Scene4 Magazine — Nathan Thomas
Nathan Thomas
Sleeper Awake

More years ago than I like to think about, I sang in a volunteer choir. One of the other basses there on the back row was a guy who had a day job as a band director and played regular gigs with a jazz combo.  In a break I heard him say, "Y'know, sometimes I get tired of music."

Flabbergasted.  That comment left me flabbergasted.  How was such a thing even possible?  How could someone be tired of music?

I never thought I'd ever say this, but these days I'm a little tired of theatre.

Luckily I'm in a place where the theatre continues to grow.  So, over the past year alone I've directed and/or produced a number of shows – my own, as well as the shows of student directors. These shows come to about ten projects in the season that'll end in a few weeks.  And that comes at the tail end of a six-year period which has demanded a fairly high amount of productivity in terms of both quality and quantity.

Add to that a renovation project of the performance space.  As with nearly every project of this kind with which I'm familiar, people in power concern themselves more with the audience space than with making the performance space work appropriately. They can't seem to grasp that sitting in comfy chairs or standing under a lovely light fixture in a lobby won't actually bring the audience into the space.  And if they have that lovely lobby, the audience probably won't understand why the show is being lit by coffee cans attached to an aluminum pole.

So I'm tired.  So what?

Equal to the cynicism is that group of folks who this very second hopes to get work.   Each person in this group just wants that chance, the chance to be working on some good material with some good colleagues and see what can come of it. Their reaction to me being tired should be more pronounced than my being flabbergasted that someone could be tired of music.

And I stand with that person too.  There was a time when I couldn't get arrested in a theatre.  I couldn't get an audition.  The auditions that I got weren't going well.  People didn't want me near their actors.  There wasn't money to produce anything on my own.  And evidently every theatre had found someone who'd already gotten all of the gum off the bottom of the auditorium chairs. I'm telling you, it was a dry period.

Looking back, I can see that guy – that man I was.  I can remember what he thought and how he felt.  All he wanted was a chance.  He'd play any part, no matter how small, just to be part of that ancient process of working together to put up a show.  Telling him then that his future might bring him to a point where he'd say he gets a little tired of making theatre would probably cause that past self (despite being a liberal and a pacifist) to do physical harm to that future self who'd gone back in time.  (English grammar doesn't aid the time traveler.)

While I let folks enjoy the irony, let me say I'm not here to be ironic.

The show of the past few months has been a production of Chekhov's The Seagull.  This is a play that I've worked on over the past 20-some years.  I first worked on the play at the University of Iowa with Jan Skotnicki directing the show.  At the time, he said that he'd always loved the play, but he knew that he wouldn't be ready to direct it until he was 50.  Being a smart (and smart-alecky) kid in my early 20s, I laughed up my sleeve.  What could he mean?  Not ready until he was 50?  Ha!

I've been working with a group of dedicated folks since early February. The show has been in production throughout the month of April.   

With many plays I've directed, I don't feel a compelling desire to watch them each night.  And our culture suggests that directors walk away once a show is opened.

That being said, I've watched this show each night.  I watch a young man trying to please his mother by writing a play that features his girlfriend.  I watch a woman who hates her husband and has an affair with the district's doctor.  I watch a fairly skanky writer talk in an inspiring way about the ups and downs of writing.  I watch a young man ultimately walk away from his study and shoot himself.

Every night there's something that makes me laugh.  And every night there's something that moves me deeply. Curiously the former can be something fairly morbid like the discussions about death between the doctor and the old man, Sorin.  The latter can be something like Trigorin's cheesy smile back to Nina when he discovers he has more time on the farm, and thus more time to spend with Nina.

So I sit in the dark, and I watch, and I start to think.  I start to think, "Maybe we could do this show.  Maybe we could do that kind of project."   And instantly I'm back in the game.

We're in graduation season, so my wish for the young folks is simply this – may the Lord smite you with the wonderful problem of many opportunities for great work with great people.   

For you old folks who might get a little tired and a little cynical about this business we call show, my wish for you is simply this – may you be visited by the memory of what it was when you started out and be grateful for the many opportunities you've had.

And may the Lord smite you also with the wonderful problem of many more opportunities for great work with great people.


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©2010 Nathan Thomas
©2010 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Nathan Thomas has earned his living as a touring actor, Artistic Director, director, stage manager, designer, composer, and pianist. He has a Ph.D. in theatre, is a member of the theatre faculty at Alvernia College and a Senior Writer and Columnist for Scene4.
For more of his commentary and articles, check the Archives


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May 2010

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May 2010

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