Ode to a Theater

The way I see it, we go through life collecting people and places we love like a mental scrapbook.  Today I shall write about a place and a person.

When I was fifteen, I saw a flyer on a bulletin board at school, advertising an Explorer post.  Explorers are a group run through the Boy Scouts that specifically concentrates on a field of study.  It was also the only co-ed program the Scouts had at the time.  This particular post was for the study of theater.

I had been bitten by the theater bug when I was seven and sat in the balcony of the Kavinoky Theater all by my little lonesome, watching a production of Noises Off, while my father ran sound from the booth.  I did all the plays in grade school, and auditioned for everything in high school (no roles had come my way at that point, though that was soon to change.)  I was in the school’s drama club, but if you weren’t in the productions it was kind of useless, so I was happy to see that there was a hands-on program in my area. 

The meetings were held downtown at the New Phoenix Theater on the Park, which at the time also housed the Buffalo Ensemble Theater, the latter of which sponsored the post.

I went to the first few meetings and was elected Treasurer.  Every week I learned something new.  I met a woman named Rose who ran the group and encouraged me to follow my theatrical dreams-she was the first person outside my family to see a spark of talent. 

Anyway, about a year into it, Rose’s sister Angela came to us with a play she wrote.  We held auditions, and I didn’t think I would get a part…I just wasn’t quite right for any of the roles, and I knew that when we first read the script.  I was only dejected for a second, because Rose pulled me aside and told me she wanted me to direct the piece.  And so, at sixteen, I began directing my first show.

It was a couple days later that Rose told me I would be getting a stage manager.  Two girls were doing internships at the theater for their school, and would be joining us in the production.  My sixteen-year-old snap judgement was that they were going to be a problem.  We had a very cohesive group by this point, and two cliquey chicks from the suburb were going to come in here and mess up our vibe?  No, thank you.

At first, they kind of kept to themselves, as I suppose I would have if I was in a new situation and only knew one other person.  One girl, Ashley, would be acting in the show.  The other, Sahar, would be my stage manager.  The stage manager/director relationship is vital, because you really can’t do either job without the other, unless you’re trying to have a nervous breakdown.  I was learning this as I was directing for the first time, and as such, Sahar and I ended up spending the most time together. 

After the show opened, and her internship ended, I hoped she would stay in the post, but she couldn’t.  Sahar was unique in my friend circle in that she was probably the first Muslim person I ever met, having been raised in a strictly Catholic setting myself.  Her parents were immigrants, and very protective of their eldest daughter…which was probably a good idea, because I can’t tell you the number of times I tried to get her to sneak out to a club with me on a Friday night.  The thing was, because of the expectations and responsibilities she lived with, we didn’t get to see each other much after the show closed.  Somehow, though, we stayed friends.

Sahar lives in Kentucky now, which I complain about regularly.  Her husband is hoping to land a job in Cleveland, so I am crossing my fingers for that little miracle.  However, she is in town right now, so when I heard a friend was having a reading of her play at the New Phoenix, I immediately asked Sahar if she wanted to go.

I sat in the audience before the show and looked around the room.  After the show with Sahar, I did three Christmas shows there, finally flexing my acting muscles.  My fourth show with the post, which I wrote, was rejected in the eleventh hour, and the Explorer’s pulled my funding because they didn’t care for the subject matter…fortunately Richard, the owner of the New Phoenix, stepped in and saved the day.  The show opened on time.

The post dissolved not much longer after that, as there was no one available to run it anymore. At this point, I was 21.  I had learned invaluable lessons and made a dozen new friends.

Later in my 20’s, Richard would get in touch with me about stage managing, something I had only recently become interested in.  This led to me stage managing two shows there.  Which led to me stage managing at another company for four years.

The reading began, and I found myself instantly captivated as I usually am when presented with live theater.  It was a heartbreaking play, about the struggles of a nurse who witnessed the agony of loss firsthand during the early days of the AIDS crisis.  Beautifully written by the talented Kerrykate Able-Smith and masterfully performed by powerhouse Marie Costa.  I mean, I could be biased…I’ve worked with both of them before.

Which never would have happened if I hadn’t seen that flyer when I was fifteen.

You know what else wouldn’t have happened?  The woman who sat to my left, who stood up in my wedding, who has never let distance come between us, and who will always be the stage manager of my life. 

I don’t work in theater anymore.  It doesn’t mean I wouldn’t, it would just have to be the right project with the right people.  But the New Phoenix will always hold a special spot in my heart, right next to the one where Sahar lives.

Me and Sahar, in the place it all began,

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