Sunday, April 10, 2011

If Not This What?

I am standing in JoAnn Fabrics watching women leisurely poking around the bolts of seasonal patterns of pastel Easter eggs and bunnies. They ask for two or three yards of this or that. The woman at the cutting table asks what they are making. Various projects are described for grandchildren and so forth. A yearning comes over me. Why was I not born one of them?

I wander through the aisles of cotton, jersey knit, satin, and taffeta looking for muslin. Twenty-four yards of it to be exact. Twenty-four yards of muslin one hundred eight inches wide. When I finally find it and arrive at the cutting table, the kind- faced grandmotherly looking woman behind the counter is slightly surprised by the amount of fabric I ask her to cut.
She begins to unroll the bolt with authority flipping it over and over and over unwrapping the muslin to be measured by the metal yard stick attached to the counter. "So, what are you making?" She asks with an amazed curiosity.

"An arc," I reply.

Story of my life. Hunting for oddities - alice frames from the army-navy store to which we will attach the tree of knowledge. Glittery balls made from styrofoam for apples. Some copper wire. An old rusty tin for the cider cup. A Biblical looking mallet - what would Noah have used to hammer in that final peg?

Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. The shadow effect didn't. Two panels of tan fabric hung as a tent for Adam and Eve in the wasteland. The fabric was too narrow - only forty-five inches. Overlap the seam. Maybe weight it with some washers. Try a magnet. No go. I rip it off the scaffold and grab the left over one hundred eight inch wide muslin I bought for the arc and tell a techie to attach velcro to the top. Barking orders - get the scissors. Cut the bottom - not too short - it needs to hit the floor.

The show comes together in pieces. Ragged and fragile. Both. Everyone with their share of the responsibility. Actors remember to pre-set your props, take the tags off your costumes. We need a different leotard for the dove. What is that shadow on the Father's robe? It has too big a hem in it. Noah's beard is overwhelming him. Father's mustache is too shiny. Where do we stash the mini flashlights? Someone comes up with an idea to attach a big safety pin to each costume. Brilliant. Problem solved.

Glow tape the stairs, mop the floor, rotate the scaffold, face the bottom step on of the stage, attach hooks to the rainbow, hang masking. Spin the flowers on this song. Don't on that one. Tell the story. Don't look at the floor.

Cling to each other. More passion. You are desperate. You have been spared. None of this works. I resort to technicalities. Put your hand to her cheek then gently bring her face into yours. Touch your lips. Kiss. Hold. Hold. Hold. Done.

They are just kids after all.
What do they really know about passion, clinging to one another for their lives as they sing the lyrics, "In whatever time we have for as long as we are living...." waiting for the great flood? I try references to Japan's Tsunami.

One more light cue for the end of act one before the black out. The cast stands and waits as the cue is programmed into the board. We run a test. Call the cue as the music modulates. No. Go back. Call the cue as Adam and Eve hug. Call the next cue as they reach for father. It's a visual. Watch the stage. Try it again. The stage manager sweats the sequence.

Microphone passing schedule. Costume check out sheets. Makeup stations. Hair extensions. The orchestra is too loud. Hang some blacks. What happened to the percussion? Where is the Didgeridoo sound? We make one out of a piece of PVC.

Not for the faint of heart.

I stagger out to my car at the end of dress rehearsal. In less than a week, it all comes down. Strike. What took months to put together, will disappear in a few hours. An ephemeral art - theatre.

Have I been too harsh? Have I pushed them too hard? Am I too demanding? These questions reverberate through me. I am reminded of Terrence McNally's play, Master Class. At the end of the play, Maria Callas delivers a monologue that runs through my head.

If I have seemed harsh, it is because I have been harsh with myself. I'm not good with words, but I have tried to reach you. To communicate something of what I feel about what we do as artists, as musicians, as human beings. The sun will not fall down from the sky if there are no more Traviatas. The world can and will go on without us but I have to think we have made this world a better place. That we have left it richer, wiser than had we not chosen the way of art. The older I get, the less I know, but I am certain that what we do matters. If I didn't believe that.

A line ending with a period not an ellipses - beginning with the preposition "if".

A line that sums up my life.


  1. Amy,
    A wonderful and evocative post. Break a leg, and I know that you will find "the journey worth the taking."

  2. Mrs. Barth--

    This is what makes theatre beautiful. The simple, electrifying, and terrifying idea that it will all be over in a few very short days is what allows us to pour our souls into it.

    Thank you for showing us your heart and soul through CoE.

  3. Thank you for your support! Thanks for reading and commenting.