Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Aerosol Nights--a thought on community

Today, I had an interesting combination of circumstances. I was reading Leon Wieseltier's Kaddish before a rehearsal for "Sing for Something." For those of you who don't follow that page on Facebook/flyers around town, "Sing for Something" is a Broadway revue fundraiser for cancer research. My good friend Rebecca convinced me to audition for it and once or twice a week, I have rehearsals for it. It's doing wonders for my endorphins, it's improving my mood and it's starting to help a little with my weight.

As I was walking back from the rehearsal to my apartment, I reflected on the last times I was involved in community theater as an actress rather than a pit orchestra member. Thanks to my mom's encouragement, I grew up in quite a few productions, whether it was one of the three Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat productions we did in Portland or whether it was the year that I had to juggle performances as a Siamese Princess in The King and I and the North Wind in The Selfish Giant. She loved performing and the companies would save us money in babysitters if her kids could sing in harmony and dance well. I remember one or all of us being a River City, Iowa child to her Widow Paroo, an orphan to her Miss Hannigan or just an angel choir to her Potiphar's Wife. All in all, I had a really happy time in community show business.

The operating word in the phrase "community theater" has to be community. There were people in the Weston Friendly Society that we knew from various productions. We knew a lot of the local directors. One girl refused to talk to me at school, but was in both The King and I and Bye, Bye Birdie.

Where the title of this post comes in is a memory of both those productions. The same friend who convinced me to audition for Sing for Something asked me today if I was going to dye my hair blue for my role as the Genie from Aladdin. That brought to mind the suffocating black hair dye that we had to spray on for The King and I as well as the silver hair tint that I also had to use when I was the North Wind. That led to me remembering the first time I sprayed myself in the eye with hairspray, ten minutes before I had to have the opening solo of "The Telephone Hour" in Bye, Bye Birdie. There was a shared hysteria as well as community misery in how many layers of makeup we had to put on to go from central Massachusetts WASPs to royal princesses of Siam. We all suffered through the stiff hairstyles and uncomfortable poodle skirts while in love with Conrad Birdie when I was in 7th grade.

All of those memories came back to me shortly after I had read the acknowledgments section of Kaddish. Mr. Wieseltier goes on for two pages without a single paragraph break or explanation. It's just a list of names and all of them probably know why they were included there.

I look forward to having a community that runs my writing theater. I hope it will involve an agent, editor, publishing house, publicist, maybe someone to help me with my correspondence... I'm not a leader or delegator, but I kind of like the idea of having a few people to help me keep my head on straight.

This also led me to think about my current "community." There's friends who have hashed out plotlines with me or asked appropriate questions when I was brainstorming madly. There's the friend who gave me a thumb drive for Christmas, but who also lets me get out and have fun once in a while. Then there's the beginning of my fanbase. Jenn, my friend from high school, who wrote me my very first piece of fan mail ten years ago because she figured I should get used to it. H., who not only let me drag her around Philadelphia for four days while she chauffeured and worked out schedules but who is practically my own lexicon. She's a coauthor on my Botosphere and one of the most touching moments of this whole process was the night before we flew to Pennsylvania. My mom doesn't have the best memory and so she couldn't remember the basic details of the book I was writing. (Though, to her credit, Mom did remember that I'm still working on research for a work of Holocaust literature.) I started giving brief summaries of each of each character and H. jumped in when I got to Leticia, recounting the circumstances under which we meet her and a few things that I didn't even remember telling her. Katey was the first person I told about that crazy dream I had while afflicted with pneumonia that defined the rest of the book. She's also the person who, when I told her another friend's request for a power, sent me articles and videos of parkour so I could develop a writing style. Rebecca, who insists on mentioning my word count every time she introduces me to someone new: "Matt, this is Kathryn. She's an author who has written 98,000 words so far. Can you believe how awesome that is?" She even introduced me to a 9-year-old that way last week and it practically made me blush. There's L. and D. who are very different in temperaments but who are now forever linked because I started writing Julie as based on D. and have now realized that Julie has L.'s sense of humor. Plus, L. is dating the guy that a major character is based on, though that character didn't start out that way.

Some of the best things are the really small contributions, like the roommate who listened to my whiny wanderlust in December and convinced me that I really should take a vacation to my main characters' hometown. The lady at CHS' administration office who slipped me more information on the curriculum and policies than she really should have. The sister-in-law and brother who keep tabs on my writing just because they're good family who understand just how neurotic I am.

So, even though I'm not sitting in a rehearsal room with half a bottle of hairspray keeping me coiffed while waiting for scene 3 of act 1 to be over, I feel the same kind of mellow happiness that I do when I'm in community theater. It's a wonderful experience of mutual insanity.

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