Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Lola experiences perfection

At Iris's school, the end of the seventh grade is largely about the theatre.  The students study and stage Shakespeare, and they spend much of their time learning about drama.  Actors have been brought in to work with them (Iris reported, in tones of great disgust, that before the actors arrived, the students were cautioned to be kind and polite to them, as actors are very sensitive).

The students are encouraged to attend as many plays as possible, with academic credit given, and we've been attempting to rise to this occasion.  So far we've taken Iris to five plays, with another one coming up in a few days.

Over the weekend we went to an experimental theatre piece, "The Great Big Also", by a company called Mugwumpin.  I knew it would be interactive, but none of us were quite prepared for how it unfolded.  (If you are in San Francisco and enjoy experimental theatre and trust Lola's judgment, stop reading to avoid spoilers and just go buy your tickets).   The lobby had been subtly staged.  Most of the audience members didn't really interact with the things in the lobby, but we did.  It appeared to be the living quarters of the group called "the New Settlers", and I suspected some of the performance would take place out there.

The performers came through the lobby occasionally, doing different things, and they would take small groups of people back into the theatre occasionally.  Finally a cast member came to us and asked us if we were ready.  She took the four of us and an unknown man back, checking if we were ready to spend 80 minutes with her, and asked us if we would be willing to leave our civilization for a new one.  I said maybe, the stranger said yes, and the Sober Husband and children said firmly no.  She appeared to be taking us on a tour of the facilities, but the first thing she did was to get rid of me:  she turned to me and asked me to stay in a small cubicle, where I could take a stool from a pile.  "Don't worry, it won't always be like this," she said, leaving with my family and the stranger.  The Sober Husband asked me if I was okay being left, and I, who like to go with the flow in these circumstances, said yes.

I looked around.  The others in my little cubicle (we were in a corner of a structure made of Tyvek) had also been separated from their friends.  We talked.  Things began to happen.  I thought the actor would come back to get me, but she never did.  I regretted parting from my family.  We waited on our little stools, occasionally chatting, and sometimes cast members would pass through or walk past us or speak to the people in neighboring cubicles.  Eventually we realized that this was the show and that it had already begun.

For me the performance was largely overcast by my feeling of anxiety about Lola.  She was the only child at the show (teenaged Iris being the only other minor), and I worried that something would scare her.  I couldn't see her.  I peered into the other three cubicles bordering mine, but none of my family members could be seen.  I imagined they were all together, and this made me feel sorry for myself.  I'd been in a funk that day beforehand, and being isolated from my family made it worse.  I did talk to some fun young women in my zone, but we were joined by an unfriendly man who wouldn't make eye contact.  There was also a dating couple in our tiny zone who were not interacting with anyone else but constantly touching each other, and that made me feel more isolated.

The odd events, dances, speeches, and bits of performance that made up this odd and engaging piece about settlers (cultists?) awaiting an apocalypse went on, and I kept fretting for Lola (I was sure the preternaturally poised Iris was fine).  After nearly an hour, the Tyvek partitions were raised in the air, removing some of the barriers and creating larger pens with more people in them, but I still couldn't see any of the family.  Finally I sneaked out of my zone (I was the only person I saw doing this) and surreptitiously made my way around the barriers until I reached Lola.

Lola was fine.  She was sitting enrapt on a stool, watching everything she could see.  The Sober Husband was not far from her (I found out later that their rooms were merged when the partitions were raised partway).  I didn't find Iris until the show was nearly over, and she was skeptically gazing from the sidelines.

At the end, I confessed the experience had largely been ruined for me by worrying about Lola and by feeling bereft, that I was the one singled out to be cut off from the group.  I'd have felt less left out if I'd known everyone had been separated and parked in different zones and how happy Lola was. "It was like a party in my room!" said Lola merrily.  Evidently all the hipsters in her cubicle were charmed by the idea of a ten year-old attending this experimental theatre.  "They all wanted to know why I was there, and I said, 'My sister is doing a report on the theatre,'" said Lola.  "I told them all my name.  We talked and talked."  When anything happened, Lola intently absorbed it.

For the next couple of days, we spent a lot of time discussing the performance.  Parts of it were visible to each of us, and we didn't all see the same things.  Lola found everything enchanting about it.  I suggested she might find it inspirational for her own writing, and she strongly demurred.  "It was like perfection, and now I have it in my body," she said dreamily.  If she tried to base something upon it, it wouldn't measure up to the sublime experience she'd had.

I could relate.  When I was much younger, I ate at Fleur de Lys for the first time, experiencing perhaps the world's finest and most expensive vegetarian cooking.  I left feeling I had experienced food at a level I had never imagined, and I stopped cooking for some time.  "I can't make food like that," I said, "so I don't want to try."  My ex-husband complained bitterly that if he'd known what would happen, he'd have never taken me there, but I didn't care.  I had experienced perfection.  And now so has Lola.


Stephanie said...

Thanks to you, and Lola, for your responses. Because of this, I now have a little gem of perfection in my body... with the fleeting magic of theater it's nice to have something to hold onto, even if it's just a written reference.
Love, a performer

hughman said...

i love this!! (the part about Lola enjoying the show). and it's fascinating that your emotional experience of the play was isolation and worry. perhaps that was the intention? for the viewers to take away different feelings of the overall experience?