Big River closed last Sunday. While a major production like that is never easy, it was a joy and a challenge which I welcomed.
All through high school I was in a theater group called Guerilla Theater. The group was all high school students but our directors were grad students from the theater department at Carnegie Mellon University. They were very good: young, creative, energetic. In my first production with Guerilla, I played a sacrificial virgin in Dracula. For the opening scene, I lay down over Dracula’s casket looking at the audience backward and upside down, then someone cut my throat with a fake knife and fake blood dripped down the side of my face. One night, a piece of makeup fell into my eye, and being dead and all, I wasn’t supposed to blink. But the makeup hurt and after a few seconds, a tear fell out of my eye and slid down my cascading hair. A friend was sitting in the front row; I saw her eyes go wide and her face turn pale. Now that’s good theater.
We did a lot of productions. I once played a character named The Richest Girl in the World. We also did an acted-out radio show and some Moliere farces. Cool stuff. The group was vibrant and the productions challenging. But by my senior year, the community center that hosted us suddenly veered toward the conservative and chose some kid’s mother as our director. Most of us quit when she announced that the next play would be You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.
I did a little acting and a lot of costuming in college and always enjoyed the camaraderie of the costume shop, but once I left the States, I never went back to the theater. All these years, I had imagined the Tokyo International Players were a group of bored expat housewives with nothing better to do; thoughts of them evoked frightening visions of Charlie Brown inside my head. But then a friend was in their production of Avenue Q. I went to see it and was astonished. I’ve seen several other productions since and they’ve all been really excellent. Not a bored housewife in sight, these are dedicated, talented professionals who do these productions not for money but for love of the stage and everything that goes into bringing a play to life.
Theater people tend to be a tad kooky, but usually in the best sense. I loved interacting with the actors and crew, our hearty laughter and quick moments of reaching out, the gentle companionship of fellow costumers stitching away under the stage as we listened to the singing and dancing going on above us.
This is our director, the lovely and talented Hannah Grace, with her charming husband who shall remain nameless and faceless because he’s secretly a member of AKB48 or something like that; I didn’t really understand the explanation of that. I didn’t understand the explanation of the pink jackets, either, but Hannah is the reason I got involved with the production in the first place and I hope she knows how grateful I am.
All in all, it was a great experience. I managed to connect with a lot of wonderful people. I reconnected with parts of myself I had nearly forgotten about and found strength I didn’t know I had. I was reminded that there’s more to life than work and getting paid. And, as icing on the cake, I got to see how cute my monkey looks when he’s wearing a mop cap.