A recent discussion in the pedagogy class that had to do with identity and intellectual, artistic integrity, made me think about my place in academia, in an English Department, in particular. “You do plays? Why aren’t you in the Theatre Department?” And, had I been there, “You teach literary theory? Why aren’t you in an English Department?”
Theatre professionals, while applauding the result of my work, have often mentioned that I work in unorthodox ways. “You are so European…” Colleagues in academia have pointed out, in an agitated manner, that my relationship with the members of the Milena Group does not resemble their relationship with their students. I wanted to say: do you ask your students to strip, and shout obscenities, and open their souls to the public, and crawl on the stage, and run, and jump, and speak of love, and sex, and disappointment, and leave behind every caution, every inhibition? You don’t? Well, I do. You can imagine how I might need to create a safe space where all these things become possible. You can imagine how, since I ask for complete trust, I might have to offer something in return. Often, it’s simply my time. Spending time together, allowing them to get used to me, allowing me to know, little by little, everything about them.
But, the point is, ever since I can remember I’ve been asked, politely, why I do what I do, why I am where I am or, to put it more precisely, why I’m not where I should be. This applies to geography as well. “Where are you from? When are you going home?” Meaning: you have an accent, you’re not from here, you must miss where you’re from since this is not your home.
A creative writer in an administrative job; a playwright working inside an educational system that thinks theatre can be taught in a classroom; a humanist in an age that celebrates practicality and the bottom line (yay, industry!) and wonders out loud what literature “is for” – is it surprising, really, that the only place I feel at home is on the stage, in a world whose rules I have imagined to the minutest detail?
I am sad. I have been, for quite some time. The one thing for which I’d sacrifice anything and anybody – my plays – is seen as a hobby, a diversion, a nice little side activity. And yet (speaking of identity), when I interviewed for this job, I was told that I was replacing a man who had formed a theatre company, whose shows had been legendary, whose connection to the artistic community I could only hope to achieve one day. The practical nature of my research had been clear to everyone then. What happened to that clarity?
I sit here wondering what this next play is going to look like when the week of tech and dress rehearsals has shrunk to four days, if that. How will we do, how will I do, I who need so much time to think, to find the rhythm of every production in the space that’s going to contain it, how will I work with a completely new lighting designer, and a sound guy who’s never done sound before, on a stage I walked on once, for ten minutes – how will I not screw up? This is what I hate most when doing a play: haste. (And yet, I started thinking about this play a year ago...) The process is everything. The result is a culmination of the process. The repetition of that culmination is useless, so that’s why there’s only one show, one chance to see the play that’s in my head – always something new, something I’ve never done before, something better than the previous production.
But today I feel unsure about everything. I must have driven the costume designer mad, changing my mind about everything for the third or fourth time. I second-guess every decision. I worry about everybody. I keep telling myself that it’s the nature of this play, that I should blame Chehov. But there’s only so much Anton can do.
The cast is away, celebrating with family and friends. In theatres across the world, directors and actors (people whose job this really is), rehearse at leisure. Our offices are closed, and when they open, we will return to our conferences and books – the business of the English Department. I will probably continue to sort out vital things like parking or leaky toilets on the second floor. And every day I’ll wonder about the play, about the strange circumstances under which it will have to happen, and happen spectacularly, so that once again I’ll know why I do what I do, and why I am where I am.
“I leave this manuscript, I do not know for whom. I no longer know what it is about.”