I have been rehearsing a play, called the Caucasian Chalk Circle, at the Austin Riggs Center in Stockbridge, MA. This is a recovery/therapeutic center that helps individuals struggling to live productive lives in our society. Patients live in an open community and share their difficult life experiences, and work together for solutions. Two times a year Kevin Coleman (see Meet Kevin) is hired to direct a play with them and he asked me to get involved when one of the patients needed to drop out.
These plays are special. There are only 5 of us that are not a part of the Riggs community and the rest are wonderful people struggling with addictions, depression, neuroses, but very good at being real humans. I leave every rehearsal feeling better about the world and myself and grateful for being included in their circle.
From the first day I arrived, they welcomed and warmly accepted me. This is quite a feat in any group where the new guy can be met with suspicion or come up against an entrenched cliquishness. Kevin had me leading group warm-ups in no time. This immediately gave me status, which he is so good at bestowing, and the cast generously follow my sometimes absurd warm-up exercises with good cheer.
We meet 6 days a week and check in at the start of every rehearsal. I appreciate the honesty that going around in a circle and sharing a few sentences does to help get you present in the room. Sometimes it is heart-breaking and sometimes we laugh ourselves silly. I look forward to each rehearsal.
Kevin has a teasing wit that takes the “preciousness” or fragility out of a room. He doesn’t treat people with kid gloves, but uses humor and honesty, in a joking way. For example…“Mary is a witch. She’ll dump out her caldron when she gets home,” or “What? Do you think this is a musical?”
His example has released my wit as well. At the beginning of one rehearsal I was chatting with a guy about the Jewish faith and he told me a joke. “ This guy had to convert to Judaism to marry his Jewish girlfriend so he was asking his buddy about circumcision. His friend said, ‘oh, after I was circumcised I couldn’t walk for a year!’” And it came to pass that I asked the next male that walked into rehearsal if he had been circumcised and if it had taken a year before he could walk. Well, circumcision became the word of the night and I was laughing so hard I had tears in my eyes.
We had 2 beautiful cats come to rehearsal one night, a darling black dog another night, a border collie mix puppy and we have 2 kids in the play that are with us on the weekends. The show opens tomorrow and people are still struggling with memorization, we have a long way to go to pull off this complicated production. Maybe we should just stick to having animals and kids in the audience! But no, I have every confidence that Mr. Coleman will make a beautiful show out of the chaos. It’s just who he is. If it’s not great, it will be no fault of his that’s for sure. He reminds me that we are making theater as an art form, the way it was meant to be.
This is my first Brecht play and I am missing Shakespeare’s beautiful language, but the story is lovely the more we uncover. But for me it’s not about the play, it is the relationships with my cast that make it worthwhile. We are changing our daily world with love and connection by being there for each other. This is theater at it’s best. It’s not entertainment but adoration for humanity that makes life worth living. The typical actor ego stuff that can crop up in professional productions is missing. We follow the concept of making your partner look good, and that generosity bonds us all together.
I hate pretense and people thinking they are better than others because of where they went to college, or who they know, or how much money they have. Humanity is the great leveler. There’s no one exempt from struggle or need, or too good to be born with a tendency toward destructive behavior. The bravery I see around me in the rehearsal room inspires me to a deeper respect for all people willing to face their demons. There are times when I am watching patients share lines on stage and I am humbled by their ability to just be themselves, revealed in their simplicity, present in their words. I will miss spending my evenings with these courageous souls. The end of every show is usually sad but this one will cut deeper because they have grown roots into my heart. This is what I have wanted all my theatrical life and it feels like home.
YOU LOOK LIKE GEORGIA
ON A COOL SUMMER DAY
YOUR SMILE HITS ME LIKE A BREEZE BLOWING OFF THE LAKE
YOU TALK LIKE KANSAS
YOU CAN SEE TO THE HORIZON
THERE’S NO PLACE FOR THE WORDS TO HIDE
CAUSE YOU MEAN WHAT YOU SAY
MEAN WHAT YOU SAY
ANYWHERE, ANYPLACE I GO
YOU FEEL LIKE HOME TO ME
YOU FEEL LIKE HOME TO ME
(Hear Sarah Darling sing Home to Me on youtube )