I have, thus far, played one leading Shakespearean role in my career – Prospero in The Tempest. I was cast in the part by a friend of mine, John, with whom I’d worked a few years prior, at Paper Mill Playhouse. He was directing it for his outdoor company in Brooklyn, in a production where he was also playing Ariel. (He’s that kinda guy.) As it happened, I was living next door to his grandmother at the time. Indeed, I had called him up a few months prior to that show because I was going out of town, and since he clearly knew the neighborhood I asked if he’d look after the cat I was fostering, and somehow that conversation ended with me being offered a Shakespearean lead instead. (Yes, kids, that’s how casting works.)
This was in the summer of 2012. A few months later, Hurricane Sandy struck, and John’s grandmother and I rode out both the storm and eleven subsequent days without power. Throughout the ordeal, I’d get periodic text messages, Facebook messages, and the like. They were from John, in character as Ariel, the words being to the effect of “verily, master, thou canst lay off with the storm. We get it already.” He’s an irrepressible joker, you see, and while power outages may come and go, Shakespeare jokes are forever.
John moved to San Antonio a few years back, to work with a theater company there. And he’s been doing quite well out there. However, this put him directly in the path of Hurricane Harvey, a few short weeks ago.
No jokes this time. Harvey and Irma, back to back – this is something new, something exponentially more dangerous, and even those of us who have borne the worst of past storms are at a loss for words.
John’s doing fine, of course – San Antonio experienced significant rain, but was spared the kind of damage that Houston received. For that matter, another friend of mine was in Houston itself, on tour with a show. And she’s also safe, although after being sequestered in their hotel for a few days they were forced to pull the plug on the show. And that’s just my friends in the Houston area. I have a number of friends in Florida, in the path of Irma, and friends whose families are still there, and as of this writing I have no idea what’s happening with them. And none of us ill know until sometime today – and given today’s date, that thought fills me with a certain dread.
And while we’re all worried – make that terrified – about the human cost of all this, and the environmental impact that’s unfolding before our eyes I’m also worried about the fate of the artistic institutions of these cities. As of this writing, one of this nation’s major regional theaters (the Alley Theater) and one of its major opera companies (Houston Opera) are underwater. That’s not hyperbole – their facilities are literally underwater. And for as long as we’re able to, we’ll obviously keep rebuilding. But the question is what we chose to rebuild. What we value. What makes a community a community.
Like I said, things are exponentially more dangerous nowadays.
If you think these institutions have value and want to help them rebuild, you can check out links here and here. I hope you can help. I can only do so much. After all, I only play a mad exiled sorcerer with power over the weather.