I spent the last two weeks as a critic fellow at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center National Critics Institute.
2; deep mental involvement
For two weeks I shared air with theater artists and critics. I shoved through breakfast lines with playwrights including Lauren Yee and Samuel D. Hunter. At night I crammed into Blue Gene’s Pub with actors including Johanna Day and Brian Murray.
I watched dream design meetings as if they were a spectator sport; Rachel Hauck led a team of designers into the minds of playwrights. What color is this play? Who moves the couch? Is there wallpaper on the walls? Are there walls at all? I eavesdropped on the college students rehearsing scenes from a musical they’d written in a few short days. And in the sunken garden, I sat amongst the critic fellows debating topics like criticism vs. advocacy or the commercialization of theater.
I’m exhausted. It’s been a mental workout. In the moments when I felt the experience beginning to happen to me, I took a breath and became more deliberate. I did not sweep off the experience for a good night’s sleep (the dorm beds complicit in my self-denial). I wrote quickly; I wrote well; I wrote until I needed a drink.
And for the first time perhaps ever, writer became my self-definition. Routine: Every evening a show, followed by writing, then a drink at the pub, a few hours of sleep, early editing, morning workshops, mid-day meal on the sea porch, afternoon lectures or discussions, an hour or so to write, dinner before another show. Repeat. By the end of the two weeks, words came more easily. Thought flowed more freely, as though the program massaged out the self-referential, reductive tangles in my brain. And my incidental drink of choice became Jameson, for which I gave the explanation “I needed to feel what I was drinking. Gin no longer feels substantive.” I swear it didn’t sound pretentious at the time.
It was a healthy reminder that people do have conversations about big issues; people do care about creation. The art was the thing at the O’Neill Theater Center. Everyone focused on passion, precision and meaning. Theater is about evocation and communication. And the O’Neill allowed for artistic communion.
I am so grateful for the experience. The O’Neill does not strive for perfection, which is hard for my inner pedantic. Process is messy and collaborative and cathartic (most of the time). But it was reassuring to be reminded that in many ways life is all about process.
Now, what comes next?