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!