Sometimes I fucking hate doing theatre. Those times always come up as I’m in the process of getting a play together, and often present when getting a show to open is coming down to the wire. It’s just anxiety, exhaustion, etc. But I have to ask myself all over again why I have to do this.
I am absolutely perfectly suited for solitary work. My temperament is perfect for being a writer. I would have no one to rely on, no one to wait on before going and creating… There are rarely any instances where I have to sell myself before what I create…. And I do write, but it takes a considerable backseat to stagework and acting.
WHYYYY? As I’ve grown up I’ve mellowed out and learned to deal with people better. When I was in college I was far more misanthropic – and yet a theatre major. People quickly realized this and were completely baffled by my area of study. A friend once quipped, “oh it makes perfect sense, she wants to be a director.” And at the time it did. (I still like the idea of directing but I’ve never really pursued it. Some day, some day.)
So when I was 20 I was much more likely to say things like “I hate people.” I don’t hate them, sometimes I really love them. They’re fascinating, entertaining and often inspiring. But I still rarely feel among them. Of them. It’s just not usual that I’m in a crowd and I feel like I’m a member of the crowd, rather an outsider that suddenly and probably accidentally ended up in the middle of a party. I more typically feel like I’m watching the people around me interact and accept their attention to me as politeness.
Of course with close friends I feel more like belonging, so long as I don’t think about it. Thinking about stuff like that kills the feeling of closeness as there is no real rational explanation for why anyone would be friends with me, but they are and I accept it and thank God.
But back to theatre… it’s people, nonstop. It’s all about people. It’s essence is people. The interaction of people, people’s ideas modifying people’s ideas and exemplified, brought to life and otherwise expressed by yet more people, and all played out in the company of other people. It’s content is men, women and children, it’s metaphors are built out of human expression, even the non-human elements, to truly be theatre, have to reach back and relate to and incorporate the persons of the production.
While I’ve grown up (a little) and have learned how to keep my introversion from being other people’s problem (a long, hard lesson, I assure you), I have to keep in mind that I am introverted and that too many people and too much socializing is bad to me. It’s a like a kid hopped on sugar before dinner, they’re going to make a mess, it’s terrible for their health and they won’t sit still long enough to eat their vegetables.
When working on a show it means I’m tired of bloody well everybody on the planet and we haven’t even managed to open yet. So every time I do a show there comes a point where I have to just grit my teeth, breathe deep and accept all comers. And when I’m stage managing, *everyone* comes at me, typically all at once. There are very frequently moments when a good five or eight people want to talk to me and no they won’t wait their turn so I’m holding about five or eight different conversations, solving problems and reassuring actors and directors and designers and producers about what’s going to happen and how they shouldn’t worry….
That’s the job. And that’s ok. As long as it feels like they’re listening and working with me, it’s quite all right to be in chaotic situations like that, even though I much rather prefer calm and order.
It’s when I don’t feel like I’m being heard that I start to get very frustrated and the anxiety I was holding at bay finds a crack to get at me and break down my will to live (or at least not strangle some poor actor who had the misfortune of being the dozenth person to ask me for something when I’m on a smoke break)(yep I smoke, and yep I’ve tried to quit, only to come back because I’m doing theatre and I can’t figure out how else to cope).
And when I try to explain this to non-theatre folk I get attempts at understanding – well who wouldn’t get aggravated at being ignored? Who wouldn’t feel flustered when their attempts at organizing are tossed aside in favor of everyone running around like chickens with their heads cut off? But they don’t get what the week leading up to opening is like. They don’t get that everyone working on the show – hardly just me – is under immense pressure and those folks view me as a resource to help them manage the chaos they’re facing. When I’m eyeball deep inside of Hell Week, I forget this, but when I’ve gotten the chance to catch my breath, I remember that and realize it is also part of the job and that makes it ok.
When I stage manage, I do my job and I like to think I do it well. Then I go home (or to my couch-away-from-home) and toss back some whiskey and some kind of calm returns to my world.
When I act, the freakout theatre causes is rather different. That all comes out of incredibly personal emotions and vulnerabilities to which no sane person would subject themselves. Compound that emotional nakedness with the stream of people and guh…
Whhyyy? Why do I have to do this? There’s a million other things I could do. Many of them far more respectable, even. But as another friend likes to point out, I do always find the hardest way to go about anything.