It seems selfish, somehow, with everything that’s happening in the world, to talk about a play - to think, conceive of, and work on a play. On the other hand, we all need coping mechanisms. This is mine.
Have the world leaders (read: dictators) sealed your fate with their egomaniacal tendencies? Do a play! Have you invested a year of your life in someone’s well-being only to realize that you barely make their acquaintance list? Do a play. Are you, generally, attracted to narcissistic psycho-pricks who use you as a sounding-board for their rehearsed tragedies? Do a play. Is there an issue whose resolution would significantly contribute to the happiness of those around you? Do a play.
So: I’m doing a play.
You know I’m fond of lists. Lists are organizing principles, and I’ve always celebrated those. If I were to make a list of all the things I hoped to achieve, and all the things I have actually achieved with this play, I’d have something like this.
- Things I’d hoped to achieve: clarity (why take on an administrative job?); revenge (take that, administration!)
- What I’ve actually achieved: finally understanding Foucault’s line “About this ambiguity, I am ambiguous”)
I began writing The Registry thinking of revenge. I wanted to talk about what it feels like to be called “the administration” while having absolutely no power to change anything. I wanted to explain what humiliation feels like – apologizing to everybody about everything: meetings scheduled at the last moment (not by you); absurd rules (you have to implement); absurd schedules (you have to monitor); ridiculous deadlines (you have not imposed, but must enforce).
I realized (recently) that I have quite a bit of pride, and that it hurts to have to apologize for things I haven’t done: I’m sorry you’ve missed your deadline (though I still need your findings – how awkward…let me apologize for the awkwardness as well); I’m sorry this absurd rule (which I have not imposed ) must be followed; I’m sorry you think my email is intrusive (it’s just a reminder); I’m sorry you lead a miserable life (which makes you absolutely miserable); I’m sorry you have to take your unhappiness out on me…I apologize.
I apologize all day long. It is exhausting. At the same time - nobody apologizes to me. It’s as if the administrative dimension has somehow erased the human one…There are days when I go home and question everything, not just my decision to be part of an administrative aggregate.
So what do I do to stay sane, to keep going? I do a play.
There are no heroes or villains in The Registry, only overworked, super-apologetic, exhausted figures in charge of Departments of Eternal Regret. I thought I was writing a revenge play about the bureaucracy. I was not. As things stand now, The Registry merely ponders the realities of the bureaucratic system while testing the limits of sentiment. (Remember the premise: what would happen if love relationships were regulated by an administrative branch of a fantastical government?)
The Registry takes no prisoners. It looks for explanations, for rare moments of clarity. No one is to blame. Everyone is to blame. Everyone is everyone.
I continue to be amazed by the professionalism of this cast. I ask them to review their lines before every rehearsal. They do. I train them to think like actors, to understand that the only thing that matters in acting is that you listen to what the other has to say. Don’t rush in with your lines. Think of it as a response, a reaction. Reaction is so much more difficult to portray since it is more subtle than pure action. Reaction is a process, like impulse.
We blocked the last scenes of The Registry today: the voluntary-mandatory therapy sessions; the voluntary-mandatory art sessions; the invasion of privacy; the destruction of free will.
The Registry talks about some of the things I grew up with in one of the most tyrannical dictatorships in Eastern Europe. The fact that some of these issues have echoes in 21st century America is unsettling…but that’s a discussion for another day.
This is one of the most receptive, intuitive, and intelligent casts I’ve ever worked with. They come prepared; they take direction easily; they adapt to strange and hostile spaces.
I honestly don’t know how we’ll put this play together in three days, on a stage we’ve not rehearsed on, after a six-week break. But I know The Registry will come back to life like a demented Phoenix whose destiny has not yet been fulfilled.
When that day comes, watching it unfold, I will be happy.