THE REGISTRY opens (and closes) in ten days. I worry about everything: not having rehearsed for six weeks, having three days to put it all together with a cast who’s never done this before; planning two-three rehearsals on every one of those three days (including a morning rehearsal on the day of the show). Will that exhaust everyone or create a good working rhythm? I have no idea. Our last two rehearsals, mid-November, were complete opposites: a great, upbeat, spectacular rehearsal followed, on the next day, by a tepid one presented before a trial audience of two.
I can’t lie: I’m tired. This year has exhausted me. I say, “This is the last play for a while, perhaps for good.” My friends laugh, say “yeah, yeah,” and point out I’ve said this before. I have, but out of frustration not exhaustion, and always before changing direction. I used to think four projects ahead; I used to have stories that had to be told; I used to try not to write lines for the new play while working on the current one. Not anymore. I’ve got nothing. No stories line up waiting to be told after THE REGISTRY. Beyond this production lies a silence I haven’t experienced before, deafening in its finality.
Things have changed. The world has changed, but so did my immediate landscape. I have no access to performing venues other than completely reinventing large auditoriums on campus. I did that in May, for Revision. It was great, but I don’t plan to do it again. Tech crews I trust are hard to find. People I trust enough to work with are scarce. I often wonder what it would be like to have nothing to worry about but the actual play, to have everything at my disposal and the money to pay for it. I guess I’ll never know.
For now, once THE REGISTRY closes its gates, I’m taking a break from theatre. It’s a beautiful, but treacherous field and we (theatre and I) need a trial separation.
I want THE REGISTRY to be perfect. Not in that loud, declamatory way that often kills the spirit of a play, but in a way that connects its subject (love, bureaucracy) with every single member of the audience. I want the questions posed by THE REGISTRY to haunt people long after they leave the theatre. A character in THE REGISTRY, whose employment file is classified in its entirety because she might be God, asks: “What is the story you’re trying to tell?” It’s the most important question of the play: identity as narrative; identity defined by narrative. We all have stories to tell. “We’re all stories after all.”
During the opening of THE REGISTRY art exhibit, a couple noticed the line written on the sails of a large ship, and read it out loud. “What is the story you’re trying to tell?” They stood before the ship for a long time, possibly thinking of answers. They left the exhibit holding hands. If our stories coincide, we are lucky.
There is so much I’d like to share with the anonymous audience of THE REGISTRY…A woman at the art show told me she’d read about my previous production, Revision, but its autobiographical nature scared her, so she didn’t go. All fiction is autobiography, I wanted to paraphrase Virginia. Every play is personal – never business. Perhaps one day the theatre world will agree with me. Until then, I’ll worry about THE REGISTRY and its world, about what I’d like to leave behind, should this be my last play. But the anonymous audience of THE REGISTRY will know nothing of this. Ten days from now they’ll come to the theatre, take their seats, open the program and read
THE REGISTRY is the most fractured play I’ve ever done. I wrote it during the most difficult semester I’ve had here, between meetings; (during meetings…); walking home from school writing lines in my head; during five minute coffee breaks at the end of which I’d find notes pinned to my office door: “I came by your office but you weren’t there!!!”; standing in line at the grocery store on the rare occasions I had time to shop for real food; and, sometimes, ten minutes before rehearsal. This semester – this past year – left us all breathless, a little short on kindness, a little tense.
I thought, “Time lost patience.” I thought, “The world is out of joint.” I thought, “This is the Age of Kafka.” With everyone on edge more than usual, I feel I wrote this play under siege, torn between the illusion that I was writing a bureaucratic satire, a revenge comedy, and the reality that, in the end, I couldn’t decide if bureaucracy is a necessary evil, or a way to level creativity and intelligence to the ground.
As the head of a large academic department, I am – technically – a bureaucrat. As a creative writer, I find the language and practices of the bureaucracy absurd and demoralizing. As an expat coming from the worst dictatorship in Eastern Europe, I know the lengths to which a bureaucratic empire would go to protect its policies. And so THE REGISTRY begged to be written, if for no other reason than to expose this unresolved duality: I am both a bureaucrat and a creative writer. Could I call myself a creative bureaucrat? (Of course not: the Empire would crumble!)
I’ve learned several things from my past: that at the heart of every conglomerate (be it corporation or government) there’s a flourishing bureaucracy; that numbing people’s minds with the impossibility of extracting anything from a bureaucracy prevents them from asking larger questions; that our lives often depend on a piece of paper, a petty rule, or a signature.
The most terrifying scenario I can imagine is a bureaucracy in charge of our romantic encounters. This is what THE REGISTRY is about: a giant bureaucracy staffed with fantastical beings who make decisions about human love; a place that can never be reached, that never grants audiences, but punishes everyone for not following rules whose small print has not yet been released.
I believe in order and the necessity of rules, but not in inflexible regulations enforced at the expense of the individual. I don’t know if THE REGISTRY solves any of my dilemmas, but writing it felt like therapy, like a talking cure that reminded me that laughter is the best antidote to absurdity because it demolishes fear. And without the threat of fear, even the most elaborate bureaucracy collapses eventually. It’s something to look forward to, I think.