Theatre Thursday: Another moment of normal

Last weekend was another milestone in the slow return to normal. After having been limited to having classes and readings only via Zoom since March of 2020, the members of the Los Angeles Writers Center (LAWC) finally got to meet in person again, this time to mark the 15th anniversary of the organization’s founding, more or less.

Of course, thanks to lockdown and Zoom, our base has actually oozed beyond exclusively Los Angeles writers, but that’s okay. There are also big new initiatives in the planning stages.

I’ve been around since before the beginning. I’ve known the group’s founder, Che’Rae Adams, since the mid-90s, and my history with some of the other founding members of the LAWC go back even further than that, to when I was taking my very first classes as a baby playwrite and just starting out.

But the best thing about this reunion was the reminder of the real magic of theatre, no matter which part of it you’re involved in. Out of the bunch in the photo, fully half of us are actors in addition to being playwrights. But what those two professions (as well as directing) have in common is this: The necessity and hence the ability to be completely vulnerable around each other while simultaneously creating absolute trust in each other.

When you’re pouring your heart onto the page, you have to learn to not fear being judged for what you create or reveal. Yes, you can have your plot or dialogue or story critiqued — that’s kind of the point of workshopping things. But the emotional content and truth underlying that story is not open for critique.

Fair: “I think you spend too much time with exposition in the first scene, because we get it a lot quicker than that.”

Out of bounds: “I really don’t care that the lead character is dealing with depression. Can’t they just snap out of it or something?”

Huge difference. And these rules apply when an actor is interpreting a role. Critique their technical skills, give them notes and adjustments to make, but do not go after the person behind the playing.

The edges of any stage, which extend metaphorically to encompass all of the company involved in any particular production, create a sacred circle of trust, within which everyone is there to look out for everyone else.

And this can make for the best drama and highest stakes of all. I can’t count how many times I’ve played absolutely brutal, nasty, hateful scenes with someone that only worked because, offstage, we had nothing but the greatest love and respect for each other. That was the only way we could ever actually go there.

If you try to mount a production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in which your actors playing George and Martha truly hate each other in real life, you’re not going to have a great time of it.

So that was the vibe that came into the party, but then another factor entered into it, which we eventually discussed as the group dwindled from the LAWC members and invited guests down to about a half dozen of us — all but one also actors.

Basically, we all started chatting and quipping and riffing, and sharing theatre stories, and then the jokes and puns and one-liners started to fly, and we were all laughing so hard that there were several points that we lamented, “Oh dear. I think we broke X,” X being whoever had just snorted soda out of their nose.

But then someone pointed out, “Hey — aren’t writers all supposed to be introverts?” And the response to this was, “Only until they’re hanging out with a bunch of other writers.”

This was also when I pointed out that I’m really an ambivert, but what I didn’t get to mention was that I was an introvert for most of my life but only became an ambivert once I’d started doing improv. I mean, I was an extrovert on stage long before that, of course, because that was a given. But I didn’t start being an extrovert in real life until after improv.

The party had started at 3 p.m., with the photoshoot scheduled for 5 p.m., although it didn’t happen until later, naturally. I had been planning to leave after the shoot, but the core group and I wound up staying until 11 p.m. We just could not stop talking and joking and reconnecting after so many months of isolation.

It was a really liberating experience, actually, even if a lot of us did maintain social distancing and a few of us remained masked except during the photo. But it does feel like a corner has been turned.

And, next Monday, I’m going to have my first in-person meet-up with my improv group after the same span of Zoom only. I just hope that the delta COVID variant doesn’t swoop in to fuck up the party. Because that would suck.

Image source: Photo © 2021 Ken Sawyer, who is not just an amazing photographer but an incredible director as well — which we all learned as he conducted this photoshoot.

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