The day is finally at hand, Constant Reader. Today – Monday February 6, the day I post this – marks the first read-thru (via Zoom) of my new short play, Basic Cable Method Acting. The cast at last is finalized, the rehearsal schedule is taking shape, the tech and performance dates are set. Since this is a small play in a small festival, the production staff is minimal – just the director, the cast, and me. So I spent this past weekend writing out some materials that we’re liable to need. As a way of staying inside and hiding from the brutal cold, while waiting for the real work of rehearsal to begin, it was a lot of fun.
It was also incredibly depressing.
You see, Basic Cable Method Acting is a period piece, about three actors in an audition holding room at some point during the mid-80s. One of the things I did this weekend was start creating the props we’ll need, by writing out fake resumes for the three actors’ headshots. Not tremendously difficult, right? After all, we all know what those look like (assuming “we” all work in the performing arts, which is a reasonable assumption if you’re reading an arts blog). But do we? Do we remember what a resume looks like when you have to type it out on a typewriter, because word processors are cost prohibitive for the average starving artist and personal computers are still more a novelty than anything else at this point? Do we remember how margins take up more space than we’re expecting in 12 point courier font? Do we realize how so many of the kinds of credits we fill out our resumes with these days – internet films, Netflix, and the like – didn’t exist back then? It’s one thing to type out some silly gags; it’s quite another to have to enter the headspace you’d have needed to be in to perform this task some thirty-five or forty years ago.
Which brings me to the weekend’s other fun project. Being a period piece, there’s a number of references to current events and personalities of the eighties. Those references are actually doing a lot of the work of supporting the plot and themes of the piece (no spoilers), so it’s important that the actors understand what they are. But from my own experience hearing an earlier draft of the piece read last summer, I know that it can be a challenge to navigate the text if the references are unfamiliar. So I wrote up a dramaturgical packet. A guide to some news items and news makers from the decade I grew up in, trying to explain the finer points of Reaganomics and Red Dawn to people who weren’t alive to experience either.
Because that’s the thing of it. Basic Cable Method Acting is specifically about three young actors, presumably in their late 20s. And while I don’t specify the exact year the play takes place there’s enough internal clues in the text to set it somewhere in winter/spring of 1987. So that’s three late 20-something actors in a story that references things I vividly remember from growing up, a story that would have taken place thirty six years ago. Before they were born. My life, and everything that formed my worldview, is now firmly a period piece.
I’m not sure if I have a point to all of this, but then again, I’m an old man and I’m allowed to ramble sometimes.