Tuesday, May 22, 2012

My Favorite Year(s)

Almost 10 years ago already, I moved my whole life up to Portland Ore. And it amuses me now to recall that some people weren’t very happy about it at the time. Seriously. A few even stopped talking to me, gave me up for lost. Because back then, Portlandia was generally regarded as a theater backwater. How was I supposed to do anything for anybody now, that was the general sentiment. ¶ Mymymy. How much has changed a decade later. Today, as Bob Hicks recently noted, there’s too much good theater to keep up with it all. The city’s definitely on the national theater map — even if our current rep is that we’re the best tryout town in the nation. (Translation: the place where you spend a couple of years to beef up your résumé before you head to Chicago.) ¶ When I dearly departed from Portland Center Stage about three years back, I again had to cope with people’s expectations. Surely now I would pull up stakes at last and follow my friends to Chicago, right? Or Louisville, or Minneapolis, or … ? Nope. I was through with being a theater vagabond. ¶ It was a no-brainer, actually. I had no intention of uprooting my family yet again. But that decision was tantamount to an immediate identity crisis. ¶ My decision to return to my roots as an editor (which was my original entrée into the theater, actually) and hang out my shingle as such was met with instant dismay. Less because it sounded like adopting struggle and poverty as lifestyles, and more because it seemed to mean acquiescing to a life without clout. ¶ Many friends acted like I’d adopted a tiresome avocation, like philately or model trains or joining an unfashionable religious cult. But I was serious. I worked hard to build my business, SuperScript Editorial Services. It meant living on savings that first year out, but one client led to another and eventually the work began to snowball. I found I loved working from my home office, where I was self-directed enough to turn in my assignments ahead of schedule and to serve as a domestic demiurge as well. Most importantly, I spent every day in the company of my beloved terrier, MacHeath, in the last two years of his life — a boon to us both, which I hoped made amends for the years I went day and night without him while working in the theater. ¶ And yet! Gradually during these years the theater work came ebbing back. (Just before it did, I visited a local psychic of some note, who told me something I didn’t really want to hear at the time. “You may be through with theater,” she said. “But theater isn’t through with you.”) There was a lot of script consulting, and there were occasional dramaturgy gigs. And then suddenly, somehow, I joined the ranks of actors and directors who lament that they work more outside their hometowns than in them. ¶ Lots of good counsel came my way about how to negotiate the sometimes lengthy out-of-town gigs. For ex, Kate Eastwood Norris and Cody Nickell advised: “Always buy the smallest bottle of quality olive oil possible; it’s expensive and too heavy to take home with you.” So many thrilling away-gigs over the years. A few favorites: Colorado New Play Summit, Humana, UT Austin, Hollins University’s new play fest, PlayPenn. And a particular favorite: Iowa Playwrights Workshop, which is a veritable crucible for the theater of the future. (One of its alums, Kirsten Greenidge, just won an Obie for playwriting, by the way…) ¶ I’m kind of sad it’s all coming to an end. Sad and glad. Starting in August, I’ll be the new theater history prof at University of Portland, joining an outstanding faculty that includes Larry Larson, Mindi Logan, Andrew Golla, Gregory Pulver and Andrea Stolowitz. And I’m chomping at the bit to meet my new students and to spend my days professing about the field I love so much, past and present. ¶ AND I hope I’ll still be able to collaborate on projects with the Portland companies who have been so welcoming to me, including Artists Repertory Theatre, Portland Playhouse, Hand2Mouth, Third Rail Rep, Northwest Children’s Theater and Oregon Children’s Theatre, among others…..it’s just those exciting national occasions will now mostly be limited to summertime. ¶ With one major exception: stay tuned!

14 comments:

Sandra de Helen said...

Oh! I was so afraid you were going to say you were leaving town after all. This is great news, Mead. What lucky students there are over at U of P with that outstanding faculty in theater!

Mead said...

O, thank you for saying so, Sandra. And thanks for reading this unreadable post! It's shenanigans like this (collapsing of text without an easy fix for it) that will soon lead me to dump Blogger for a new platform.

meeegan said...

Splendid!! They are SO lucky and smart to draw you in.

Unknown said...

Mead, I keep reading things about the hotness of Portland these days, arts wise. Please come to Atlanta and do an open conference session on Portland theatre.
xoxo, Cindy

Althea Hukari said...

Oh So happy for you and your soon to be students! And relieved as well that you are NOT leaving P-town..
xo,
a.

C A Wohlmut said...

Knowing you'd be my prof makes me consider going back to get my theater degree. As long as you promise not to teach at 8am... that's what killed me the last time I went to school!

Congratulations my friend!

Young Yarbrough said...

So happy for you, Mead, and for some very selfish reasons!

DocJ said...

Mead: we don't know each other (yet), but I believe my wife contacted you a few months back. I'm a theatre prof/practitioner (dramaturgy being a favorite aspect of my practice) and we're moving to Portland in June. Hoping to establish some contacts in the local theatre community when we arrive. Sounds like you're going to be busy, but would love to meet/chat with you sometime.

Mead said...

Tom, I am looking forward to meeting you in person. And everybody, thanks so much for your well wishes. I just returned from a curriculum planning meeting with stars in my eyes. My colleagues assure me I will soon get over THAT! But I hope I never do.

Marvin Dawson said...

I, too, feared that you were leaving P-town.

Congrats on becoming a Theatre Pilot!

clairewillettwrites said...

SO EXCITING!

actingchick said...

Fabulous! What a great match! And it keeps you in our community! We are so very lucky!
Adrienne Flagg

patsypalooza said...

Mead, i'm absolutely thrilled for you, and for your lucky new students! well, for all of us really, as your presence in Portland is one of the priceless commodities that makes me love it here :)

(oh, and thanks for using "philately," my favorite word of the year)

xop

MaryMac said...

FABULOUS news! I recall my UP Theatre History course, taught by Ed Bowen, with great affection. My prayer is that the university - my post-grad alma mater - will be a wonderful new home for you. The drive from here to there, along the bluff, is a lovely meditative one, and one you will come to love, I know, Mead. What great good fortune for your students-to-be, and what a terrific turn of events for you.