Marital Fights Inform My Life

We bought our home with some cobbled together gifts, my wife’s stellar credit, and a sub-prime mortgage which she then wisely got us out of. We got the best house we could, which is to say, it’s largely a piece of crap. But it’s our piece of crap and we love it a lot. I have heard alcoholics use the phrase “I’m the piece of shit the world revolves around”, which is such a masterful use of English – I’d like to offer up “This is the piece of crap that I love” as perhaps a less beautiful, but, to me, more useful, turn of phrase.

In any case, I was having a drag-down with the missus a few years ago, and she was in the middle of gently pointing out that, despite my promises, and despite the four year time frame since we bought the place, I still haven’t finished remodeling a single room. I interrupted her and said, “So, you’re saying it really doesn’t matter how hard I try or how much I work, all that really matter is what I accomplish, right?”

Now, as I said it, two things simultaneously occurred to me. One, that isn’t at all what she was saying and two… YES. Welcome to being a grown-up. It actually *doesn’t* matter how hard you’re working, all that matters is what you accomplish.

It’s a tough pill to swallow, particularly for someone like me. I have very few unexpressed thoughts – hence the blog, the facebook, the twitter – and I need to get some credit for stuff long before it comes to fruition.

But nowhere is this more apparent than in the theater – particularly with actors. It seems that simply speaking loudly and pretending is totally insufficient to most MFA acting grads, they’ve got a whole system of things they need to do in order to generate a performance they’re happy with.

Oh man, I loved writing that paragraph, even though I know it’s unfair. I mean, acting, like any art form, does require an enormous amount of work, and all of that work is for naught if you don’t have any talent or if you’re in the wrong piece for your mindset – it’s a really scary set of circumstances, and an actor can hardly be blamed for doing everything he or she can to regain some control. But my problem with actors is similar to my problem with cops, it takes a certain kind of person to be drawn to that lifestyle. (And I should know, as much as I might claim to have retired, there’s no-one who exhibits that mindset more than I do.) But I realized a long time ago that if you keep a journal in character, if you lose or gain twenty pounds, if you plot your gestures or sleep in costume… you still might give a lousy performance.

And, sadly, the same is true of producing. We’re doing a play right now and, in the end, after the thousands of dollars and months of man-hours, after the writers have written and the directors have directed and the audiences have watched… after all of that, the overall consensus might simply be “I Just Don’t Get It”.

That is fair. It might not feel fair, but it’s totally fair. If they didn’t get it, then the work you put in it doesn’t matter. In a way, if they don’t get it, if your piece fails to instruct or reach an audience, it’s a success. Think of it this way – we all have strange thoughts, secret fetishes, bizarre streams of logic that appear like a fever dream. We all speak languages that only we understand, but every once in a while you speak that language and a handful of people get what you’re saying, and if it’s the right handful of people (or the *wrong* group)… then you end up making a play.

If nobody gets it, it’s just proof that you’ve told a very small, very specific story. Maybe it’s only you and five or six of your friends who would ever understand. But you have to tell these kinds of stories, you have to make it as small as possible because when you speak in that language an outsider hears it and understands it… *that* is when theater is at its most magical. *That’s* when you have a chance at something universal.

So, how can we deal with the knowledge that all of this money and all of this work may be for nothing? It’s a total cliche, and I hate writing it because it’s a total groaner, but in the end the work has to be for the sake of work. We try things, on both a micro and macro scale, because we love the art form. The journey, I shudder to admit, is in fact the destination. The time before the show opens, that’s *real time*, it has value. The work you do off stage, the marketing, the producing, the fundraising, it all has value, it is worth doing *in and of itself*.

I look to my friend Jonathan, who is a poet. He got his masters in writing poems, he’s been published, he runs a magazine that publishes people, he’s the real deal. He can’t worry about how many people will get his work, he can’t wonder about reviews. His world, hard to believe, is even smaller than ours. At least there are community theaters in most cities, doing Arsenic and Old Lace and Neil Simon. If Jonathan did four weeks of reading Torquato Tasso, he’d be doing three and a half weeks by himself.

For him, the act of writing is what the writing is. Putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard, I suppose) is the thing he does. For us, it’s this, this fundraising and set-painting and script copying. I’m not saying one has to love it… but I do genuinely believe that if one doesn’t, if the only joy is in the play going up and being embraced by audiences and critics… then there is very little possibility for joy.

All of this that we have to do, the nonsense, these little crappy jobs… Not to get all Robert Fulghum, but when I look at my theater company, I have to say, “This is the piece of crap that I love.”