(NOTE: I feel a little weird going ahead with my previously planned blog post this week, given the recent and genuinely frightening news out of the Supreme Court. To say nothing of the recent and genuinely frightening news out of pretty much everywhere. That said, in thinking about what I want to say, it makes far more sense for it to be the subject of next week’s post, which will be going live on July 4th. In the meantime, Constant Reader, stay safe and keep the faith.)
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, the Valdez Theatre Conference (which was a total blast) concluded with a festival of monologues from the participating playwrights. Not only was a piece of mine in the line-up, but I was participating as an actor as well. It had taken me longer than usual to memorize the piece, but that was understandable – I hadn’t had to memorize anything throughout these two and a half long years of pandemic, having the luxury of being able to surreptitiously read off zoom screens whenever necessary. Nevertheless, it was just a one minute monologue, and commit it to memory I did, and I rehearsed with the terrific coaches who run the Workshop. So when it was time to perform, I felt reasonably confident. Excited, even.
And then I stepped foot in the main auditorium of the Valdez Civic Centre, and that excitement turned to fear and dismay. That old feeling, familiar from my callow and inexperienced youth, of stagefright. Just what the heck was I about to do, anyway?
And sure, some of that had to do with how long it’s been since I’ve been on stage – but not really. I’m on stage a lot, in fact, thanks to the weekly Tuesdays at Nine reading series I co-host, and while my performances there are script-in-hand, the dynamic of a live audience is still there. No, there was another factor at work here – and the kicker was that this factor, this sense of disorientation and panic, was felt by a number of us.
Specifically, the performers who came from New York.
Because the main auditorium at the Valdez Conference Center, you see, is nice and large. And while you might think that’s an unremarkable thing for New York performers – we’re the home of Broadway, after all! – the truth is much different.
We’re all used to black box theater spaces. Tiny holes-in-the-wall, studios to hold maybe fifty audience members or so. (The cap for an Equity showcase is 99; the fire code governing those sorts of small rooms set a maximum capacity of 74 if there’s only one exit.) The work we do in those small spaces can be vital and exciting, but it’s still happening in a small space. I’m not sure how long it had been since I was in a venue of the size that I was for the Monologue Fest, but it’s certainly a double-digit number of years. At least five or six pandemics’ worth. And I’m far from alone in that regard.
It only lasted a second or two, this disorientation; that’s all it ever lasts. But it’s enough to put some fear into you, no matter how long you’ve been doing this. And it’s enough to make you wonder about the theatrical spaces, the endless showcases and low budget companies, that we’ve come to accept as our artistic norm. For if all our preparation makes it difficult to actually perform when the time comes – actually step forward and have our say – then perhaps we should rethink just how, where, and for what we’re preparing?