Back when i was in college at (Southwest) Texas State University, I was in the chorus for a production of La Boheme. Dr Bert Neely was the director. One night, as this cast of 20-30 theater and music students gathered under the stage before the show, Dr. Neely gave a speech about how every cast is a unique and temporary community, never to be repeated. Some of us might work together again but not all of us, in this show, in this place. Once that run of performances was over, so was the community.
Having grown up with a strong sense of "never again," this has always stuck with me and I've repeated the sentiment to several casts I've been a part of. I give it my own spin and my main point is this: pay attention. Pay attention to this group, how we work together, how we can work best together, how we can enjoy one another. Pay attention and enjoy this moment. It's not easy or sustainable, but I think it's a worthy goal.
Directing The Quality of Life by Jane Anderson for the Company OnStage begged me to pay attention. I did my absolute best to take notice of the process, the cast, the relationships, the thing we were making. I failed some nights but my love for this show brought me back around.
I was in love from the moment I cast the show. I can't stress that enough. It's really a very slippery thing, impossible to qualify or quantify, but sometimes you enter into a project and as people come together for it, you know it's something beyond ordinary. I fell in love. I don't think there were many nights when I did not love being in rehearsal. I loved watching all nine performances.
There was a curious thing that happened after we opened, though. I couldn't remember what I did as director. I knew I was at every rehearsal and I'm sure I yammered on about this or that. I know I told the cast to do some things. I find it hard to remember details. I remember the feeling, though.
On closing night, an audience member came and talked to me and said something about the way the cast members were getting a lot of attention in the lobby but that the director must have had a lot to do with the experience everyone had had. I relayed my amnesia about the process. He said he owned his own business and his job was to let his employees do most of the hard work, but he must have something to do with the success of the enterprise, no? I conceded that that must be true to some extent. There was a small pause, and I said, "I think I just loved them."
Whether or not that makes for an effective directorial tactic, someone else will have to say. But I did. I loved the entire cast. Being my German Lutheran farm boy self, who practices a more subtle form of warmth, maybe they didn't know this. Maybe it's okay. Maybe the work wouldn't have gotten done if I'd been more overtly lovey dovey. Theater doesn't get made while making doe eyes at the cast.
At the risk of saying too much, being too vulnerable, I'll say this. Somewhere in the run of the show, I had a familiar feeling. It was the anxiety of loving someone and knowing it won't work out in the long run. I don't fall in love often, but when I do, I fall hard, often with a splat. A few years ago, I was in the splatty place, in love with a man who got a job in another state. I took a risk and offered to go with him. He declined the offer. The remaining time we were together, I had an anxious feeling that this person I fell for had not fallen for me, that what I found hopeful in the relationship was not going to be fulfilled. That anxious feeling of wanting him to change his mind. I realized the feelings I had mid-run of the show was quite like those feelings, without the hope that anyone would change their mind. I wasn't in love with any one person, but with this collection of people. We were going to disperse soon, no matter what. We were never going to move in together. It was built in from the start that this was a temporary community. Tempus fugit. The temporary time was flying by and there was nothing to grab hold of to slow it down.
So here I am, half a week after the final performance, writing a mash note to these people, some I'm almost certain to work with again, but not all at once and not on this show. The character Neil has two lines that have been on my mind: "Please don't think that this can never be replaced." Well, it can't, but we move forward in search of something like it I guess. The other line is, "People move on. That doesn't mean it wasn't fun while it lasted." We're moving on and it was fun---and work!---while it lasted. I was in love while it lasted.
Beyond the cast and crew, a big reason why the emotion was so high for me during this run was the material itself. Jane Anderson wrote this script with so much to wrestle. I found characters who each held things that I was sympathetic to and things I deeply disagreed with. Each one. This made the play infinitely rich for me, and enriched our rehearsals with discussions of the issues at hand. So Jane Anderson, if you're out there and this love letter reaches your attention, know I love you, too. Thank you for The Quality of Life.
Karla, Jo, James, Vince, Shelia, Jennifer, and Kathryn: Thank you. Stacy, thank you, too, for making this temporary community possible.
I miss you all. See you around.