Friday, September 3, 2010

'Under the Desert Closes on The Thompson'

Today was strike day. After Monday and Tuesdays shows, we took a day to stay away from the mountain. I had to take Dan to Cedar City to catch the bus, so I didn't have much of a chance to catch my breath, still, it was good to take a day to drive away from Boulder and the Ledge. While Dan and I waited for the bus, we went and saw a movie and had a sandwich. Dan has been so much a part of this production. He never complained as we took risers, lights, paints, tables, chairs, tools, and all the rest of the theatre event equipment up the mountain. Once, when a riser fell off the truck on the steep grade, he ran up the hill holding it in place as I drove. He kept his sense of humor throughout, and I knew I would miss him today. As I was driving home this morning, I didn't know how I was going to do the strike without him. I had put an e-mail notice on The Boulder Alliance Community e-mail list, but didn't expect to get many volunteers at such short notice. I picked up Molly, and up the mountain we went. Cheryl was already working on breaking down when we arrived. Tracee and Sean arrived shortly after that, and thank God for Tom Jerome with his truck to take the tables and chairs back to the Town Hall. We separated, moved, and finally loaded everything into trucks to take every thing to rightful owners or to storage. It took about three hours, and I told Molly I wished I would have written down an inventory list. It was a complete theatre up there, right down to the hammers and saws. The risers and lighting truss I left up there for another day.

Monday and Tuesday shows were beautiful, although we were still dealing with the wind on Monday night. But we couldn't cancel the show. After all we'd been through, we couldn't even think about not doing a show. The actors were warriors, as were the crew and audience. We knew for our moral alone, the show had to go on. Monday was our smallest audience, but they were one of the best. The wind was not going to keep them from seeing theatre on The Thompson Ledge. Although the wind was not as bad as Saturday and Sunday, it was still a stiff breeze that blew the canvas backdrop around quite a bit. It added a surreal variable to the play. The actors kept their volume up nicely through the show, so the wind didn't take away from the audio. It was also the coldest night of the run, but most of the audience brought jackets and blankets. Not so with the actors. Although they move quite a bit during the performance, I could see that the night air was making them a bit cool. Afterwards, several of the audience stayed after to talk about what it evoked in them. It was a great discussion about God, art, the church, and the desert. They really got the play. I realized through talking to them that although 'Under the Desert' is not a feel good play, (most of mine aren't) a play can evoke conversations that would never happen without its experience.

Tuesday night, our last night was wonderful. The weather was perfect with just a little snap of cold—clear and calm. The Milky Way loomed above the canvas set, and to my surprise, about forty people showed up for an evening of theatre. Although I was very tired on this night, it was wonderful to watch this audience watch this play, and further, that they had found their way up the mountain to all be there together. Sean and Tracee were well prepared, and gave a great performance. Because the audience filled the risers and the front two rows, and because there were so many, they laughed at the humor in the play for the first time. (Sometimes when the audience is small, its difficult to get them laughing at the humor, there is an intimidation factor I've noticed). The crickets chimed in time, Anselm built a fire for intermission, and the pre-show gathering was chatty and lively. Afterwards, we had an after show and closing party. People gathered in clusters and talked. Music broke out around the fire and in Anselm's art gallery. Because of some exhaustion, I left a little early, and collapsed for the first eight hours of sleep I'd had in weeks. The show was over.

The last two nights of the play, I decided to do a pre-show talk about why we decided to do the play in the first place. Like a first novel packed full of so many idealistic themes, I thought it appropriate to not explain the play itself, but explain my state of mind at the time I wrote it, and also what was influencing it. Most writers write on the same themes most of their lives, although as the work matures the themes are less jarring and paired down. Often, when learning the craft, one can't help but be ambitious, and this play is definitely ambitious, and, as I began to realize, probably somewhat disturbing in its subject matter. Perhaps if these had been my thoughts earlier, I might not as been so bold. But I have learned that if I embark upon a project using logic as my compass, I would probably not get very far. Passion and belief in 'the doing' have to be paramount in the early stages of the laying the foundation for the production, and the passion has to be sufficiently stoked to keep doubt and fear from stopping things altogether. A production takes on its own energy, and once it's at a certain point, there is not stopping it.

