Today is the one-year anniversary of one of my favorite days of my whole life. We did Antony and Cleopatra at the Rose. It was the culmination of a journey I had been on since I directed my first production of that play, sixteen years earlier. Although it was a good production, it didn’t match my dream (as my mentor said at the time, “A girl’s reach should exceed her grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”). It was good for a student-directed production. That sense, of my reach exceeding my grasp, has been the driving force in all my work. If I’m not reaching beyond my grasp, what am I doing?
When I met Katherine, a year and a half later, I told her, “The next time I direct Antony and Cleopatra, I need you to play Cleopatra.”
She laughed, and said, “I’m a long way from being old enough for that.”
I said, “It’s okay, I need the time to get ready.” From that conversation onward, I felt like Cleopatra was always a destination in our work. We talked about her from time to time, but mostly, I was always just aware of her. She was on our horizon, through the bends and detours of our journey together.
The show at the Rose was a remount of a production we’d created the year before. I loved that show. I loved our design work, and the way that Katherine and Ros—the costume designer—and I all had a shared specific sense of what the production should look like, before we even had our first production meeting. I loved the way the cast showed up for that play. I didn’t tell them that this was a dream play, but I think they knew. For some of the actors I had worked with before, this was a production where I could feel how our investment in our work together, in our specific communication with each other, paid off in a big way. Kat’s performance as Enobarbus was grounded, focused, and true, never maudlin. Scott’s Antony was heartbreaking; he didn’t take the cheap route many actors do of letting Antony be an alcoholic and explaining away his poor choices that way. He let them be the product of an impulsive nature, and a truly overwhelmed heart. Scott’s music direction was wonderful, too; he understood what I was trying to do, and we created a soundscape together. He even humored my insistence that we include Hayes Carll’s “Drunken Poet’s Dream”; one of my few regrets from that production is that I don’t have a recording of him singing that.
But I remember watching it in our small touring venues and feeling like it was bursting at the seams. I thought this was the end of a journey, but I felt the disjuncture between my vision of it and what I was seeing. What was missing was the expansive air of the Rose. Katherine said at the time that the production changed more on the move to the Rose than any of the others, and I saw that, too. That’s what I was doing, a year ago today. Watching a dream manifest itself. I remember that I was stressed. I was serving as front-of-house contact for the venue, stage manager, encourager, videographer, photographer, and probably other things. Some things went sideways that day: I had a computer failure that meant I lost the recording of Jim Warren’s preshow talk and a few bits from the middle of the first half; I had to be present for everyone else’s stress while also not losing my center; my kids wanted my attention, and for the first time in a long time, I felt like I couldn’t possibly have the capacity to Mom and Direct at the same time.
But for all that, most of what I remember about that day was a feeling of exhilaration and completeness. And awe. I told Kate, at one point, “Oh, wow, these actors are magnificent, they don’t need me,” and she was like, “Honey, you directed this. They’re magnificent because they needed you.”
In the long, strange year since then—how has it been only a year?—when I’ve felt sad, or ineffective, or ready to give it all up and make my fortune in computers, I’ve often looked back on the photos and video from that day. It’s a reminder that I am on my true path. That dreams can come true, even if it takes a long time. That I’m actually pretty good at this.
That day gave me the confidence to go to STA and act like I belonged there. It opened a new question: What’s my next grasp-exceeding reach? It was a massive return on the joyful investment I had made in each of those actors, an affirmation of my actor-centered process.
Today, though, the thing that is the most present in my memory is the moment the night before, when I gathered the cast on stage to give a little speech. Giving a little speech at the last night of rehearsal is a directing tradition. I often feel silly doing it—why would the cast even want to hear me talk more?—but the times when I’ve not been able to do it, or have skipped it in the interest of getting everyone home in a timely fashion after a late rehearsal, the process has felt incomplete. The actors need a benediction.
So I called everyone onto the stage at the Rose, and I stood there with them. I don’t have a photograph of that moment, but my mind captured it as a perfect sense memory. I remember the cooling humidity of the night air on my skin, the paleness of everyone’s faces in the flat flood lights, the sound of cicadas outside, the darkness all around our pool of light.
I usually don’t remember what I say at these things. I don’t plan them. But this one, I remember very clearly.
I was thinking, today, about how everyone was making personality BINGO cards this summer, like “Kat BINGO” or whatever. And on my card, the square the fewest people were able to check was “gratitude.” Some people even commented that that was a hard square for them.
I’ve been thinking about that because for me, it’s the most important square. So I want you to join me in that gratitude space. Let’s take a moment together, to be grateful.
Let us be grateful for these extraordinary people.
Let us be grateful for this massive, sweeping story.
Join me in thankfulness for these words, and the person who wrote them.
For this space, which we fill with those words.
For the companions on our journey who will join us tomorrow. I can’t wait for them to join us in this world we have created.
For each of you, for the focus, and intensity, and commitment you have brought to this short, challenging, beautiful week.
My heart is full of gratitude. Thank you for your work.
I think my heart is handing me this specific piece of that memory right now because gratitude is the thing I need to return to. In this awful time, I can easily get frustrated and sad about everything I am not doing. But gratitude is the most important square on my BINGO card. So much is different, but I have so much to be grateful for. In recent months, I have focused my gratitude around my family. We are all healthy. We are employed. We have a safe home. We have so much to be grateful for. My life as an artist has never made that list, in the past six months.
But today, I am centering on gratitude for my art. Just like last summer, I have a play I’m excited about, and which I can hardly way to share with an audience. As I was then, I’m partnering with a playwright whom I admire, and just when I think I’ve plumbed the depths of his brilliance, I discover more. I had a phenomenal, brave, committed team of actors then, and I have one now. I have a “space” that is stretching me to new ways of imagining, just like the Rose did. Just like last summer, I am grateful for the work. So much changes. So much is the same.