"Father died a year ago today. On your birthday Irina, May 5th." Three Sisters
"Well now dear, a very happy birthday to my girl and many happy returns." Our Town
This is the second play I have done in a row that involves a character's birthday.
We performed "Three Sisters" on May 5th. The actress who played Irina's actual birthday was the day after. May 6th. The prop birthday cake we used in that production was laughable. Like some kind of joke. There is no way that a single person in the audience could possibly have believed it was an actual edible cake. On the actress who played Irina's actual birthday, we brought in a real cake. We put real candles on it, and surprised her onstage. I will never forget her face. She was so surprised and tickled and amused. She just kept giggling. And there's something especially glorious about that sort of thing happening in front of a live audience amongst professional actors who know how to keep the play going. It was grand.
We will be performing "Our Town" on Emily's birthday--February 11th. My "daughter's" birthday.
It is a funny thing when something someone speaks on stage is actually true. When it really is May 5th or February 11th. Or Christmas Eve or an actor's birthday. When the stage truth and the true truth converge. For a moment there is a wonderful clarity--a crystalline moment of shared reality. And we all actually see each other for a second--even if we've been doing a play for weeks or months and it has become a bit stale. Theater artists strive a whole lot to create reality on stage. Most of our efforts are put into finding a way to create circumstances that will allow the lines the playwright has given us to say, to become true. And by the time we are performing a play...well maybe we feel true about 50% of the time. Maybe 60% on a good night.
It's a funny job. Typically a group of total strangers get together in an empty room. Grown adults mostly. And then we pretend to be married and related and someone else's mother or wife or best friend. And we hug and kiss and cry. And in about a month we do all that in front of people. Weird, right? Pretty sure most jobs don't involve pretending to parent coworkers.
And it's my actual birthday today. 750 miles from home. I've never had my actual birthday celebrated onstage. But I've had the great privilege to be working on a number of my birthdays. I think for a lot of people having to work on your birthday is a tremendous bummer. Those of you who are fortunate enough to have a job most days of your life. For me, actually, it's grand. It means that on the day that marks the passage of another year, I'm actually doing what it is I want to be doing. I turned 40 during the run of my first Broadway show. That was one of the best days of my life. How many people can say that about their 40th birthday?
Today in rehearsal my job is to be a mother. And then to be a friend. And to mime making breakfast in a 19th century kitchen.
I think in 2014 I'm going to strive to do at least two of those things with as much truth and awareness and thoughtfulness offstage, as I do on.