See, that’s the problem. We all just roll over and offer up our a**holes for anyone who wants to f**k us. – Tracey, ‘Sweat’
(and the general mood in the ladies dressing room after the K*****nagh hearing. Luckily, another castmate intervened with a loud freestyle wherein the word ‘Macomb’ was pronounced to rhyme with ‘womb’ and that’s all I’ll say here. It helped.)
Hello, Michigan! An America Without Sidewalks; One Woman’s Trip To the Grocery Store
I was backstage (ok, behind a curtain in another gym) in Macomb, MI, during the final scene and I heard the sound of sobbing.
This isn’t unusual. Lotta grown men crying tonight, our SM reported thoughtfully in the Macomb dressing room. It’s a powerful show, and as is obvious from past blog posts, the is often emotional and expressive afterwards even if they’re quiet during the play. Nor is it unusual on the stage; Sweat is as much of a workout as its title suggests and I’m lucky to be on a stage with people who are fearlessly bringing their hearts to their work every night. I’m accustomed by now both on and offstage to the sound of my own and my cast-mates’ raw emotion in what have become the familiar peaks and valleys of the story.
Macomb Community Action Family Resource Center show. L to R: our first round cake! (it’s the little things), the first gym where I didn’t totally panic, surprise visit from old summer camp friend-!
But this was in a different moment in the show than usual, which made me take notice. It was the sound of an actor making an entrance he’s made a hundred times, suddenly letting a moment land on him in a new way, and unexpectedly bursting into tears. Will he get his next line out? we wondered for a moment. But, of course he did. The next moment was a joke, and it’s a good joke, and there’s no way he was going to let that slide. It’s that combination of technique and truth together like that- that really delights and inspires me about this entire company, and that’s all, I won’t get sappy (yet).
The show, I thought, standing there, is cumulative. It adds up and continues to work on you the more you do it. I suppose that is how it should be, but it isn’t always. Doing a play in a new place every night certainly keeps you on your toes on the most basic of levels… but doing this play over and over, in this particular way, has only drawn us deeper into it and made it more real. The audience always asks some version of what’s it like to do this so close to us, with all the lights on? and, as our ‘Oscar’ responded simply the other night, It’s the best. I really can’t remember the last time my feeling about doing a play was so firmly along the lines of See? See what theatre can do that nothing else can? Thank you to the guy in Saginaw who said emphatically I didn’t daydream once during it.
L to R: Arrival at St. John’s Episcopal Church, playing space, dressing room with elf chairs, stunning cake with flowers, I think I’m developing Frosting Resistance.
I really loved these two shows. And yet this Post is going to be sort of lame because I’m recapping them more than two days later (for shame) and will forget really important things and Im writing this right after the Eaton Rapids show and I’m really tired. But here goes.
We were back to having a much more diverse crowd in both towns, which feels so important to this play. (Notably, though, as our ‘Oscar’ noticed and asked about in the Macomb talkback, no Latinx folx seemed to be present . The answer we heard had to do with the amount of immigration/deportation pressure and fear in town at the moment and they’re just not coming out to things like this.) Both shows also had younger folks mixed in, and both audiences were vibrant and responsive all through the play and the talkbacks were really alive.
Macomb was the first time race/race relations really came up, helped by the fact that our Cynthia kicked things off with a question for the black folks in the house about whether or not anyone had ever experienced a trajectory like Cynthia’s (the factory worker who becomes management and experiences racially-tinged fallout from people who have been her closest friends). And yes, there was someone who had that story, and then someone else talked about these issues which are beneath the surface but bubble up under pressure and then someone else said I dont think it’s even beneath the surface, it’s just the way it is. At the end our project manager thanked everyone for the willingess to ‘go there’ in the conversation and to look at things about their town which were great AND not so great.
I’ve noticed the word invisibility come up a lot this week, usually in reference to Oscar’s character, who got a lot of discusssion in Macomb. I mean, he’s right there and no one will listen to him, he’s right there saying ‘I was born here’, and no one pays any attention! said a woman heatedly. We also had the first real Union-related exchange that I remember. Another spoke passionately about how unfair it is for characters to decry Oscar as a ‘scab’ when you wouldn’t even let his father in the union in the first place, he isn’t part of your union, you wouldn’t let him be, so he can’t be a scab!! and then another person, from a union family, spoke in response, saying I think all the time about what my union does for me, and the fact that I have weekends at all, you know, and stuff like that, and the fact is, Oscar IS a scab, sorry, but he is! He’s a nice scab, but he crossed the line, and because of his actions it’s harder for those people to work, which is bad for everyone, and he shouldn’t have done it.
And then Oscar took the mic to say to all of them You’re right, you are and so are you, and that’s why this is a great play. It’s complicated.
Saginaw was the first time we definitely had a room full of theatre people and the talkback went into a spirited discussion of The Work, which was unexpected and fun. One young man raised his hand, identified himself as an actor at his high school – I’ve been lucky to land a few leads – and wanted to hear from the characters who are in a lot of scenes with no lines; who are on stage but not always visible or in focus. (Finally, a question for Jessie! which I enjoyed answering, and , hey, talking about acting is in my comfort zone. For a lot of this experience I feel my place is to listen. And then come home and try to remember things.
There is so much more to say about both these shows, so much raw emotion and thoughtful commentary and The Playwright was there again and was so eloquent and gracious, and our hotel room in Flint was TOTALLy haunted, and I rewrote all of Act One of my musical on my day off and that’s why I didn’t blog and the Eaton Rapids show was in a HUGE BARN and there are good pictures but that will come tomorrow. Another journey through tears, laughter, wonder, discomfort, and cake. Oh, and the play too.