spare change

I feel things slowly changing–here and elsewhere. No, I’m not going to talk about that godawful clusterfuck that is politics right now. I would break the caps lock key and need heavy tranquilizers to do that. This is more about perception, goals and outlook.

It’s been almost ten years since I left college. Ten years ago this month I was on my way to Theatre L’Homme Dieu for ten weeks as a resident company member. It was an incredible ten weeks, enough stories to last me for year. It was also the high point in my theatre idealism. At one point, when I was deep in it, deep in the craft of it, it felt like the TRUTH to me. It felt like the world really could revolve around that stage, wherever that stage was (and the stage was very much a moveable thing) and things could change because of the work we were doing there. There was potential for UNDERSTANDING. Empathy grew. There was frission. There was a magic in the collective creativity that willed those stories to life on stage.

Part of my heart still believes these things to be true, but I’m, obviously, not a true believer anymore. For a time, one of the best feelings in the world involved walking out on that naked stage in an empty house, just listening to the echos of my footfalls and sensing the potential energy. The ghost light stood next to me and I felt like it drew all the ghosts of the history of the medium to a holy place. I’m not talking about religion. I’m talking about a sort of spiritual center, a point where reflection is possible and where it’s possible to conceive of a future. You know, coy ponds and Japanese gardens–that level of serenity. I don’t feel it anymore. Not as much. Granted, I haven’t been a performer on a stage for years now–life got in the way of that. But even on my way out, some of the grace in those simple things was lost. I’ll get it back, it needs time I think, but there will still be something a little lacking if I do.

I’ve been immersed in the business of theatre for eight years now, immersed on the audience side of the business. I talk to the people that see shows on a daily basis. I try to make the experience amazing for them. I try and figure out ways to get them in the building to have the experience and then find out how to keep them talking about the experience once they leave. Sometimes this side of the business feels like it is dragging me down–it feels like it’s all about money, about sales … but then I see our audience–our core audience: the children. They come in with their parents, they come in groups from their schools; some of them have never experienced live theatre before and can only marginally relate to the experience they are about to have through other mediums: television and movies. I see the anticipation on their faces as they come into our large lobby, as their eyes take in the size of that space, as they start to realize that they might not know what they’re in store for.

Then they see the play and they emerge changed. You can see it in their eyes–magic has happened. Something amazingly profound has occurred and you just hope that they are able to experience that profundity again and again so that it sticks, so that they never lose that joyful immersion into the transformational potential that theatre possesses. That they don’t become cynical. That they are able to transfer that experience into the rest of the world, into whatever they do, so that the greens become more vivid and the blues deeper. The transformational potential of theatre is in the imagination–it is imagination.

I was never going to be a starving artist. I refused from the onset and when I began pursuing theatre in college, I wouldn’t say I was mercenary, but I was practical. I can’t sing (maybe, I could be taught, but there are a few psychological hurdles I’d have to leap before I really allowed myself to believe that) and I’m not a natural dancer, though I can be choreographed. I was pretty good on stage and I was getting better, but I wasn’t to the point yet, when I stopped, when I didn’t need a director to help guide me. I also didn’t focus exclusively on acting–I learned costume construction (and spent 2 years in college in the costume shop), I was a stage manager, a lighting designer and a sound designer. I directed (some, not as much as I would have liked due to a conflict with the directing instructor at my university that limited my options). When I left college, I joined my friends in a venture–a theatre company that we ran, where we could do the plays we wanted, play the parts we wanted, do the jobs we wanted. Like all things, this was a utopia that couldn’t exist–we gave it a go for a few years and then, one by one, we left it behind. That beast was still sleeping, the last I checked, poisoned a bit from a loss of direction and internal conflict. I kept working in theatre, but it didn’t live in me the same way. Maybe it was my practical nature, but more likely it was that old adage: “if you can find something else that you like to do, you should do that instead.” It’s sad that, when going into a theatre program, you’re told immediately and constantly that you’re probably not going to be able to make a living at it, that you’re just fooling yourself–but moreso, that the art gets focused upon, but the applications and business models do not. Is it any surprise that so many small theatre companies stay small, that they wither instead of thrive? Is is any wonder that so many “artists” are incapable of keeping a career running for lack of business sense. On top of the rest, acting is one of those few art forms where, to practice it at all, you need the permission from others–you need to audition, to have someone tell you that you are worthy enough to rehearse (in a proper rehearsal room, in a church basement, in a storage closet–they all have the same gatekeeper) and to perform. Sure, you could just memorize plays and perform for your mirror, but that is not a completion of the art form. You could subsist on classes, performing scenes with fellow students, but that is also not a completion of the art form. You could fund your own shows, but then, that pesky money and business sense is needed–you end up focusing more on the producing than on the creation. So, what’s the solution? I don’t know, and that is why I’m not doing it right now.

I never exclusively needed theatre to feel like I was producing art. I’ve always been a bit split when it came to that–a triple threat in another way. In addition to theatre, I also painted and I wrote. Given the time commitments to each of these art forms, they can’t exist for me at the same time. The painting (and drawing) could be made to fit around the other two, but I’ve found that theatre and writing each ask too much of me for me to do both at the same time. I left theatre, to an extent, behind and now I’m focusing on writing.

The blank page, the laptop–they have some of the same allure as that naked stage. I’m surrounded by the artifacts of this art form in my home, books. Shelves and shelves of books. This summer I’ll write about 100,000 words to complete a first draft on my novel in order to start thesis in the fall. There is an anticipation and a rush to the enormity of this project. But it’ll happen, because it has to. As they say in theatre: the show must go on.

So, what else? I spoke of change. I feel like there is something in me that’s changing. This entry has not been a memory keeper, not my normal laundry list of things that I’ve seen and done over the past however long. I suspect that those entries will still come, but perhaps they won’t be the entirety of this thing that I’m doing here. Perhaps it will be more of what Warren Ellis says: this is how I see things from this place/ time I’m occupying. Observation, not only from the confines of what I’m doing, but also what I’m seeing cast larger. We’ll see, this rambling isn’t much of a statement of purpose or a mission statement. It’s a feeling that I have. My two cents right now. Spare change.

More later …


Published by: Thomas Rohde

Artist // Writer // Theatre Professional // Nerd // Night Owl Inspired by a steady and lifelong infusion of pop culture, comic books, and a vast assortment of films and books, our friendly neighborhood blogger has doomed himself to a life of creative pursuits. There's not enough time for everything, but we all do what we can. Artist: of watercolor, ink, comic illustration, horror/ sci-fi/ fantasy art. Writer: of fictions, tweets, captions & blogs. Lover: coffee, whiskey, wine & beer. Instagram and Twitter as @demipho

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