Dear Cynthia Hopkins,
You may not remember this but I met you once in Gary Grundei’s music composition class at Naropa University. I was there getting an MFA in Contemporary Performance, and you were there writing the music for a production of Trojan Women. The women who sang your piece rehearsed in the studio next to mine, and every time I heard it drifting through the hallway I would freeze completely, because I didn’t want to hear any sound except for that song. It was, and remains, one of the most beautiful pieces of music I have ever heard. You came to our class one day and listened to our songs. In my piece I harmonized with myself, played two instruments that I barely know how to play and sang about wolves. Gary told me later that you really liked my work, and knowing this carried me through a good chunk of the following year in my artistic life. Being someone who went to all the trouble to get an MFA in Contemporary Performance, I am clearly in the target audience for your new piece, A Living Documentary. I am so much the target audience that I can’t really assess whether the piece would be enjoyable or have any relevance for anybody else, but I want you to know how profoundly meaningful it was for me to witness.
Once I had a dream about the theater director, Anne Bogart, one of my artistic heroes. She was waiting at the end of a long line, like a guru, and each of her devotees got the chance to bow before her and ask one question. I wasn’t sure what I would ask until I got in front of her, but as soon as I opened my mouth I burst into tears. I wailed “I gave my life to theater, and theater ruined my life!” I guess I was hoping she would offer me some comfort, or wisdom, but instead she looked at me horrified, mouth agape, as if I had just spoken the unmentionable phrase. I cried so hard in the dream that I woke myself up, and never did hear her speak.
I was reminded of that dream tonight as I watched your piece. So many times I have shared the feelings and thoughts and frustrations that you expressed, but it is hard to find an audience to air those grievances to. With my own collaborators there was a need to keep an optimistic spirit. With my non-artist friends and family there was a gap in understanding–the response would be something like “Well you shouldn’t have gone into theater if you wanted to make a living”, or just a sympathetic smile that you might give to an astronaut talking about how rough space travel is–they want to be supportive, but they will never know what its like.
For me, this lack of understanding came to a head this year when I realized that my own husband no longer supported my artistic aspirations, because now I have somebody else who has to share my debt, my mortgage payments, and my stress. These last few months are the first in my adult life when I have not been working on a theater piece, and it does feel something like a drug withdrawal. For the most part I suffer silently, and I don’t talk about that part of myself because I don’t know that anybody can really understand. But tonight you gave me something that the dream guru Anne Bogart couldn’t–you showed me that there is somebody who understands what I have gone through. Not only do you understand, but you have made an entire brilliant, brave and wildly entertaining musical about it so that maybe some other people who haven’t been there will also understand.
As I was wrapping up my graduate education I went through a phase of being determined to “succeed”, and one of the things I wrote in bold permanent marker on a poster on the wall was “Play the Game”. I have always been reluctant to play the game that was created by others, and seemingly for others, but I knew that I wanted to make a living as a “slightly experimental” contemporary theater artist, and so I decided I should try my hand at The Game. That was four years ago, and while I haven’t yet succeeded in the way I wanted to then, and by most accounts it could be reported that I dropped out of the game, I have found tremendous freedom in my life since. In your closing song you sweetly lilted “You are free to play whatever game you want to play”. That is a conclusion that I have also come to, but I assumed that I would never land on the TBA stage (one of the ultimate markers of success in my world) unless I played somebody else’s game. Your piece was a refreshing reminder that playing somebody else’s game is never what TBA is about–its about courageously sharing your authentic truth while also bringing the full force of your professionalism to the stage, and you pulled that off in spades tonight. Thank you, and bravo!
Kate Sanderson Holly
former founding member of Fever Theater and Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble, currently free-floating yoga studio owner with a toddler
p.s. I will totally buy you coffee. E-mail me, girl. firstname.lastname@example.org