Looking at Things a New Way

I've been directing plays now for nearly a decade. That sounds a lot longer than it feels; at the same time, I'm having trouble remembering a time when I wasn't fixated on the next project, the next production, trying to tweak whatever we were working on to make it a little better.  I can't remember a time when it didn't recharge me to spend an evening or afternoon doing Shakespeare with a bunch of kids, when choreographing a knife fight or fixing a scene didn't feel more fun than a party.

Still, lately I've been a little burned out. Not on directing in particular, just in general. I work full time (not at Bards) during the day for an actual paycheck, something we've not yet been able to finesse out of the Bards bank account. There are 4 adolescents living in my house. And I'm in my final semester of graduate school. And yet, there's this play hanging in there, demanding attention, like a persistent toddler. 

"Romeo and Juliet" is both one of my favorite and least-favorite plays. I loved it from the time I was 14 years old and pretending to be Juliet on the balcony adjoining my parents' bedroom. The language is unparalleled, and possibly uniquely among Shakespeare's plays it strikes a perfect balance of tragedy and comedy. Yet it's so overdone - everyone thinks they know it. Everyone's heard so many of the key lines, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

So I keep thinking, what can this burned out director bring to this overdone play that makes it fresh and new and interesting?

About a week ago, I came to the disheartening answer: nothing.

There is nothing I can bring. Fortunately, this production doesn't rest on my back. It is in the infinitely capable and creative hands of a (mostly teenage) cast, a cast that keeps asking the right questions and finding new insights. In a vaccuum, I am no more than the average amount of creative. Paired with these formidable young minds, we create new landscapes, find new truths, and make used words fresh again. 

It doesn't hurt that as my assistant directors I've got Steven Cullen and Charlie Coulter, who are both brilliant at mining Shakespeare and pushing the boundaries of the actors. Steven always has an idea about a problem scene, and Charlie's where I send the actors who are struggling to find their feet or their voice. 

If I look at this production, or really, any production, as MY work, it's likely to come off stilted, limited, and reeking of my own difficulties and insecurities. However, as I come at this play as a manifestation of the best work that we, collectively, have to offer, we're likely to continue surprising ourselves. And I have no doubt we will - pleasantly - surprise our audiences. 

Here's to looking at old things a new way, preferably through someone else's eyes.

My name is Laura, and I'm an addict . . .

When the theatre season concluded just over a month ago in May, I must admit to breathing a sigh of relief. I was TIRED. In the past 14 months, I purchased a foreclosed townhouse (which used to be owned by crack addicts), fixed it with a lot of help from my friends, moved myself and both of my daughters into it, finalized a divorce, and started a new job. I also directed two plays and oversaw the production of a third. Honestly, tired doesn't begin to cover it. 

It's always bittersweet closing a play, and closing Orpheus Goes to Hadestown was no different. I poured myself into it relentlessly; it was my baby, and when the last curtain call happened, my eyes were wet. But then I went home and slept like it was my job. Seriously, it wasn't resting, it was a coma. I woke up in the post-production funk I always experience the next morning and thought, It's gonna be a long time before I feel like doing this again.

Six weeks.

Yep. Six weeks was all I could last. And after 4 weeks I was already reading scripts, sketching out production ideas, discussing new strategic initiatives with the Board. Keep in mind, Bards is the job I do FOR FREE. Wait, let me back up. Bards of Birmingham is the job I PAY to do. I actually have LESS money in my bank account because I do Bards than I would if I had a saner hobby, like skydiving. I have to work full time to pay my bills and THEN put plays together after I get home for the day.

I think I may have a problem.

But as far as I can tell, there's not really a 12-step program for someone who obsesses about staging Shakespeare with kids, whose fondest dream is to do a trifecta of Shakespeare plays over the summer next year covering the ENTIRETY of the Wars of the Roses, who waits for costume patterns to go on sale and then buys 20 of them so she'll be ready when it's time to costume the next play. 

To be completely honest, I'm not sure that I would seek help if there were such a program. Because I enjoy the heck out of my dysfunction. The best cure for a bad day at work is showing up to rehearsal and having an 11-year-old kid say something that you never once in a million years saw coming, or seeing that child who has required a great deal of energy that you didn't have to give finally GET IT. If I am an addict, not only is this my drug of choice, it's one I can't imagine giving up. 

So, my name is Laura, and I'm an addict,. And I plan on staying that way for a very long time.