Monday, November 22, 2010

Two Actors in the House

            A few months back I was helping a customer design a walk-in closet. If folks don’t come in knowing exactly what they want, I ask them about what they’ll be storing. Do they need a lot of hanging space? Would more drawers be better? Do they have a lot of shoes or purses? He told me, “I won’t need much hanging space. I have one suit and I only wear it once or twice a year.” I looked at him a moment and said, “Firefighter?” He laughed and said he was indeed a firefighter.
            We set up his part of the closet and moved on to the portion his wife would use. “I wish she were here with me, but she’s working.” 
            “Oh,” I said. “Is she a nurse?”
            “Yeah,” he replied. I could tell he was deciding whether to be freaked out or impressed. “How did you know?”
            “I only know a handful of firefighters and they’re all married to nurses—except my brother. His wife is a teacher. It’s Sunday—a lot of nurses work on Sundays.” I told him.
            He must have decided I was just observant and not a stalker. He said it was true that a lot of firefighters are married to nurses. He explained that the two professions were complimentary to one another in a marriage. “You have a lot of empathy for each other.” He said. “You don’t have to explain why a day is tough, because the other person has been through something similar.”  [Yes, I do have really personal conversations with my customers some times. I don’t know what it is about selling bedroom furniture that makes people want to open up to you. Some days I feel like the Dr. Phil of furniture.]
            I was thinking about this as I watched my husband Dan on stage last Friday. It was opening night of the community theatre production of the hysterical British farce Noises Off. He and the rest of the cast and crew had been rehearsing since August. The show was fantastic and Dan was brilliant and charming in it (in my completely unbiased opinion). He had worked very hard memorizing his excruciatingly confusing lines and perfecting his English accent. Everyone’s hard work paid off—the audience was in stitches.
There aren’t many people with young children who are involved in community theatre. It’s a huge time commitment. Three nights of rehearsal for about eight weeks followed by a production week that normally includes four nights of rehearsals followed by a couple of weekends of performances. Not to mention the time outside of rehearsals you spend learning lines, helping to build sets and looking for costumes. All of this while juggling a full-time job and a family. I doubt very much I could be particularly supportive if I didn’t know exactly what he was going through. But we both love theatre and support each other’s involvement as much as we can.
            We can’t both do a show at the same time. We would be away from the boys too much. Even if the babysitting bills didn’t bankrupt us, we’d miss out on them growing up for the sake of a hobby. So we take turns. Beginning in January, I’ll be the one at rehearsal three times a week and Dan will be picking up my slack. But it isn’t simply I pull extra parenting duty now and you do it for me in the spring. Supporting each other in theatre is more than a tit-for-tat exchange. It’s easier to be a fulfilled and happy couple if we’re each fulfilled and happy individuals. Being involved in theatre is something Dan and I both value. I doubt very much either one of us could pursue this avocation if we didn’t both feel passionate about it.
In her book On Writing, Ellen Gilchrist wrote, “There is nothing on earth so much fun as putting on a play, most art is done by solitary people alone in their lairs. In the theatre people get together to create, to fight and compromise and bargain and plot and sometimes triumph.”  This is something I learned when I did my first play in the sixth grade. It was an extravaganza called Fabulous Fixed Franks (an original musical written by a student teacher at my elementary school—that’ll deserve a post of its own some day). Creating a piece of art with others and then sharing it with an audience is very rewarding. Not to mention, people clap when you’re finished. How many hobbies have that benefit?