Monday Morning Attire

Greetings from Alaska, Constant Reader!  I’m here in Valdez, attending the Valdez Theatre Conference.  I’m in a rugged outdoor landscape, in a small scrappy harbor town on the Prince William Sound surrounded on all sides by the snow-capped peaks of the Chugach mountains.  The air is brisk, and bald eagles fly through it everywhere you turn.  I’m staying in the closest hotel in town to the conference – a hotel which, when you look at the building closely, you realize was built out of reconfigured shipping containers.  Those shipping containers, of course, were what was left behind when the town rebuilt itself after being wiped out by a tsunami in 1964.  Yes, it is a town of hearty, earthy, rugged individualists, at home in a stark landscape of staggering natural beauty.  And this morning, I am starting my day in this magical place by doing something profoundly out of character for it.

I’m putting on a necktie.

Nothing too fancy – a good plain red tie, with some texture to it, tied in a good solid Windsor knot.  You wouldn’t look twice at it back home in New York – not even in the wilder parts of South Brooklyn where I happen to live.  But here in Alaska?  Nobody wears neckties.  Ever.  Formality is a meaningless affectation.  In a landscape like this, as long as you’re properly protected from the elements – which is a big consideration – there’s no reason not to dress as casually as you like.  Heck, last year all of the conference goers had a reception where we met the town mayor.  As formal an event as it’s possible to have in this remote corner of the world.  And there was not a necktie to be seen for miles around.

You don’t need them up here.

But I’m starting off the conference by playing a cheerfully corrupt politician in a piece called The Ripper Strikes Again by Mark Muro, the unofficial poet laureate of Alaskan theater.  You’ll not ordinarily find him wearing a necktie.  But I’m here to serve my fellow playwrights even as I show off my own work, and he’s writing a play about conspiracies and corruption.  And if I’m playing a rapacious, budget-slashing, id-driven governor, I’m going to need to look the part.

And so as I walk across the impossibly wide street at the base of the mountain, and cut through the open-air seating in the field where a portable coffee-shop truck sells its wares (that’d be Magpie’s on the Fly, and they’re awesome), the eagles and lynx and bears and unnumerable other fauna of this epic landscape will know me, as I walk along, by the incongruous red spot below my chin.

It takes a significant dedication to one’s art to pull up stakes and travel several thousand miles, over mountains and glaciers and landscapes beyond imagining, just for the chance to practice it for a few short days.  But I’d argue that it takes even more dedication to sport a bright red necktie while doing so.

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