Saturday, October 3, 2009


I have been hard at work on a play the past few weeks, hence my long absence from posting. It is my first time on stage in... a long time... so between the rehearsal process, keeping up with student essays, and wrestling the constant voice asking me What were you thinking! it has been an exhausting and absolutely incredible few weeks.

The play is called Wit and is about an English Literature Professor named Vivian Bearing, who is dying from ovarian cancer. The play is her journey from the intellectual world into the emotional one. It has also been a spiritual journey for me. Not only playing this incredible woman, but relearning so many things about myself I had forgotten or put away in the closet. Way, way back of the closet.

My students have been waiting, probably less anxiously than me, to see if I would relent and shave my head for the role. I thought it prudent to warn them of the possibility to save myself countless denials that I am myself dying. Fortunately, the hair will remain. But it was interesting to realize that if push came to shove, I would have let the hair go. Not because I am such an artist, but because I am learning-- relearning-- to be one.

I had forgotten just how much I love the theatre. Every part of it-- I don't need to be on stage to feel at home there. In fact, I much prefer writing and directing. The nausea level on opening night is about the same, but I find it more magical to hear my words coming from a good actor than my own words never fully doing justice to another writer's words.

But the greatest thing about theatre is the storytelling. I am a storyteller. I always have been, and the theatre is the place I can do this without becoming a liar. I can tell a story on stage and it is accepted, embraced, sometimes even applauded. If I tell the same story outside the theatre, it is met with skepticism, raised eyebrows, questions of "Is that true?" This usually happens in class after I have told some poignant story to illustrate a point or illustrate a rhetorical mode. My students listen to me weave a story about Hannah, a beautiful four year-old who wants to become a veterinarian when she grows up, but is killed by a drunk driver; or about my grandfather taking me to the state fair in his '59 Chevy pickup with the torn seat covers and Hank Williams, Jr. playing on the eight-track. Perhaps the stories are true. Perhaps only one is. Perhaps neither. But, in some way, every story contains truth, so why do we question?

In the theatre, we don't. We allow the story to unwind and are willing to accept. This is called suspension of disbelief. Even when we become aware of our disbelief, in the darkness of the theatre we are more willing to ignore it. We become like children, believing once again in fairy tales, tall tales, myths, legends, and folklore. That's not a bad thing. Not a bad thing at all.

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