Look, I don’t mean to enter this post so defensive, but last year I had the same problem. I don’t stay in the same place long enough to make a “best of” list. This year my list would include New York City, Rochester, Syracuse, Charleston, Ft. Worth, Dallas – I guess that’s it. I meant to take one more trip to Los Angeles and see some shows, but that didn’t happen.
In a lot of ways, this has been the biggest year yet for me. I worked at American Theatre magazine for the first five months of it. Finished a master’s degree. Chose not to stay in the city that never sleeps. Moved a car load of stuff back to Dallas and just like that, I was here. Writing up a storm. But staying.
I was on a first date a few months ago and the gentleman on the other end of the table asked me if I was happy to have moved back. I said something to him that still means a lot to me. I said, “This is the first time that I’ve allowed myself to truly be somewhere. It feels as though I’m resting here a while, no plans for what comes next. Not worried about how to get somewhere else.” That’s been a truly difficult thing for me, but I’m happy to be doing it. Of course, I’m also terrified that I’ll lose momentum. I constantly feel on the cusp of something and that’s exciting but terrifying. It often makes me feel that if I blink I’ll miss the next step.
Last year I made a “best of” list anyway, listing a hodge podge of shows all over the country. And yet again I will give you my top 6 moments of 2012, as they relate to the theater arts.
1) Making Mike Daisey hopping madI was not the only person shocked and a bit hurt by the This American Life/ Ira Glass incident, in which Mr. Daisey was outed as a fabulist at the beginning of this year. If you haven’t seen The Agony & The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs – let me assure you that it deserves every ounce of critical praise. It would’ve earned the same amount of praise if the fact-checked, “based on events that took place” version that exists today were the original.
At the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, SC I was assigned to review the “brand-new show” that Mike Daisey revealed would replace his one-night performance of Teching in India. Because his surprise announcement didn’t include a disclaimer that this show was a workshop piece, the paper saved a 80-line column for my review that I turned in 30 minutes after the show ended. You can read the review here and watch me explain my choices to Andrew Johnson here. Daisey wasn’t happy and he took to Twitter to complain. Then the moment was over, only to be heard faintly in the Internet’s eternal echo chamber.
2) Sleep No MoreI didn’t think this was groundbreaking. But I did enjoy it. Spending time in a world designed by someone else is what theater should always feel like. And the personal navigation through Sleep No More made it both frustrating and revelatory. Plus it was totally creepy.
3) Ruth by Vicki Caroline Cheatwood
This was the first show I saw upon returning to Dallas. On the very last night of the very last show, I texted Tina and asked if there were any tickets left to buy. With the aid of the fabulous Judy Niven, Tina saved me a seat and got me into the show at the very last minute. And the rich, detailed work of Cheatwood and the entire cast was like a “welcome back” slap-in-the-face.
4) The invitation to be a guest critic at the Chautauqua Institution
Because I’m so young, I tend to take myself less seriously than I could. And I owe this invitation in a large way to my dear friend Leah Harrison who was spending the summer as the newspaper’s opera critic. With only two main stage shows a year, the Institution flies in theater critics from all over the country and this year, I was one of them. The serenity of that place coupled with a world-class production of my favorite Shakespeare play As You Like It, made for one of the best weekends of my year.
5) Noel Coward: Gate Theatre’s Hay Fever at the Spoleto Festival and Present Laughter at Theatre Three
A little known fact about me, though often assumed, is that as a teenager I acted. After a string of successful performances as leading ladies in community youth shows, my very last audition was at 17 years old for a production of Blithe Spirit. The truth is, I was never very good. And it was in that room as number eight in a callback for a seven person cast that I realized, I didn’t want to work at it. Of course this was just after I discovered my love for poetry and fiction writing. And I wish that in turn Blithe Spirit had been the first show I reviewed, because what a story that would be! That came years later. But Coward’s work has always served as a reminder of that crossroads.
With the end of that long prologue, I will say gently that Present Laughter was the best show I’ve seen at Theatre Three, ever (bear in mind I missed Farnsworth Invention). And Gate Theatre’s lavish Hay Fever was the final show of my graduate school career. I suppose that in a very selfish way these shows remind me of how far I’ve come and what a beautiful art form the theater can be.
6) Mission Drift in NYC, On the Eve in Dallas
There was this musical I saw at 2012’s COIL festival called Mission Drift. It was a commentary on the evolution, or devolution of the United States of America. It was a raw, rock opera with a female narrator who seemed to control the actors. It was about restlessness and greed; hunger and pain. And it was good.
There was this musical I saw at Nouveau 47 Theatre called On the Eve. It was a commentary on the historical record, or our bastardizing of it. It was a raw, rock opera with a male narrator who often felt like a circus ringmaster. It was a postmodern quest for the real. And it was good.
Happy New Year, Dallas! And everywhere else I’ve lived this year.