got my degree from Kent State, I moved to Cleveland to flesh out my resume with non-college roles before departing for New York or LA, where I’d try to break into film. I did some local films, but a lot more theater than film.
Cleveland has a way of sticking to you, getting under your skin and into your heart. When I left, it was for a relationship, not for acting, and when I was in LA, I was shocked at how my actor friends lived and worked. Many scraped by in terrible apartments in dangerous neighborhoods with multiple roommates. There had been a shooting on the floor of one friend’s apartment the day I met her, and someone had jumped a balcony naked and died across the street the week before. All the “acting” they were doing consisted of taking endless classes and expensive workshops, getting new headshots and waiting by their pagers in hopes of a callback for a nonspeaking role in an orange juice commercial, or to be able to walk through the background of a yogurt commercial. Nobody was really doing any acting. I did much more acting the years I was in Cleveland – big, meaty, wonderful roles I could sink my teeth and heart into. When I came home, it was not only to flee from a bad relationship but from a place that looked pretty but for me, housed a lot of fakery and broken dreams that made it tragic and sad more so than a place where dreams are made.
I got older and had a child and that pretty much ended acting for me, which is fine. My son is my priority and my stage fright is worse than it used to be anyway. I don’t know if my crooked back could take the long hours spent rehearsing and performing in a full-length show anymore. I keep my hand in with benefit performances, the occasional workshop, and other one-offs, but my days as a performer are likely largely behind me, and that’s ok. I’m fortunate to be in a city where I get to see other people doing such wonderful work – writing wonderful plays, directing amazing productions, and the acting is as good as any you’ll find elsewhere in a lot of cases.
Last night was such a night, as I went to see a production at Dobama that an old friend wrote and another old friend is starring in. These days, most people in theater in Cleveland are old friends of mine, and that feels good. It was a one-man show and it was immediately clear how my old friend maintains memberships in both Equity and SAG-AFTRA, as he could play just about any role. That he chose to play the pants off the role in the show I saw last night, “How To Be A Respectable Junkie,” is a gift to every person in attendance, as it was a tour de force. I left the theater in tears, shaken by what I had seen, and happily so.
Theater does inspire. It made me want to write more for the theater than I have done recently. But it also transforms. I checked out of life and completely in to that black box stage for 90 minutes. My problems and worries were put aside as I invested in the show in front of me. When I left, I was so affected by what I had seen, I rolled down the windows of my car and drove home in silence, the only noise being the wind whipping through the car. It roared and I took it all in, as I crested Cedar Hill and saw the last rosy bits of sunset playing in the distance over Key Tower, the clouds billowing up behind the cityscape like indigo-colored mountains coming out of a fire. I was so grateful to be where I was, to have the chance to see things like what I had just seen, so aware of the gifts I had in my life. The hearing aids I wore to enable me to hear the show, a collective gift from friends via crowdfunding. My glasses, that enabled me to see the show clearly, the benefit of having good insurance that made them affordable. The job I have, which enabled me to purchase the car I drove in, problematic though it may be. The life I have lived here, which led me to instantly connect with recognized friends who I sat with to enjoy the show experience. My mental faculties, which enabled me to attend a theater production. So much luck, so many gifts.
It was an incredible evening and the drive home was the perfect nightcap. How lucky I am to live in such a great city with such incredible people.