Last night, after another great show, we gathered at Katzinger's for a private cast party. Diane Warren opened her deli for us late at night, and placed that bounty before us, because she so respects the work we have done — and our product, the gift we have given our neighbors. Diane (and Eric and Michelle) and the entire Katzinger's team told us in food and hospitality:
Please, eat like actors, where "eat like actors" doesn't mean starving artists, but rather the city's best pastrami and corned beef. And pickles. Oh, those pickles. As actors, especially in Our Town, we are teachers. And as teachers, we can so mistakenly be undervalued by society. Diane Warren joined the applause we hear every night, and the laughter, and the engaged silence, and the tears, by saying: "No. What you are doing is worthy. As worthy as the best my business can offer you." ("What'll you have?... What can I do for you?")
Of course, we all thanked the Katzinger's team. And we thanked each other.
But, you have taught me (under threat of Aran Carr) to follow the script, and I found myself thanking you without a script. I was simply not prepared for that moment.
Please accept these words, as another attempt at expressing my thanks to you:
You gave me such a beautiful photograph of the production. Thank you. I've been looking at it overnight. Of course, it's beautiful: it shows the faces of the actors with Ian, Aran and Matt. Our eyes are shining. And in those eyes, I can see reflected, in the larger photo in my heart, the beautiful faces of the entire crew, providing expert sound and light. And props. And pickles.
At Katzinger's, Sara Courtright asked me, just before you gave me that photo, "Has this experience been what you wanted? Did you get out of it what you had set out to get?" I told the folks at the table that I didn't know yet. ("Do I believe in it? I don't know. I suppose I do.")
Of course, I have no doubt that my answer is yes, but "yes" doesn't do justice to the experience. I will need many days, weeks, perhaps my lifetime, to fully weigh all the emotions and growth. To more fully appreciate just what all of us have done here. To measure the size of the gift we have given more than a thousand members of the audience. And the gifts we have given each other and ourselves.
Yes, it will take weeks for the swelling to go down. Not in my head. (My ego will never recover. I must now become a World Menace.) No, it's the swelling in my heart. Since the final week of rehearsals, when I started to see, like you started to see, the larger scope of just what we are doing here, my heart has been popping out of my chest.
For now: Yes, Sara. Yes. This experience has delivered on every wish I had, every wish I might have had, and every wish I didn't know I could have. Every star delivered. Friends were gathered. They came to support the production, but left with the meaning of life. Emily saw the truth. And Simon said it outright. ("Yes, now you know. Now you know.")
Last night, I said something to you that might have sounded outrageous, but I firmly maintain it here:
There has never been a better production of Our Town. As proof of this outlandish assertion, what would you change to improve our production?
Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Except perhaps, I would raise and seat the congregation at the wedding on cue. I'm sorry to have created such a tradition. ("Sumep'n went wrong with the separator. Don't know what 'twas.")
Friends, truly, this is no ordinary Our Town. This is the very heart of Our Town. ("Once in a thousand times, it's interesting.") I don't mean to say we are such big shots, that we are Broadway. No, no, no, to the contrary: our Our Town reminds us (and our audiences) that sweetness and bittersweetness and life come in the smallest, most genuine moments. In a world where bigger is often mistakenly considered better, we are producing these fine little moments, like diamonds. (As Emily says about the patent device that waters the stock, "It's fine.")
During that long wait for the opening of the first act, I look at the stage and I see two tables covered with these diamonds. Or are they little pills? Yes, this drug comes in a tiny pill. Better sit down. There are some side effects.
We learned enormously, with Ian's extraordinary teaching — so generous, so effective, so precise, so dear. I hope that I carry into my classrooms and life what I have learned from Ian as a teacher. Of all your wonderful performances, none has so taken my breath away as his work on our stage. I hope I am forever changed by his role modeling.
When I first realized that it was time again for Our Town, my friend Emily Rhodes suggested I seek advice from Matt Slaybaugh. You know how it is when you receive a new name. It sounds funny. You imagine the experience, but it is just a flat image of the unmet moment. ("You're just a little bit crazy.") We met for an ice cream (after finding the coffee shops too noisy) and I told him my tale, why I was compelled to do Our Town. He patiently listened. We chatted about theatre.
At the end of our ice creams, he said, "I like your reasons for doing this show. I'm willing to produce it. I want to produce it."
Months later, still wrestling with the presumption and preposterousness of precasting myself as the Stage Manger, I mentioned to Acacia that I felt awkward about claiming the role without an audition. She smiled: "Oh, but you did audition. When you met Matt over the ice cream cone, you were auditioning. Whenever he meets someone, he's watching, figuring out where on the stage they should go and in what role. You auditioned. And you passed the audition. If you hadn't, Matt would have simply finished his ice cream cone and that would have been that."
In the program, Matt writes of agape-love. I first read "agape" as when your eyes and mouth are open, and your eyebrows are high enough to pick up Cleveland. I could understand that. I've been agape with love. But Alisa said, no, Matt is writing of "agape," spelled the same, but from the Greek, and I had to visit the dictionary to understand. It's a love that is brotherly, divine, unconditional, self-sacrificing, active, volitional, and thoughtful. Yes, I came to Our Town and I got more than this lousy tee shirt. I learned a new kind of love.
Here we are for this brilliant moment together, living life in its fullest. ("Saints and poets, maybe. They do some.") What does it feel like for you? For me, it is scary. I am thrilled seeing life for what it can be. Hearing each night's audience of friends beyond the curtain between acts, glancing at them as I sweep the stage, still separated from us, like in Plato's cave, but closer to the truth than I've ever heard. And Mrs. Webb's eyes, when she fixes on Emily, and so nearly sees her, and yet, alas, just misses her — or, perhaps, not? Perhaps she does see. Perhaps we really do see each other just fine.
A friend, who came to the show from the east coast, told me this weekend that Wilder didn't want to answer any questions for us. ("Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it — every, every minute?") Wilder dodges the answer. He wants us to live in the question, my friend teaches, because life is found in the question, not the answer. In Wilder's text, "yes" isn't really better than "no." What's better is asking the question. ("What do you say, folks? What do you think?")
For Wilder, and for me, the answer isn't the goal. The search is the goal. That's why I'm straining away. And glad about it.
I've had Our Town for more than 25 years. Now it's yours, too, especially for those of you living in Our Town for the first time. Welcome to Our Town. May Wilder's themes and his wonderful words haunt all of us forever.
All along, I've tried to understand, "The morning star gets wonderful bright the minute before it has to go."
And now here we are, facing our final performance, wonderfully bright the minute before we have to go.
Again, yet again, let's light up the sky.