Friday, October 21, 2011

An Open Letter to My Six-Month-Old Son

Contributed by Guest Blogger of the Week, Jeff Lewonczyk.

 Dear Dash,

By the time you are old enough to read and understand this, it will embarrass you terribly. I console myself with the fact that I’ll have embarrassed you many times by that point, and that there will still be much more embarrassment in store before this thing is over.

So I wanted to talk to you about the fact that you’re a theater child. We’re hoping against hope that, after a childhood playing with your toys and doing homework in the corner during rehearsals, surrounded by actors, props, costumes, giant puppets and forms of make-believe held together with spit, glue, tears and more glue, you’re going to rebel by joining the football team, heading to business school and becoming an investment banker. This would be great, as it would ensure us support during our twilight years, but I remain skeptical about this projection. 

Putting aside the fact that producing theater is more detrimental to your mental health than your most junked-up, home-cooked bootleg amphetamine derivative, thereby rendering one unfit for serious work, there’s always the possibility you might LIKE theater. Even though you’re barely six months old, you’ve already been to several plays, and you’ve cried about it less than many grownups I know. You’ve sat through readings and rehearsals, load-ins and load-outs, production meetings and cast parties. Maybe this is early exposure will prove to be a vaccination that will give you immunity; we can only hope.

However, there are also negative signs. You’re a “people baby,” thrilled to meet new people and spend time in crowds. You interact spontaneously and with great bravado, like a natural-born actor. You have a keen eye for whoever’s paying attention to your antics, and somehow you always manage to know when there’s a camera pointing at you. You throw yourself around like an acrobat, and you’re already displaying a penchant for verbal gibberish. This sets a poor precedent.

However, it’s the reaction you provoke in other people that bodes particularly dark tidings. No one has yet complained that we’ve dragged you into a theatrical context – on the contrary, our friends and collaborators seem to love having you around. You energize us all with your youth and promise – two things theater folk can’t seem to get enough of, regardless of the physical age of the person presenting them.  We’ve brought you to not one but TWO NYIT Award events – this year’s nomination party and awards ceremony – and all we got were smiles and goo-goo eyes, as if you somehow BELONGED there. Shirley Knight passed you in the lobby and said, “Welcome to the world, little one.” You’re doomed.

The fact is, since we’re talking about so-called “indie theater,” the circumstances are even worse than they would be if we were straight-up professionals. If we were jobbing gig to gig, or if we were working in a big theater with lots of bosses and stuff, we probably wouldn’t be able to drag you into all of our projects. But by self-producing, we call the shots, and if that means you’re not part of an art form – you’re part of a community. And community is way harder to wash out of your hair than a mere profession (or gum).

If you end up discovering as you grow older that you’re a theater person like your parents, don’t blame us entirely. Sure, there’s probably a genetic component – but the real culprit here is Society. Any perverse subculture that allows people like us to continuously mount fictional shams for the applause of deluded crowds and then drink excessively in celebration deserves to discover that its children have been corrupted by the same disease they can’t muster the willpower to overcome. Any group of people that doesn’t turn parents like us in to the government but rather encourages and coddles children with songs and stories and kisses rather than stern lectures about the world economy deserves to spawn dreamy-eyed fools who claim to see realities that may or may not actually be there, and to rave about these realities to their fellow man without any guarantee that they’ll be understood or even listened to. In a word, artists deserve to have artists.

So if you end up exhibiting a propensity to write down your conversations with your imaginary friends, well past the age when it’s considered normal to even have them – if every night at story time you insist on reading Goodnight Moon to us and asking for notes afterward – if, instead of simply playing with your action figures, you tell people you’re “blocking them” – well, we have no choice but to go along with it. As much as we’re hoping that you’ll turn out to be someone rich and powerful and important, we’re already resigned to the fact that you might turn out to be just like One of Us. But don’t worry, son – I promise we’ll love you anyway. No matter how embarrassing we are.

Your Papa

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