Every production of a play has its own story, and this production is a story for me of ambivalence. For to many reasons to explain, I loathed it and I loved it. It has once again, cost me everything. Today my body is aching, and my mind is full of doubt and fear once again. Tracee just left to go back to Phoenix. Sean will leave in a day or so. Fall is looming. I don't know where I'll be this winter. Where there was once a theatre space, a set, and lights, there is an empty space. The end of a production is so much like the end of a relationship. Theatre artists come together in a tornado of love, passion, conflict, art, tribulation, victory, and with a collective spirit to do a play. When the play ends, all of this is torn asunder. It really is like a passionate love affair with all its intimacies and conflicts suddenly ending. That is why it is devastating. That is why I always have to be so careful with my thoughts and emotions. This is why it is a risky art form. There is an addiction about it that can be destructive, when I'm honest with myself. When I was younger, I was willing to risk it all to have this experience. Today, I think to myself, what have I done? Again. Perhaps other theatre artists can participate in the vortex of theatre without so much damage. It occurs to me in these moments that my addiction is in full manifestation when I do theatre. I lose everything. I tear through any resources like a drunk on a binge, even when I have nothing. I'll sell anything, hustle, and pay for paint before I pay my electricity. The definition of insanity. Is there a hospital for artists who are addicted to their art? It's finally time to get a regular job for awhile. Anybody hiring? Can do most anything, including music, planning events, theatre, writing, editing, breakfast cooking, or personal assistant. Good on the phone, computer skills, good with people. I can design lights, design sets, and I can teach. I'm funny, or used to be. I make a mean marinara sauce.


Gerry said...

Glad to read this last vital part of any theater event, the last night, the farewell, the final buzz and the striking of the set when that world ends. And I know all your doubts are surfacing, because you have to do the final analysis of what happened, how well it went, and what was wrong and what was right! Personally I think this sounds like an unforgettable theater event and what more can you ask for, to have provided those who saw it with theater that will not be forgotten, that will take you into another legend borne out of that country, just like those legends of the days of old, cattle drives, homesteading, and now pioneering theater on Thompson's Ledge. Something about that idea makes me laugh with glee, and that is how I know it worked!

Gerry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
larena said...

Oh raymond, I am so glad I saw this play early on when Brenda Edwards gave the performance her all. Ity makes it so enjoyable to think how it must of played on top of old Thompson. I can easily feel the fall breezes and imagine the unending work to lug everything up the mountain. This one will live in your memory forever and there will come a day when you will laugh uproariously at all the happenings. It indeed had to be a labor of love. If nothing else those country people appreciate hard work. Rest well now that the day is done.

vooman's voice said...

It doesn't sound as if you are ready to take this show on the road. Isn't there money in a nights work? I was thinking of trying to get Steve Suseoff to hook you up, he knows many, many theatre people,New York and S.F.
That book he wrote on the old theatre of New York was great. if you were too busy and didn't get the number of the guy who wanted theatre at Angels Camp. His name is Paul Hedrek 707-363-1300 or said...

Alas, I missed the show. But I did enjoy a trip to the top of Thompson Ledge...and kidding Gerry about Clyde. What's not to enjoy?
Maybe I could travel to Angels Camp. I would love to read it. How about a script? I could share.

Chuckh said...

There is something good on the horizon, let it peek through the billows of dark clouds. I can relate so well to this post that I' feel like I've been through it so many times as well, except I have not been left "holding the bag" as it were, and you can bet it ain't a bag of money. If you come to Phoenix, I'll do all within my power to get things going as quickly as possible.