It was a momentous week, Constant Reader – and since this is a blog about my life in the arts, I’m not referring to the inauguration of a new president or the thwarting of an attempted fascist insurrection. (Although that Amanda Gorman poem, amiright?) The cold reading series for which I serve as co-host and co-Creative Director, Tuesdays at Nine, celebrated its thirtieth anniversary. The Naked Angels theater company began the program in January of 1991, immediately after the bombing campaign that kicked off Operation Desert Storm; shocked at the turn of events the nation had taken, and feeling the need to foster an artistic community capable of responding to such events, they created a formal workshop series to workshop brand new writing. The hope was that by meeting so frequently, they could respond artistically to the rush of history in as close to real time as possible, the better to try and make a difference. And for thirty years, week after week (not counting summer vacations, cuz you need those), that’s what we’ve endeavored to do.
I also turned fifty this weekend, so there’s that.
The strange thing is that it’s the former, the 30th anniversary of the reading series, that’s making me feel old this January, and not my birthday. It shouldn’t be that way – fifty is greater than thirty, after all. (By twenty years. Former high school Mathletes president here.) But my chronological age is just a fact of life. Maybe not one I should mention in a blog casting directors might read, but since not much of anything’s being cast right now it sort of balances out. Plus, as a character actor, while the number of roles available to me at fifty may be fewer, they’re a hell of a lot better – I’m finally the right age for my character type. As far as my health goes, I’m feeling pretty good (knock wood – there’s a pandemic, y’know). That number, fifty, is just a simple fact of life, a particular detail about me at this particular moment.
But thirty years of the reading series? That’s thirty years engaged in a specific task. And while I’ve only been working with this company for the past eight years of those three decades, the timetable matches up pretty nicely with my own theatrical life. I started acting in college; I distinctly remember me and my classmates the night Desert Storm began, huddled around the television and stupefied that we’d plunged once again into war, that we’d been manipulated into it by the sort of people who profiteer off of misery. For these past thirty years, my hope as an artist has not simply been to find employment (although that’s kind of a big thing), but for that employment to matter, to help work towards a better society that knew enough not to succumb to that sort of corruption and cruelty.
Have I succeeded? Has anybody?
We’ve produced a lot of good work at Tuesdays at Nine, some of it even during my tenure. But in terms of trying to halt the decay of our society, I’m not sure we’ve made any progress. It feels like all of us – not just my particular company, all of us – have been trying to bail out a sinking life raft with nothing more than a thimble. And we’ve been doing this for decades.
It’s tiring. Not gonna lie.
But then again, we are still here – and we’re still going even despite the pandemic that’s halted most theatrical activity throughout the country. Every Tuesday, we meet over Zoom, and every weekend my co-host and I prepare to do it all over again. And each week we manage to pull it off, all the obstacles notwithstanding, is a small victory.
At my age, I’ll take those where I can find them.