Monday, July 26, 2010

A Safe Working Environment For The Actors

I didn't think much of it, because I liked hanging around in that cemetery. But, looking back on it, if any of the staff of that clinic had looked out the window and noticed that I was mulling about in the cemetery across the street for nearly a full hour following getting tested for HIV, I imagine they'd have thought me to be fairly strange. But it didn't occur to me at the time. Like I said, I liked hanging around in that cemetery. I'd been there more times than I'd been to that clinic, anyway. We were friends first.

I sent Kris a test message, confirming my "non-reactive" result. "Let's rumble." Very sexy. And went about the merry business of re-finding my favorites. Yes, I have a couple of favorite headstones. One has always stood out in particular. It stands over the grave of a fellow who died at the brittle old age of twenty. If that reality isn't disappointing enough, the little poem on the grave comes off, well, just plain bitter.
Stop here my friend & drop a tear
Think on the dust that slumber here
And when you see this date of me
Think on the glass that runs for thee
All right, thanks, Mr. Samuel Prentis.

Kris arrived while I was mucking about near the more "recent" graves from the mid-1800's, and told me to follow him. We ducked into some building belonging, apparently, to Emerson. It took a while, as he knew seemingly everyone along the way and, ever the social butterfly, stopped to catch up in full sentences where I might've been satisfied with a knowing nod of recognition without ever so much as breaking stride.

I asked, once or twice, where it was that we were going. "You'll see."

All right, thanks, Kris.

I thought maybe he'd steal us away to some dark prop room where we'd screw on a dresser once owned by Bertolt Brecht or something. I could get with that.

An elevator ride brought us to a room with a beautiful view, overlooking not just my little cemetery but a solid stretch of Boston Common, and just as the sun was dimming down over the horizon into uninspiring grays and yellows. A perfect fall sunset; no fuss, all surrender. And I'd have been quite content if he had brought me there exclusively to take in the view, but it turned out he was sneaking me into a rehearsal for the upcoming MacBeth, in which he would be playing the role of MacDuff.

I had told him how I enjoyed theater folk, having done a bit of musical theater as a child. I greatly enjoyed it, and though I lost my singing voice and my confidence both quite permanently with the onset of puberty, I had never lost my love of the theater. Well aware of the fact I can no longer hit a note or even enunciate well, my fantasies of theater glory mostly entail volunteering for stage crews and getting drunk at cast parties. When Kris mentioned in passing that he might cast me in a piece he had to direct for a course, I balked. But this? This was just.

The most fun to be had, I had always thought anyhow, was before and after the shows. Rehearsals in sweatpants, with frequent directorial interruption, and the dismantling of beautiful ersatz trees and buildings to the hum of power screwdrivers in reverse only hours after the curtains had closed on the final night. Personalities without the leashes of their characters. I was quite content having relinquished any claim on a role other than voyeur; the evening was promising.

Additionally, it was a moment of truth. Kris, I'm sure, was without suspicion. But the game was afoot.

I have the merciless tendency to assume that just about everyone sucks, artistically. I think a lot of things are terrible, including the vast majority of the output of people who could be considered professional. Unfair as it may be, if someone fancies himself an artist -- through whatever outlet -- and I disagree, I tend not to fancy him at all. My negative opinion of the work can seep to the work's creator. My judgmental ways get loose like a bad dog and, with no regard for their master's will, usually end up chewing the heads right off the neighbor's kids.

Kris wanted to be an actor, and if I didn't find myself buying into his dream, my options seemed unpleasant. To risk telling him the truth of my opinion, and see if he would stick around with someone who didn't believe in him, or to put on a more brilliant performance of my own, showering him in words of encouragement the way a preschool teacher must praise every finger-painting. It was actually at one of his performances that we'd met, and he seemed capable, but the material he was delivering that evening wasn't exactly Shakespeare.

But this was. This was, exactly, Shakespeare. And fortunately, it turned out that Kris could act.

I was all sorts of delighted with the day. As I picked at the little Band-Aid on my HIV-negative finger, tucked away under a table alongside the wall, I followed the script while the Emerson students rolled through MacBeth, MacDuff up to snuff.

The next day, Kris told me he'd received an e-mail from the stage manager, chastising him for bringing his boyfriend to the rehearsal, on the grounds that he had jeopardized "the safe working environment" that she and the director try to create and maintain for the actors. Kris was furious. I was annoyed, and felt vaguely guilty for having been there and getting him in trouble, though rationally I knew I hadn't really committed any crimes here.

We vented to one another about how were now in lockstep with our hatred of the girl for about five minutes, and it then dwindled into something we'd joke about it in completely poor taste. The damage had been done, and it wasn't as if they were going to go out and find another MacDuff over it, so I decided against allowing it to serve as a sour, sullying aftertaste for an otherwise fun experience, and I was doing just, just a wonderful job of it.

That bitch.

I decided to attend both performances of MacBeth that played, returning for the second night despite having discovered, on the first, that the performance space had a suffocating micro-climate the likes of which could induce church faint in small children and the elderly. I got there very early to make sure I scored a seat; the small space filled up very quickly, and though I felt a bit greedy occupying a seat on both nights, I also felt like a good boyfriend.

The only other people who got there as early as I did on the second night were carrying a big bouquet of roses. They were very clearly someone's parents. When other obvious parents arrived, their parental conversation carried to my ears, and with it came the news that the flowers were for none other than that "bitch" of a stage manager. Roses. For a stage manager. There's no people like show people.

Only a short while into Act I, something began to go wrong. There was a heavy black curtain from which the actors would enter and exit the in-the-round stage. It was held up by a sort of frame made of rather heavy metal poles, immediately adjacent to where I was sitting, and the structure were coming loose.

Each time an actor or actress would enter or exit the scene, the frame would sway, rattle, and threaten to collapse. After two instances of this, during which I thought it unimaginable that no one running the show had done anything, I was getting a little concerned. The third time, the sway was even more dramatic, and I was convinced that without some sort of remedy, the unit would come crashing down, possibly onto one of the players.

So, on the fourth time, I caught the frame in my hands, and stabilized it. I did this for the rest of the play. MacBeth isn't very short. In a hot, stuffy underground room when you're holding up a small scaffolding unit while trying to focus enough to be able to offer constructive criticism after the show, a single performance of MacBeth runs for -- I have learned -- nine hours, three days, and one month.

When the performance ended, and all the bows were taken and then actors headed back through the curtain to change and exchange accolades, I let go of the metal poles and left my seat, following the flow of parents and other attendees to the narrow exit. But my path was cut off by a girl carrying the roses from before. She introduced herself as Sarah, the stage manager, and thanked me extensively for not only being there to attend the show, but for helping avoid disaster by keeping the metal poles from crashing down during the performance.

She then ushered me out so that the limited set could be dismantled.

For a moment, during the conversation, the part of me that really enjoys starting shit was lighting up like a Christmas tree. The urge to introduce myself was powerful. "Oh, you're the stage manager? I'm Kris's boyfriend. And really, happy to help. I'm glad I could help create and maintain a safe working environment for the actors." The words were locked, loaded, and so ready for launch that I practically salivated.

Instead, I said nothing.

Kris cracked open the door to the performance area shortly after that, to check in with me. When I told him about the encounter, Kris said he thought I should've pulled the trigger. For all I could tell, he was genuinely disappointed about the missed opportunity to send a barb in the direction of the stage manager.

I figure it was simply unnecessary. I figure Mr. Samuel Prentis would agree with me. But I told Kris he was right, and he seemed to believe I meant it. He said he had to go back to the dressing area to change so we could leave, and with that, I bowed back into the lobby.


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