I saw some terrific theater...
...and you can argue with me that it wasn't. Some might say it really wasn't theater.
The actors weren't professional. It didn't take place in a theater. It wasn't the result of any theatrical process. In other words it happened in the "real world" by "real people" reacting "in the moment." But my experience, my reaction to it, was exactly what I would hope I'd have from a piece of theater.
It was produced just one time, and then it closed forever. It happened last Friday at a retirement party on the Cape at a country club. I didn't know hardly anyone there--just one or two people; I just a quiet observer, just like I'd be in the theater. A man was retiring--he was leaving a life he knew for 32 years--so the stakes were pretty high, at least a dramatic moment was ripe for the taking.
His co-workers put on skit, this wonderful piece of theater I'm referring to. They structured it. They actually realized they needed something to hang their skit on, and instead of concentrating on something classically Aristotelian--rising action, climax, denouement--they chose the alphabet. I loved it. Something we've known since our childhood. Something familiar. Something simple. Twenty-six scenes. Each "actor" was assigned a letter, and had to stand up at a staged area and talk about the retiree, and the script, their monologue, because that's what it was, was to be rooted in that letter.
When you give people, people who are not trained or comfortable in being in front of an audience, give them a microphone and force them in front of an audience, they are stripped bare. The are naked. And my reaction was I cared for each and everyone. I applauded their bravery, which in a small way spoke the something deep and meaningful in the human spirit, and also something that I think is waning in our society too. I wanted to hear what everyone had to say. I rooted for the ones who were uncomfortable. I enjoyed the more polished speeches. But even deeper, I was amazed but how much was revealed.
There was Mr. Popular. He was attractive to look at. Vivacious. Funny. Comfortable. And it was easy to see why people liked him. And he reveled in his place in this little community.
Conversely, there was the guy who was unpopular, and you can see how he struggled for the group's approval. Everything Mr. Popular wasn't--not comfortable in his own skin, unfunny, inarticulate, the group still accepted him and drew him in.
From A to Z I saw quiet people, smart but reserved people, the outsiders, and people who believed in sincerity and love, and weren't afraid to show it, because when you put people under pressure, and make no bones about it, these people were under pressure, people will resort to what they are most comfortable with, their core values and beliefs.
And there were two other characters. There was the man for whom all this was done: the retiree. who seemed at first so much outside of all this. Sometimes it seemed as if I wasn't so much at a retirement party as I was at a wake, and the participants were celebrating their life, their vitality, because they were going to go on living in the world they and the man had occupied. He was the one moving on.
And then there was me. The outside spectator, who thought about his own life, his community, if there even is one, and how long it's been since I've had a "real" job, one where the office was my life and characters like I was watching were a part of my life. Thirty-two years. Thirty-two years of his life the man spent in his career. Wow. And now it was over. They talked how he now had time to paddle his canoe and read his Boston Globe. Hmmm....
I wish I could write scenes like this, actors' pieces, that are simple and rely on the talents and instincts of people who can replicate this kind of world night after night. This is storytelling at its best, something I strive for but never seem to be able to get it quite right. It's frustrating as hell, to sit here at a keyboard day after day, then see it so genuinely and endearingly done by people who aren't even trying.