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Sunday, September 1, 2013

IMMORTALITY and the MOMENT: The Writing On the Wall

Lakewood Theater, my summer home growing up
I had the karmic good fortune (to borrow a phrase from novelist Roland Merullo, one of my favorite professors from Bennington) to spend my summers growing up at Lakewood Theater, first as a theater brat tagging along with my parents, and then as an actor.  I can't say for certain how many plays I have been in at Lakewood Theater, only that it is a whole lot.  Because of my association with this historic institution, I have one of the largest extended families you will ever see.

There is a rich history and many ghosts running through the walls of this building, one of my favorite buildings on the planet.  I could write an entire post on its history, and may some day, but today I would like to focus on just a relatively small piece of history that only a relatively select few are given the opportunity to behold.

The dressing rooms, behind the hallowed stage, have walls that are covered with signatures of actors who have lived inside of them for the run of a show.  All right, perhaps they are not technically "lived in", but, trust me, they are lived in.  I have been in each and every one of them over the years.  My favorite is dressing room number 2.  I have especially fond memories of number 2.  You will find my name on that wall quite a bit. 

It's amazing the names you will find in Lakewood's dressing rooms.  When I was playing Finch in "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying", I was delighted to find the signature of Hal Holbrook on the wall of my dressing room for the same part more than 30 years before.  Hume Cronyn is there, as well as John Travolta (who appeared in Bus Stop years ago, his signature now faded, but always a source of excitement), as well as countless others. 

And there are plenty of names that years from now no one will recognize (I count my own among them). 

Every one signs differently.  Some make huge pieces of art, others are small and humble, barely noticeable.  Some write their name, followed by their character's name, followed by the name of the show and the year it was performed (I do variations of this).  Some write quotes from the show.  Some people write their names together.  Some search to find the perfect, unobtrusive spot, and others search for the spot that will get them the most attention. 

It's all good. 

I can't say for certain that I have signed for every show I've been in, but I know I have for most of them.  And whenever I move into a dressing room at Lakewood, I look around, checking out for the names of people I know, as well as the older signatures of rep actors, young hopefuls getting their professional start as part of Lakewood's stock company, back when it was an Equity house. 

Funny, but the old lighting booth at my high school, Foxcroft Academy, is also covered with signatures of actors and techies from shows over the years (the shows are no longer performed at FA, but at the local theater in town, Center Theatre). 

Why this desire to sign the walls?  Why do actors take part in this fun, legal graffiti? 

In my opinion, I think it comes from the idea of leaving your mark.  Theater, as we know, is a medium of the moment.  A performance is a specific time in the Universe that is shared by the performers, the crew, and that particular audience.  And then it is gone from the physical, tangible world.  It is filed into the memories of each person involved, all of the witnesses if you will.  Obviously, this is unlike film and video, which is a more permanent medium. 

It is this shared moment that makes me love live theater above other forms of performing.  It is this connection, this shared memory, that makes it all worthwhile.  Each signature on the wall of Lakewood Theater's dressing rooms represents a treasured experience--- it represents an individual with a theater story to tell, a perception of a moment in time that is fixed and unshakeable and beautiful in their memory.  It is a way to capture a sense of permanence and immortality in a passing flash of creation, a piece of art that is viewed but once and must be held on to.  These signatures say, "I was here.  I was part of this connection, this communion with others.  I made something with these people, something imperfect, but all the more beautiful because of it.  I was a part of this family."

A very wise and lovely person once told me that it is a good thing that some moments are not captured by anything but memory.  Because in memory, every moment can truly last forever, and never be anything but perfect. 

I wish I could say things so eloquently.

I will be back in good old dressing room number 2 this afternoon, but will not sign its walls yet again until the end of the run.  But I will look at some of the old signatures, one in particular, and take a moment to bask in those perfect memories, those moments that have become immortal for me.

Until next time... remember, theater is a sport.

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