First Things First

“Factories standing idle from the loss of non-essential workers. Stores shuttered from the absconding of uncrucial personnel. Uncollected garbage threatening pestilence and pollution…”

These are the first words the Announcer speaks in Day of Absence. It’s the start of a three minute monologue (I timed it), which is the first thing I do in the show. And from that moment, about half-way through the piece, I don’t seem to leave the stage and don’t ever seem to shut up. Which means that I have a lot to memorize. All of it written in that same dry, tongue-twister fashion. And as there’s no shortcut for this, the past week has been me going over these lines, drilling them, over and over again, trying to get them into something I can naturally and plausibly say.  The necessary drudgery of putting a character together and getting off-book.

“Factories standing idle from the loss of non-essential workers…”

As you might have noticed from my post last week, I’m anxious to perform this. Spoiling for a fight, you might say. After all, the piece is somehow more relevant than ever after fifty years. (Nice job, America!) As the conversation about race in America intensifies in the election’s aftermath, it feels to me like we have a critical argument to add, and need to add it now. But we can’t join the conversation now, despite the rapidity with which it’s unfolding (what Paul Virilio calls the “speed of discourse.”) We’re still in rehearsal, after all. We don’t have a lot of rehearsal left – we open in two weeks – but it’s clear that an awful lot is going to happen over these next two weeks, and rather than comment on them as they happen, I’ll still be drilling lines.

“Factories standing idle from the loss of non-essential workers…”

And it’s frustrating, seeing all of my friends taking various actions in reaction to unfolding events. It’s frustrating seeing the theatre become a battle zone once more in our ongoing culture wars, and not being able to directly participate. (I wasn’t originally going to write about the whole kerfuffle with Vice President-elect Pence and Hamilton, because while the right of theatre to engage with our politics must be defended, I feel this fight was deliberately staged in order to distract from all manner of other things, acts of potential criminality at the highest levels of what’s soon to be our government, and I don't want to take the bait.  But even so, why should Hamilton keep having all the fun?)

But I’m busy, learning lines.

“Factories standing idle from the loss of non-essential workers…”

It’s ironic…at the moment, I’m not saying all the things I could be saying, because I’m too busy memorizing the lines of a character who refuses to shut up. But that’s the job. There’s no other way to do this.

“Factories standing idle…”

I have to have faith that, in two weeks’ time, once we are up and running, what we have to say will be worth the hearing. But rehearsal comes first.

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