About three months ago I was asked to write a play. I have never written a play. I had no intention of saying yes.
“I’ve never written a play.”
“Oh, you can do it. I’m sure. You’re a writer.”
“I don’t know how.”
“I’ll send you some web pages.”
“I don’t have time to read them.”
“You have three weeks.”
“To read the sites?
“To get us the play. I need the cast list by auditions in a week. The finished play can take three.”
“I have finals to write and year-end grades.”
“Then I’d better get you the books this week.”
“Did you hear what I said? I don’t think you did. I’m sure of it.”
“There are three of them. I’ll being them Tuesday.”
Talking with Evanne can be like this. Often is. My defenses don’t seem to have much of an effect.
Which is how I found myself with a set of books, stories to adapt and writing a play.
I brought my laptop to work. My lesson plans adapted. My students became test-readers and part of an actual, live language arts project. They proofread, corrected, commented. It was done. I have never written so quickly, so fully engrossed in a project.
I took several stories of the Arabian Nights and adapted them to fit into a version of the Scheherazade story. To do so I needed to create segues as well, narration, ways in and out of the stories told by the queen looking to save her head with the stories that came out of them.
I wanted them funny. I wanted them beautiful and simple. I wanted some nearly silent and others a delight of language and a joy of sight. I wanted elegance and comedy, sweetness and wisdom. I thought I got it.
But how would I know for sure?
They loved it. Some of my stage direction had to be adapted for a children’s theater. Ages four to seventeen. That young, eh?
Some of my stage direction “was too beautiful to cut so we had to make it into dialogue. It reminds me of Tennessee Williams” This is one of the best compliments I have ever received.
An old woman once called me a mensch. As compliments go, it’s hard to get better than that.
And the Theater was much large than I had anticipated. That is I thought it was one of the small summer productions. No, it was in the main theater of The Henegar Center. Another surprise.
I stayed away from casting and rehearsal. I didn’t want to interfere. Once written, what right did I have to tell them what to do? I don’t know their theater, their audience, their business. Two months had passed.
Then I was asked to be a stage manager. Me? You’d make a good one, I was told. Something else I had never done. But why not? It was a summer of firsts. My first CD, my first movie (a short, student film) my first DVD, my first stint running, MCing an open-mic poetry. Why not be a stage manager?
I arrive the day before the play opens. “Scheherazade and the Tales of the Arabian Nights.” I am stage manager, dresser, prop-meister for stage left. I am seeing what I have done come to fruition, come alive in front of me, under the lights, on the stage. This is a shamanic dream during waking.
The children slowly come to realize I wrote much of their play. I have not said anything. They have question after question. How did I think of that? It came from my head. How does that happen? I don’t know.
This is so funny, the oldest actor, seventeen, tells me. The little kids love it but there is so much here my I think is funny too. Where did you learn to do that?
Underdog, I answer. And Fractured Fairy Tales. Rocky and Bullwinkle. Mel Brooks.
Opening day. The theater is sold out. Five hundred seats. I arrive at 8:15. House opens at 9:30. Places at 9:55. Costumes on, last minute glitches, costume malfunctions, pins, props, positions everyone.
The music starts and the lights dim. I can hear the audience laughing, sighing. It works. Kids want to be the hero of one of my segments, a donkey named Chaki. They laugh. People lean forward when the Nightingale sings and dies, rises again and is free, react in surprise when Amira rejects her suitors, discovers her garden again has bloomed in her new desert home. They applaud and applaud.
I had said no. I would not write this. I’m glad I was not listened to. Sometimes it is for the best.
The last show, a full balcony, no where to stand. The end comes and costumes are put away, carried to storage. Props are carried upstairs, downstairs. There is a pervasive sadness about the cast, crew. I feel it over me.
The cast party starts.
I hear there is talk about me. A certificate of thanks of some sort. I look outside the theater doors to the banquet-room across the hall and it is crowded. I walk out, walk toward the crowd.
There is a line for food. It is the first thing I see and I know better. There will be nothing there I can eat, nothing that will be good for me. Day one of the play, between performances, thee was pizza supplied for the cast and crew and I left for food elsewhere, brought it back because I was afraid if I didn’t, people would think I was anti-social instead of just asocial. I sat alone, not wanting to impose myself on anyone. Evanne sees me alone, set apart, and comes over to sit with me. I think she understands but feel I have, by sitting alone, put her in a position where she did not want me to be unhappy. While I was happy for Evanne’s company, I did not want to think her compassion for me took her away from talking with others, visiting, enjoying her lunch.
The next days I brought lunch, took a walk, ate alone and did not impose.
Now, the cast party and what to do. I walk away from the food as I see people with plates of cookies, brownies, worse. I walk to the other end of the room.
I can sit by myself or find someone I know and cling, or feel I am, and then go home and wonder if I had behaved improperly, was a pain. Did they really want to talk. Were they being merely polite. It doesn’t seem worth it. Either way, I feel uncomfortable, unsure, free-floating and anxious. People are tugging at me, congratulating me, asking me things. In the theater I knew what to do; it was clear. When I was writing, I knew what to do; writing is simple – it makes sense to me. Here, I have no idea, I’m uncertain. There is very little potential here for comfort and I’ll wonder later; wonder what people thought, what they are thinking. I don’t know why. This is something I don’t understand.
So I am kind to myself and leave, walk back to the theater, open the doors and enter. It is dark. My eyes adjust and there is nothing left on stage but a bare set and a rug. Perhaps I am not the last one out, but just in case I walk to stage right and take from behind the curtain an tall old lamp with a naked bulb and a long cord. I walk it to center stage, front, and turn it on
The ghost light.
The stage should never be dark. This I understand.