"I had never been in a room of people who were going to say 'yes' to me before."
My friend and I crammed into a rush hour crowded train out of Kendall station and rode together the entire way home, to my surprise realization, it was the first time we'd actually made the entire trip together.
We talked about how we'd started in theater -- he'd been in plays as a kid, and in middle school, moved on to directing them. I'd been in choir, and since we shared space and directors with the theater company, and the accompanist was his producer, and one of the altos was a set painter, and really, most of the theater crowd had been encouraged to join the remainder of the amorphous mass of performing arts that went on there, there was a fantastic overlap.
I lived a block from the theater, or maybe it could be said that I slept a block from the theater, but the hundred year old building with its creaky floor and old wooden flip-down seating and hard, perfect plaster walls was my home.
The roof leaked, though mostly in the dressing room, and in the winter it cost a spectacular sum to heat, since the foundation was stone, the walls were old, and the front was single layer brick and stone.
We were lucky, though, to have no neighbors, no residences to disturb with our sometimes late-night caterwauling, practicing a scene until midnight or even my late-night forays into the piano, escaping my bed and my house and using my one prized posesssion, the key to the theater to play on the Yamaha grand piano in the dark.
We produced six plays a year with a cast of sixteen, a crew of three, a director who looked like Zero Mostel with a booming voice and insistent, instatiable positivity, and a mousy producer and accompanist with a giant mane of tight curls between an extra, extra-large hat and a pair of paint-splattered overalls, whose goal in life was to become a famous, blind, black, male Jazz pianist.
We had a hundred and fifty square foot stage with no fly space, no wings, and only a door the size of your average household front door as an entrance. There were four lights, a ceiling fan, and two long throw lights on rickety stands in the audience that had just enough power to not be glorified flashlights, and to have lightbulbs that cost more than most of my computer equipment.
The acoustics, however, were perfect. A whisper on stage was audible in the audience. The choir's singing reverberated from the walls, not echoing but self supporting until we sounded like we were twice the size.
The old fashioned bar was outfitted with soft drinks, and when nobody in positions of authority were around, bottles of wine that we didn't exactly charge money for and therefore didn't quite need a license for if you squinted at the rules just right.
Every Tuesday was improv night. Officially, it was two hours, but most often more like four, since nobody wanted to leave and those with kids would invariably call partners and demand that they take care of the evening routine because there was Just That Much Good Stuff Going On. Sometimes we read plays, acting from script until someone found something to run with. Sometimes one of the games would start us off, first silly saying what ever came to mind, then coming together in a sort of magic that can't quite be explained except that that is what happens when sixteen people start thinking together. The empty theater became a forest, a pith helmet that a kid had pulled out of the costume room that morning became the inspiration for a Grand Expedition to Hunt Elephants in the Jungles of Peru, and it became Peru because someone said so, and yes, by gum, we were going there. A cane was provisioned as a rifle, and we took to scouting for Wild Animals because That Is What One Does.
The herd of elephants was a couple actors moving the strings of wooden benches around, and the chase ended up running straight out the back door until we ended up in a heap of giggles in the parking lot behind the building.
By the time we got to Harvard Station, we'd started to compare the list of plays we'd started, finished, or mangled irreparably. The complete work of David Ives, most of Christopher Durang between us. Sartre, Tom Stoppard, A. R. Gurney, Rogers and Hammerstein, and it was only the din of the train signals kept us from bursting out into the Modern Major General's song during a rush-hour commute.
We parted ways at Davis station and it occurred to me that I learned more about how to get other people to do things in those wild nights in the theater than I have anywhere else.
It's amazing what happens when you say 'Yes' to them.