What's In the Box

I’ll be moving to a new apartment in a few weeks. (Don’t worry, fans of my reporting on the New York theater scene – I’m moving from one borough to another.) I have begun packing, sorting through my belongings before sealing them up. The mountains of cardboard boxes I’m amassing contain much of my life – and being an actor, they contain tons of scripts.

Loose-leaf binders full of my own writings, as well as tons of scripts from productions, readings, workshops, and friends looking for feedback. Dog-eared Samuel French publications, with blurred pencil markings where I needed to note down blocking twenty years ago. Xeroxed copies of Shakespeare and Sophocles, held in tattered folders and filled with doodles made by a college-aged me during table reads. If you’re an actor yourself, you’ve no doubt got a sizeable pile of such things yourself.

And as I’m going through each and every one of them, preparing to haul them twenty miles or so across town, I can’t help but ask; why?!

For example, take one of those tattered folders I mention, which holds the script for my college production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s become a sacred talisman to me, this record of the first Shakespeare production I ever did. But I also have an Arden edition of Midsummer, as well as not one but two omnibus editions of all the Shakespeare plays, one of which is clearly the edition from which that college script was photocopied. So do I truly need Peter Quince’s speech prefixes highlighted? Are a handful of long-ago notes worth having one more thing cluttering up my life and apartment?

I could ask this question of just about every script in my collection. For the classics, the texts still exist, and can be read at your local library (at least while we still have local libraries). For original works, these scripts have more value as a document – but when was the last time I actually sat down and read that avant-garde work from the late 90s I appeared in for four days? Am I going to remount these productions any time soon, and desperately need to be able to refer to the original stage directions? (Hint: no.) What, exactly, am I doing with all of these?

I called that Midsummer script a talisman a few paragraphs ago, and really, that’s what all these scripts are. Holy relics. Proof that, at such a such a time, these productions existed, and I was in them, and I was there and had an experience worth the remembering. As such, a quick perusal through those long-ago doodles and ill-considered cuts triggers a happy burst of nostalgia, and perhaps a jolt of reassurance as I consider projects yet to come.

They’re also likely to induce a hernia when they’re moved across town.

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