Mother of God how in the hell did I survive this schedule for ten years.
For the past week I’ve been doing a new volunteer thing at New York’s Fringe Festival – I’m one of the “Ambassadors,” which is a sort of combination marketer/salesman/cheerleader role, involving talking the show up on social media and hosting the “afterparties” that each of my shows gets following one of its performances. The thing is, though, that there are 185 shows and only 12 of us ambassadors – so we each got a roster of about a dozen plays to shepherd through their paces, and about a dozen such parties.
And so for the past week I’ve been heading straight downtown after work, changing into a fetching green Fringe t-shirt en route, then seeing the shows (for free, which is a plus) and then standing around outside the box office afterward like a dorky camp counselor waiting to lead a tiny handful of people to a bar where I sit hovering on the edge of a tableful of the cast and their friends as they all swap injokes and I feel like a party crasher for two hours, before breaking my promise to myself that I’m going to take a subway home and hailing a cab. I get in at 11 pm, try to fall asleep before midnight, and then the alarm rings at 6 am the next morning, lather, rinse, repeat.
The thing is, this is exactly the schedule I followed when I was a stage manager – the hours, the hanging around the casts and feeling like a bit of an outsider because I was tech and not performer, the exhaustion born of sleep loss, the going broke born of oh screw it I’ll take a cab home. It was a schedule I kept up all through the late 90’s into the 2000’s.
Except – when I started doing that I was twenty-eight; and now, I am forty-five. I used to be able to pull off a solid six months at that pace, with three shows coming in on me backtobacktoback – today, five days at that pace is breaking me. My downstairs neighbor recently asked if I would be home on Sunday to let the super in for a repair, and was surprised I was so quickly able to say yes. “You’re sure there’s no chance you’ll wanna have brunch or something?”
“It’s my first free day in nine days,” I told him, “and so I ain’t doing jack.”
I’ve joked to one of my co-workers that this is reminding me why I “broke up” with theater in the first place. I was starting to feel burnout and sleep deprivation after only four or five years, but kept going until I was spent – I’m still recovering from that. But – the thing about running into an ex that you really, really liked is that sometimes you can see a glimmer of what drew you to them in the first place – and I have to admit I’ve seen glints of that as well, like the sheer awe on an audience member’s face when she was watching a play that totally blew her mind. When I saw that and told her about the afterparty, she immediately decided to blow off her plans for the rest of the afternoon and join us; she cornered the two leads and the playwright when they all arrived at the bar and spent a solid half hour telling them how amazing she thought it was as I watched their shirts all swell with pride and their faces soften with gratitude at the same time.
Or the show involving aerialists and jazz drummers, which began with a speech from the show’s creator that was basically his artistic mission statement – but he was so eloquent that it got me thinking about my own creative life. And then after that show, three members of the cast and two band members dropped by the beer hall we were stationed at, and they were lively and young and welcoming and eager and friendly, and I spent the next two hours in a heady freewheeling anarchic conversation that ranged from coming up with a ranking system for Tom Waits albums to passionate discourse on Where To Find The Best Ice Cream In New York to the origins of Scientology to How Stupid Tinder Actually Is When You Think About It, all mixed in with giggling and teasing each other across our beers. We actually stayed long enough to close the place – I didn’t notice how late it was getting, and the talk was smoothing across my brain like a balm; it’s the kind of talk you have with casts on the tail end of a long day at a tech rehearsal when you’re all much too exhausted to give a crap whether people think you’re making sense, and the mental checks you put on yourself that stop you from saying the weird ideas all fall down and you find out that everyone else is just the same kind of weird you are.
But that kind of exhaustion hits me harder now and it takes me longer to bounce back, and after a couple more days I’m going to have to give my ex a hug and say it was great to be here again, and then go on back to where I am now.