This afternoon, I went to see a play. Though I don’t get to do it as often as I’d like, I really enjoy seeing stories unfold in live theater. I went to my first play sometime around the 5th or 6th grade. It’s been a while, so my memory’s fuzzy. The show I saw was either August Wilson’s Fences or Shakespeare’s MacBeth. I think it was Fences. Our school did a large field trip to see this show at the Court Theater (in Chicago) because one of the younger students was in the play. The thing I remember the most about the show is that James Earl Jones was in the lead role. By the way, the thing I remember about MacBeth was seeing human heads (props, not real ones) on a stake.
Despite these experiences, my love for the theater didn’t truly develop until I won the 1990 Chicago Young Playwright’s Festival, sponsored by the Pegasus Players Theater. As the playwright, I had the opportunity to sit through auditions and rehearsals. I even worked with my director, Gary Griffin (yes, the same Gary Griffin who directed The Color Purple on Broadway), to write revisions. And the icing on the cake? My play was produced (with three others) as a part of the theater’s regular season – that means people paid money to see it, and critics reviewed it. I’ll never forget opening night. Hearing people laugh in all the right spots and respond positively to something I had written created a feeling that’s hard to describe. I went on to act in a high school production of The Wiz (I was the world’s tallest Munchkin) and a couple of college productions (North Star and The Temple) directed by Chuck Smith (Resident Director at The Goodman Theatre in Chicago). However, my first love in the theater was still writing.
But, this post isn’t about the story of my life in the theater. I just traveled back in time to give you some sort of context for my experience today. I love sitting in the audience right before a concert or play begins. Hearing the orchestra tune up is one of the most beautiful sounds in the world. And watching the lights dim when a play begins gives me such a rush. And it never fails. Every time I go to a play, it rekindles my love for writing and even acting. So I was very excited to see Regina Taylor’s show today.
The Trinity River Plays is actually a collection of three free-standing shows that are connected by the life events of one character (Iris Spears). The three plays are: Jar Fly, Rain and Ghoststory; they’re set in 1978, 1995 and 1996. Jar Fly begins on Iris’s 17th birthday, and Rain takes place 17 years later. The timelines are designed so the audience sees how Iris comes to terms with how the events of her past affect her present and will affect her future. (I’m being purposely vague because I don’t want to give away the story.) Besides this 3-in-1 concept, the thing I enjoyed about The Trinity River Plays was how easy it was to connect to the themes, characters and events. The most challenging part of the afternoon happened during a scene transition. An instrumental version of Prince’s “Purple Rain” played, and it took everything in me to not belt out the words. I suspect I wasn’t the only one in the audience struggling. The best part of the afternoon? Seeing Regina Taylor walk into the theater and right past me – and thinking it couldn’t possibly be her. As Homer Simpson would say, “Doh!”